Earwig with Cook's Logo

Mythbusting: Are There Earwigs in Your Ears?

Fact or fiction: are earwigs in your ears? Probably not. Can any insect get in your ear? Sure, it can happen. But what is not true is that earwigs will crawl into your ear and then burrow into your brain. With that myth out of the way, what is an earwig, and where does it get its name? The earwig is an omnivorous insect with a reputation for causing economic losses as well as providing a beneficial community service. If that sounds contradictory or confusing, we’ll discuss how both of those are true below. Adult earwigs can be 13-14 mm in length and dark reddish-brown in appearance. It has a distinct appearance because of its pincer-like cerci at the end of its abdomen. They use these pincers mostly for defense, usually against other earwigs. The male cerci are sharply curved, whereas female cerci are only slightly curved.

Earwigs are nocturnal insects that spend most of the day hiding in dark locations such as leaf litter and cracks and crevices in homes. Their diet consists of a variety of plant and animal matter. They can also cause significant damage to vegetable crops including cucumber, pea, lettuce, rhubarb, and cabbage, and these are only some of the crops that are occasionally injured. Whether or not the amount of injury that these insects cause has economic value is somewhat disputed. Certainly, they cause some damage to crops or can become greenhouse pests, but they are also beneficial. Most of the time, earwigs are in leaf debris, where they are feeding on decaying plant material and both live and dead insects. As Hopper says in the movie A Bug’s Life, “It’s a bug eat bug world out there…”! This is an important concept. If insects weren’t eating each other and organic matter, our world would be inundated and overwhelmed by too many insects and way too much organic matter.

Will earwigs get into your ears? I cannot promise that they won’t; however, they don’t prefer to be there. Earwigs are what we consider an occasional invader, meaning they sometimes find their way into your home accidentally. They may have been looking for a warm place to reside or were attracted to light. They would rather be in a cozy mulch bed outside your home. These insects may have a bad reputation, but they shouldn’t be too much of a fright. So let’s consider this myth busted.

Kristen Stevens, BCE

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