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People used to believe that earwigs crawled into people’s ears while they were sleeping and proceeded to bore into their brains, thereby causing insanity and/or death. Fortunately, this isn’t, and never has been, true. Earwigs feed on leaves, flowers, fruits, mold and insects, but not human brains. Because they are nocturnal, during the day we often find them secreted away in some dark, damp crevice, often on a plant. These flat, elongated insects have a pair of pincers, or cerci, at the end of their abdomen which they use to capture prey, defend themselves and arrange their hind wings, if they have them. (Earwigs that possess wings can, but rarely do, fly.) You can actually determine the sex of an earwig, should you be so inclined, by the shape of its cerci – those of a male (pictured) are unequal in length, strongly curved and larger than the straight cerci of females.

5 responses

  1. John DeWitt

    I know someone who had an earwig crawl into his ear while he was sleeping out one summer night…….but it wasn’t biting or trying to get to his brain…….just a good little spot to crawl into!

    August 9, 2012 at 2:17 pm

  2. Al Stoops

    One summer in the ’70’s, earwigs destroyed my garden. Ate everything except onions and corn–but when the silk appeared, they ate that. Since the silk is the stigmas, needed for pollination, each ear had only a few scattered kernals.

    In the ’60’s, when I was a kid, I read that earwigs were one of the few insects outside hymenoptera and termites that cared for their young. So I raised some in a bucket and got to see that this was true!

    Is this a photo of the european earwig?

    Misprint on one version of this (in my inbox, but not on the website): second sentence–“is” instead of “isn’t”.

    August 9, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    • That’s fascinating about your garden, as well as your raising earwigs to see them care for their young. I should have mentioned that fact! Yes, the photo is of the common, or European earwig. Thanks so much for pointing out the typo – I corrected it! Mary

      August 9, 2012 at 5:15 pm

  3. While the truth about earwigs causing insanity or death may be an exaggeration, several years ago I had the dubious honor of having one crawl into my ear while sleeping. It was a frightening experience to be sure, but I lived to tell the tale. I learned that earwigs have a particular pulse not unlike the idling of a diesel truck parked inside one’s head when they’re right up against your eardrum. It took an hour-long ( and futile) attempt by a friend awakened by my panicked scream to try to remove the ‘lil buggah with tweezers, and ultimately a visit to the E.R., where it took another half hour or so of streams of water injected into my ear with a syringe in an attempt to get it to vacate my premises. The effort resulted drowning him/her, and then the soggy corpse was removed easily…
    I should have gilded the thing and hung it from my rearview mirror as a reminder of the experience. A local reporter knew someone in the E.R. who treated me that night; word got out and I was interviewed for an article in the Valley News. I shoulda sued since my confidentiality was compromised, but it was my ten minutes of fame (to date)…

    August 11, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    • What a story, Mark! Sorry to say it put a smile on my face, but I’m sure I wouldn’t have been smiling if I had been the one enduring this experience — I love your comparison with the idling of a diesel truck! Truth be told, it actually gives me the creeps just thinking about going through what you did! M.

      Mary Holland Hartland, VT 802/436-2525 Visit my blog at

      August 11, 2012 at 6:25 pm

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