Female Earwigs – Juvenile, Fresh-Molted, and Mature

2011 March 26

Here are some more earwigs, because I know they are everybody’s most favorite insect ever . . .

The summer of 2010 was another bumper crop for European Earwigs, which we have seen on these pages before. But, on July 1, Sam and I were turning over rocks and found something a bit different: a white earwig.

So, is this some weird mutant albino earwig? As it turns out, no. It’s just one that has freshly molted. As time went by, it gradually darkened as its exoskeleton dried and hardened. As it was, it was pretty soft, which is why one of its wing covers is disarranged. The eyes are already black not because they are pigmented, but because they are eyes. Eyes are light sensors, which means they need to absorb the thing they are sensing – light. And so, since insect eyes absorb light from all directions, they generally appear dark regardless of whether they are pigmented or not.

Before it molted, it was a juvenile earwig, with no wing covers, like this next one:

After the final molt, the wing covers would appear, and after hardening and darkening it would have looked like this:

One thing all of these pictures have in common, is that they are all female earwigs. You can tell by the shape of the forceps on the abdomen. Males have larger, knobbier forceps than the females, as we can see in this comparison picture:

One of the interesting features of earwigs is that female earwigs will actually tend their eggs and young, rather than just laying a lot of eggs and abandoning them. The female will dig a little burrow, generally under a rock, where she will lay her eggs and then stay with them. She will lick off any mold that forms, as well as coating the eggs with a mold-preventative fluid, which pretty substantially increases their survival rate compared to untended eggs. And then, when they hatch, she will regurgitate food for them until they are ready to go out foraging on their own. We actually found one of these nests over the summer while turning over a rock looking for crickets, it was a more or less hemispherical void with a ball of about 50 partially-grown earwigs in it. So it looks like that nest had a good mother.

Hm. Maybe I should have saved this post for Mothers’ Day.

8 Responses
  1. March 26, 2011

    Nice to know there’s something good that can be said for earwigs: they make good moms. Ugh.

  2. Sandy H permalink
    March 26, 2011

    They have wing covers because they have…wings? The only thing that could make them creepier is the ability to fly. Oh well, at least carp don’t jump up out of the water and slime you in the face…

  3. March 27, 2011

    While earwigs don’t fly very often, they do have wings. There’s a nice picture of one with wings spread and ready to take off here:


    It looks like the wings have a very complicated folding pattern so that they can fit under those tiny wing-covering pads. I bet it’s quite a project for an earwig to get them re-stowed again after flying.

  4. March 27, 2011

    Wow – I had no idea earwigs could fly. That takes them to a whole new level in creepiness: now instead of crawling there, they can *fly* into your ear!

    Also interesting to see the differences between the forceps. The females look atrophied compared to the males. Didn’t realize there was such a difference, and I’ve ran away screaming from earwigs plenty of times.

  5. March 28, 2011

    Horrid creatures. I mean, that’s marvelous about the mother caring for the young and all, but on the whole, they’re still horrid.

  6. Della3 permalink
    April 17, 2011

    I’ve been having a slight bit of trouble posting comments on this site today. I visit it once every 1 or 2 months usually, so I’ll comment on a number of posts on the same day. Well, every time I started to write a comment, I experienced deja vu, and had to go back thru Tim’s old posts to see if I’d already written the same thing in previous months. Soooooo, I don’t thiiinkkkk I’ve written this yet:

    Years ago, when I lived in the desert, there was a flying insect in the area that the locals called an earwig. It couldn’t have been an earwig, since it resembled a very large red ant. Twice I was woken in the middle of the night with something tickling my ear canal. Still half asleep, I soon realized that my finger was already in my ear, scraping out some crusty earwax. After a while I realized that there was just too much wax coming out, so I held on to a piece and ran to the bathroom to examine it under the bright lights. Lo, and behold, it was the thorax of one of these “earwigs”. I found the rest of the broken remains where they had fallen in my bed. Once was enough, but the second time really frightened me – because you expect that sort of thing to happen only once in your lifetime.

    Several years back I used to be able to afford the Health Channel on my TV service. One show proceeded to document quite a few cases of different beetles and bugs getting deep into people’s ears. Yikes! Luckily, it really is a rare occurrence, and our ear hairs and wax (and fingers responding to itching or tickling) keep most bugs from making any progress down our ear canal.

  7. November 12, 2012

    You can find a photo of a female protecting her eggs at:

  8. Owen permalink
    June 30, 2017

    I did see one whole clan of the earwigs an some were white

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