Dermaptera Introduction

Earwigs are elongate, slightly flattened insects. They have long antennae, a shiny exoskeleton, and a characteristic pair of movable forceps at the posterior of the abdomen. They are wingless or winged, the latter with a front pair of short, wing covers; the hind wings project slightly beyond the front pair of wings. They have gradual metamorphosis, and chewing mouthparts. Earwigs are primarily nocturnal, and they feed on plant and animal material. Some winged species are good flyers, but others fly only rarely.

Eggs are shiny white, oval, and deposited in batches of 25-50 in burrows excavated in soil in spring. Females usually remain with their eggs until hatching, and then give additional care to the young. Females provide food for first-instar nymphs and nymphs usually remain in the nest site until the second instar develops. Family groups of adults and nymphs may be found. There are 4-6 nymph instars and most species become full-grown in late summer. Earwigs are generally gregarious, and often gather in large groups in narrow harborages. They mate in fall and overwinter as adults.

Pest status is based on their numbers around the outside of buildings. Some are attracted to lights at night, and small to large numbers of adults may enter buildings around doors and windows. The European earwig and the ring-legged earwig produce a secretion containing quinones, which can stain and sometimes irritate skin if they are handled. The name earwig, which is commonly used in many countries, arose from the superstition that they enter people's ear during the night. This may have been true when straw was used in bedding. The straw provided harborage for earwigs, and occasionally one of these insects would be found in the ear of a sleeper. The forceps are generally large in males and small in females. They are apparently used for defense, capturing and holding prey while eating in carnivorous species, probing narrow crevices, and to some extent for folding and unfolding the wings, and as a sexual display in mating. Some earwigs can inflict a painful pinch with their forceps.

Figure 6.4 Dermaptera (a) Forficula auricularia male; (b) F. auricularia female.

Ring-legged earwig,Euborelliaannulipes Adults are 9-18 mm long. The body is dark brown to black, and the abdomen is yellowish brown; it is wingless. There are dark bands around the femora and tarsi of each leg; the antennae have 15-16 segments, and segments 3-5 are pale. The forceps of both sexes are short. Eggs are kidney-shaped and before hatching turn brown. Hatching occurs in about 14 days; fecundity is 47-52 eggs. Development from egg through five instars takes about 80 days. Some females live as long as 7 months; females in populations may outnumber males 4:1. This species occurs in southern USA, the UK, and continental Europe. It occasionally enters houses. This and a related species, E. cincticollis, fly to lights at night.

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