Earwig is from Old English ‘ear wicga’ which means ‘one that wiggles in your ear’. These slender insects do love to crawl into small dark crevices, so somebody sleeping on the ground may indeed have the unpleasant occasion to have one wiggle in one’s ear, but it is surely a myth that they burrow through the ear drum to lay their eggs in your brain!
Earwigs belong to the order of insects called Dermaptera, of which there are four native species in Britain. Other species are imported in goods arriving from abroad.
The Common Earwig is the only earwig that most people see in the British Isles. Shiny reddish-brown and heavily plated, and with two deadly pincers at the rear of the abdomen. These are more curved in the males, and are mainly used for defence and courtship. They appear to be virtually wingless, but the hind wings are partly concealed beneath the outer, modified forewings. They in fact rarely fly. There are but few other species in Britain, and these are much less common and usually localised. Length 10 to 15mm.
Seen all year round, although they are dormant in the winter months.
They feed on almost anything, from various plant material to aphids and other small insects, and scavenging from dead matter. They occur in a wide variety of habitats, including hedgerows parks and gardens. Common and widespread throughout.
Photographs of Common Earwig (Forficula auricularia), taken June 2013, local woodland margin, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2013. Camera used Nikon Coolpix P500.