The Life Cycle of Earwig is immediately identifiable by the pincer-like forceps at the end of the body. The female is unusual among insects for the maternal care she gives to her young. Most people are familiar with earwigs, but not many know what interesting insects they are and most shudder at the mention of the name.
While resembling some rove-beetles (which also have wings folded under short wing-cases), earwigs are readily recognizable by the forceps or pincers at the end of the body. These are almost straight in the female, but strongly curved in the male.
The front wings of the earwig are reduced to small mahogany-colored flaps on the thorax, and the transparent hind wings are intricately pleated and folded under them when not being used in flight. They are remarkably large when unfolded and each is rounded rather like an ear, possibly giving rise to the name earwig-corrupted from earwig.
This is at least as plausible as the suggestion that the name is derived from the insect’s supposed habit of entering the human ear. Doubtless, on extremely rare occasions this can happen-the earwig will seek out and enter any small crevice where protection can be found. An alternative suggestion for the origin of the name earwig is the likeness of the pincers to the old-fashioned instrument used to pierce ears for earrings.
A number of species have been recorded in the British Isles, but only five are native. The familiar common earwig is the only widespread one. The lesser earwig is much rarer and probably not so widely distributed. Both are able to fly, but the lesser earwig does so far more readily than its larger relative.
These two species are able to tolerate quite low temperatures. Others, less tolerant of the cold, are confined to the southern counties; these include “Forficula lesnei” and “Apterygida albipennis”. Occasionally you may find a temporary colony of foreign species in or around warehouses; these are introduced with produce brought in from abroad, but they cannot survive here in the wild.
Earwigs belong to that group of insects whose members have an incomplete life cycle. They go through three stages only-egg, nymph or larva, and adult. The chrysalis or pupa stage familiar in butterflies and moths and beetles, for example, is not present, and the nymphs resemble wingless adults.
The common earwig is the only species to have been studied in great detail. The male and female live together as a pair in a small cavity in loose earth or leaf debris or, during winter, behind the bark of an old log. Pairing is said to take place before and during hibernation.
The male usually leaves the nest early in the year-about February-when the female is ready to lay eggs; these normally number about three dozen, but can be considerably more. The clutch of small oval yellowish eggs is carefully looked after by the mother. If the eggs are scattered she will gather them up again and stand guard over them.
You can watch this happening if you have a captive female in a suitable container such as a jam jar. If she lays eggs, scatter them with a stick or pencil. This maternal care, most unusual among insects, is extended to the young after they hatch.
The brood is protected and even fed until the young are ready to leave the winter quarters and can look after themselves. Some females rear a second brood in late spring. The newly hatched earwig is quite white except for the darker jaws and eyes.
There are no wings and the forceps are straight, but otherwise, the nymph bears a general resemblance to the adult. There are normally about four moults, during which the skin begins to darken. At the last moult, which takes place anytime from June to August, the adult stage is reached.
The young earwig has its full set of wings and 14 segments to the feelers, together with fully formed forceps and mature sex organs. The adult proceeds to mate and then seeks out hibernating quarters; so the life cycle begins again.
Earwigs are probably largely vegetarian but are quite prepared to accept any kind of food and in this respect can be called true omnivores. The common earwig likes for petals. Thus, particularly of dahlias, is well known to gardeners, who invert straw-stuffed flower pots on the ends of sticks to trap them.
In this way they take advantage of the earwig’s thigmotaxic nature-that is, its preference for being in contact with a solid surface, and hence it’s seeking out of crannies and tunnels. In nature, this is a useful response to the danger of being eaten by a bird or other predator.
The speed with which an earwig drops to the ground when disturbed is another useful survival reflex. Earwigs also damage the flowers of garden nasturtiums as well as apples both on the tree and the ground. Their excavations into fruit are probably made where two fruit touch or where there is previous damage, which enables them to make their initial entry.
They will also take advantage of the Brussels sprout leaves; although they make a mess with their droppings, they rarely do much damage through eating the leaves. Earwigs are also found in animal carcasses, usually those in a fairly advanced state of decay when the rotting parts are beginning to dry out. If earwigs are kept in large numbers, they may start to eat each other.
Earwigs cannot be regarded as a major pest of farm or garden. Their scavenging habits are undoubtedly useful in helping to dispose of natural refuse and they provide food for some of the larger insect predators such as the violet ground beetle.
Various internal parasites, including the ichneumon fly whose larva develops inside the host and at first eat the non-vital organs, have been recorded in earwigs. But none of these seems to be a major controlling factor in earwig populations.
A male and female common earwig (Forficula auricularia) is on a chrysanthemum flower. You can easily tell them apart by the forceps at the end of the body. The forceps of the male is strongly curved. This species is about 12mm in length.
The wingless common earwig nymph looks similar to the adult but is white in color at first, apart from the darker jaws and eyes. It will go through four stages of moulting until it assumes the full adult characteristics.
The lesser earwig (Labia minor) is half the size or less of the common earwig, at about 5mm long. It flies quite readily and can be found in lighted rooms or the moth collector’s light-trap during summer. You may also see it in the sunshine inhabiting or flying over a rich organic matter such as farmyard manure.
The common earwig is in an aggressive mood. The forceps are raised forward over the body like a scorpion’s sting, as a defense when the insect is disturbed.
The earwig’s large hind wings are thin and skin-like and their folding is an elaborate process often aided by the forceps. It can take an earwig as much as half a minute or so to fold a hind wing. Anyone who has difficulty folding up a road map will appreciate the earwig’s problem. The hind wings are folded under the front wings on the thorax.
Read More – 12 Images to Understand the Butterfly Life Cycle
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