What is dangerous earwig for man myth and reality

Debunking Top Earwig Myths

January 26, 2018 at 9:43 AM / by Zach Ivey

Keep up with the latest news and insights from Cypress Creek.

While they get their names from the idea that these little critters crawl into your ears and lay eggs, the truth about earwigs is that their reputation is worse than reality. In several different languages (including French, German, Russian, and English) these little guys are named for crawling into ears. Really, this is a misnomer because these pests are no more likely to crawl into your ears than any other critter, such as spiders, moths, ticks, fruit flies, or even bed bugs.

Myths About Earwigs

If they are named for crawling or “wiggling” into ears but they really don’t, it begs the question about what other information regarding earwigs is also untrue. These myths and legends about earwigs have made their way around, but don’t have much grounding in reality.

  • Earwigs Lay Eggs in Ears. Since they avoid humans whenever they can, earwigs are unlikely to spend enough time there to lay eggs.
  • Earwigs Can Crawl Into the Brain. They absolutely don’t want to crawl into your brain—nor are they able.
  • Earwigs Will Pinch or Bite You. It’s true that earwigs do have pincers (called cerci) but these are used for earwigs to defend themselves against other insects. Cerci aren’t used to pinch humans because earwigs are too afraid of humans to go anywhere near them—much less pinch or bite them.
  • Earwigs Are Poisonous. Even if a human did get pinched by an earwig for some unusual reason, there is nothing to fear as earwigs are not poisonous and they do not even carry any diseases.

Truth About Earwigs

Earwigs are mid-sized insects with flat bodies that are usually black or brown in appearance. Sometimes they have reddish color and/or stripes on their limbs or heads. Ranging from ¼” to 1 ¼” long, the pinchers on the ends of their forelegs are their most notable feature.

Although they might come inside at random times, normally earwigs don’t want to live inside a house. In fact, they prefer to live near rotting wood, bark, rocks, or other organic debris. They like damp, dark places and are nocturnal so you are unlikely to see them out and about in your home during the day. Some species of earwigs can release a foul smell as a response to being threatened.

Getting Rid of Earwigs

While these pests are rarely harmful to people, you still don’t want them in your house. If an occasional earwig gets into your home from outside, simply brush it outside and give your house a good vacuuming (paying special attention to dark corners).

If you want to prevent an earwig infestation in your home, there are some things you can do to make your home less interesting for them.

  • Keep firewood stored at least 20 feet away from your house
  • Use mulch in layers less than 2 inches deep
  • Avoid having shrubbery or grass touch your home—leave a 1 foot gap
  • Keep rain gutters clean and carrying water away from your house
  • Maintain a tidy yard and remove organic debris
  • Seal up cracks and crevices that could be entry points
  • Vacuum often
  • Fix pipes or faucets
  • Dehumidify if your house has damp areas
  • Keep pet food and water contained
  • Exercise prevention and earwig control with the help of a pest control specialist

If you regularly find earwigs in your home, you may have an infestation. In this case, your best course of action is to contact a pest control professional to assist you with a healthy plan to get rid of earwigs. For Houston pest control, contact Cypress Creek for prevention, inspection, evaluation, and extermination.


The Truth Behind the Most Popular Earwig Myth

Do the insects really eat people’s brains?

Urban Legends

Of all the insects on Earth, perhaps none is quite as misunderstood as the lowly earwig. Found throughout the world, this member of the insect order Dermaptera resembles a winged ant, with a miniature, plier-like set of pincers protruding from its abdomen. The insect is believed, according to an ancient but persistent myth, to burrow through the ear canal and eat people’s brains.

Etymology of “Earwig”

Language experts have yet to reach a consensus on the origin of the word earwig. Some sources say the name derives from an Old English phrase for beetle. Others posit that it’s a corruption of the phrase “ear wing,” referring to the ear-like shape of the insect’s hind wings. Other sources go further, translating the word as “ear insect,” “ear creature,” or “ear wiggler,” a reference to the old wives’ tale that earwigs burrow into human brains through the ear canal. How did the earwig end up earning this unpleasant reputation—as opposed to, say, the roly-poly or the doodlebug?


Regarding the origin of earwig brain-boring superstitions, the Columbia Encyclopedia states the following:

The superstition that earwigs crawl through the ears and into the brains of sleeping persons probably derives from their nocturnal habits and the tarry or waxy odor of a secretion of their abdominal glands.

It may sound like a stretch to claim that earwigs got their reputation for burrowing in people’s ears because they smell like earwax. Unfortunately, most attempts to explain the origins of the superstition rely on imaginative guesswork. This one is no exception.

Historical References

The earliest known mention of an earwig-like creature entering the human ear can be found in Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia, written in the first century A.D. Philemon Holland’s 1601 English translation of the text includes a remedy for such insect intrusions: “If an earwig or such like vermin be gotten into the eare, make no more ado but spit into the same, and it will come forth anon.”

Several hundred years later, the poor earwig was still considered a pest:

“It appears to be a common belief almost everywhere that the Earwig creeps into the ears of persons sleeping in the open air, passes thence into the brain, and causes death.” — A Natural History of the Animal Kingdom, William S. Dallas, 1856

“Ear-wig, or Forficula auricularis, L. a well known insect, which has received its name from penetrating into the human ear, where it causes the most acute pains, and even, as some have asserted, eventual death.” — The Domestic Encyclopedia, Willich and Mease, 1803

“The creature called forficula or earwig is said to make its way into the ear, and to occasion not only deafness, but violent pain by its biting; and there is an instance on record of a woman, in whose ear a nest of these infects were lodged, and reduced her to the greatest distress.” — A Practical System of Surgery, James Latta, 1795

These descriptions of the insect seem laughable today. Nevertheless, there is the occasional instance of an earwig actually getting near a human ear, so it’s no wonder the myth lives on.

Scientific Consensus

The bottom line on earwigs is that there’s no scientific evidence for the insects’ fabled fondness for the human ear. The idea that the little creatures want to feast on human brains is even more far-fetched.

“There is no truth to this myth,” writes John Meyer, professor of entomology at North Carolina State University.

“In fact,” adds master gardener Judy Sedbrook of the Colorado State Cooperative Extension, “other than an occasional pinch, earwigs can’t harm people.”

“Though they may try to pinch if captured and handled, they do not harm people,” confirms the Iowa State University Department of Entomology.

In other words, the scientific consensus is that earwigs are harmless. Insects do, on occasion, crawl into people’s ears, but apart from varying degrees of discomfort and alarm, they usually don’t cause any significant damage.


Earwigs: Facts, Myths, and Natural Pest Control

Linda Crampton is a writer and teacher with an honors degree in biology. She loves to study nature and write about animals and plants.

The Interesting and Curious Earwig

Earwigs are interesting insects that have a fearsome reputation. A very old rumour that’s still circulating says that earwigs enter people’s ears, burrow into their brain, and lay their eggs there. Earwigs have a large pair of pincers at the end of their abdomen, which makes them look very dangerous and adds to their threatening image. The abdomen is flexible and can be curved, allowing the insect to aim its pincers where it wishes.

In reality, earwigs don’t enter the brain and aren’t dangerous to humans. They may sometimes be garden pests, though, and they occasionally enter homes. They are nocturnal insects and hide in dark, moist crevices during the day. At night they follow a omnivorous diet, feeding on other insects and plants. Many earwigs do have wings, but they rarely fly.

Earwigs have a widespread distribution and are found in North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. They are most common in tropical areas but also live in temperate climates.

Earwigs are small creatures. The giant Saint Helena earwig was as long as 3.3 inches, however. This insect lived on the tiny island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately, it was declared extinct in November, 2014. Its demise was caused by habitat destruction by humans and the introduction of predators.

Body Features

Insects have three body sections—a head, a thorax, and an abdomen. An earwig has two long antennae on its head, three pairs of legs on its thorax, and a pair of pincers, or cerci, at the end of its abdomen. The cerci are curved in the male and have teeth-like structures. They may also be unequal in length. The female has straight cerci without teeth.

The cerci are believed to play a role in trapping prey, attacking enemies, mating, and the folding and unfolding of the wings. They are too small and weak to seriously wound humans. A person may experience a pinching sensation if an earwig attacks them with its cerci, however.

An earwig has two pairs of wings. When they are folded up on top of the thorax they are hard to see. A tough pair of outer wings, or forewings, covers the more delicate inner wings, or hind wings. The inner wings can be used for flying.

The European Earwig

The European earwig (Forficula auricularia) is native to Europe but was introduced to Seattle in the United States in about 1907. From there it spread to other parts of the country and into British Columbia in Canada. Though there are other earwigs in North America, the European earwig is one the most abundant species and is most likely to damage gardens.

The insect is about three quarters of an inch long and has a flattened, red-brown body. It can fly but very rarely does so. Some earwigs—including the European earwig—release a yellow-brown liquid from scent glands in the back of their abdomen. This liquid has a very unpleasant smell which is usually described as “foul”. The release of the liquid is a defence mechanism.

The earwig hides in a safe place during the day. It may find shelter under a piece of loose bark or a rock. It may also hide inside a piece of fruit, a flower, leaf litter, mulch, compost, a crack in a piece of wood, or a wood pile. The animal likes moist but not wet areas. At night it emerges to feed on insects and plants. It feeds on dead materials as well as living ones and is both a scavenger and a predator.


European earwigs mate in the autumn. After mating, the female builds a burrow just below the soil surface. She spends the winter in the burrow. The male spends the first part of the winter with the female and then either leaves or is driven away. The sperm survive the winter inside the female’s body.

In the spring, the female lays up to sixty creamy white eggs. She takes care of her eggs, protecting them from danger and keeping them clean. If the temperature drops, the female tries to keep the eggs warm by taking them into deeper soil. She even takes care of the young earwigs for a while once they’re born.

The youngsters are known as nymphs and are white when they begin their lives. The nymphs moult four to six times before they develop their final adult form, becoming larger after each moult. A female European earwig lives for about a year. The male may die during the first winter of his life.

Myth and Reality

The derivation of the word “earwig” is unknown. The name may refer to the belief that the insect enters ears. Alternatively, it may be derived from the ear-like shape of the hind wings when they’re expanded. In the latter case, the word “earwig” may be a corruption of the term “ear wing”.

Earwigs definitely don’t burrow into the brain, and they definitely don’t lay their eggs inside our bodies. It may not be true to say that earwigs never enter human ears, however. They do look for dark, sheltered places to hide, so it is conceivable that they could enter a sleeper’s ear if the person is sleeping in an earwig habitat. (Other insects may do the same thing.) This is almost certainly a very rare occurrence, though.

Earwigs in a Garden or Home

Earwigs can sometimes be helpful in a garden. They eat annoying pests like aphids and mites and they also eat insect eggs. When there are many other insects available for food, earwigs are generally less attracted to plants.

Sometimes earwigs do attack plants and become pests themselves. They seem to prefer young, actively growing plants. Seedlings and immature plants, leafy vegetables, flowers, soft fruits, berries, and corn silk may be severely damaged by earwigs.

Since earwigs hide under leaf litter or in wood crevices during the day, removing litter, mulch, and pieces of wood may discourage their presence. This is especially important around the entrances to a home. If the outside environment is too hot, too cold, or too dry for the insects, they may try to enter the home. Cracks around windows and doors should be sealed to prevent them from getting into the building.

If tidying a garden doesn’t eliminate or significantly decrease an earwig infestation, natural pest control methods could be very helpful. Chemical pesticides should really be reserved for very serious and damaging infestations that can’t be removed in any other way. The toxicity of most pesticides to non-target species—including humans—is worrying.

Natural Pest Control: Oil Traps

An empty plastic food container can be used to make an oil trap for earwigs. Yogurt, sour cream, and cottage cheese containers are all suitable. A metal can may be used instead of a plastic container.

About an inch of cooking oil should be placed in the container. The goal is to get the earwigs to fall into the oil. The openings to an insect’s breathing tubes are located on the side of its body. The oil will block these openings and suffocate the earwigs. A liquid with an enticing odour should be added to the oil to attract the earwigs. The liquid from canned fish or from canned cat or dog food works well.

The lid should be placed on the oil container to prevent other animals from getting to the oil. Holes will have to be punched in the lid and perhaps around the side of the container under the lid so that earwigs can enter the trap. The trap can then be buried in the soil up to the level of the side holes so that it’s easy for the earwigs to enter. The trap should be inspected regularly and the dead insects removed.

Corrugated Cardboard and Newspaper Traps

During the day, earwigs seek a shelter for protection. Rolled up corrugated cardboard makes an attractive shelter for earwigs and can act as a trap. The rolls can be secured with an elastic band and then tied around the trunks of fruit trees. Crumpled, moistened newspaper makes a good shelter, too.

Bait food placed inside the shelters makes them even more attractive. Colorado State University researchers have found that wheat germ and wheat bran are effective baits for European earwigs. The insects reportedly like molasses, too.

Like all insect traps, a trap made of cardboard or newspaper should be inspected regularly and emptied. Soapy water can be used to kill any earwigs that are found.

Tree Tanglefoot for Insect Control

Tree Tanglefoot is reportedly a very helpful product for controlling earwigs. I’ve never used it myself, but the entomologist in the video above recommends it. It’s made of natural ingredients, including resins and wax, and doesn’t contain pesticides. It works by creating a very sticky surface that traps earwigs and other insect pests. Tanglefoot traps insects mechanically instead of being poisonous. It’s nontoxic to humans, pets, and insects.

The above description applies to the organic version of Tree Tanglefoot. This is sold in yellow and white containers. Tanglefoot is also sold in green and white containers, which aren’t organic.

Tanglefoot doesn’t dry out and is weatherproof. It’s said to work well when it’s brushed on duct tape that has been wrapped around a tree trunk. The tape makes it easy to remove the Tanglefoot at the end of the season. If the product is applied directly to tree bark it will stain it. According to the manufacturer’s website, however, the stain doesn’t damage trees. The product is sticky for humans as well as insects, so gloves should be worn when it’s being applied or removed.

In some cases, instead of being a pest, an earwig might deserve our sympathy for being a victim. The one in the video above has been invaded by a parasitic horsehair worm. When the mature parasite emerges from its insect host, it generally kills it.

Interesting and Sometimes Annoying Animals

It’s interesting to watch earwigs as they scurry around or as they tend to their eggs and nymphs. These little creatures may not cause any problems for humans. They may even be helpful in controlling the population of another insect. It’s a shame to kill them when this is unnecessary.

Unfortunately, in some places earwigs are a serious pest that needs to be removed. Luckily, many people find that natural pest control methods deal with an earwig problem very effectively. I think these are a much better choice than chemical treatments, unless the natural solutions fail to work.


More facts about European earwigs from Pennsylvania State University

Natural and chemical control methods for the insects from Colorado State University

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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Linda Crampton

12 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

I appreciate your visit, Peggy. Horsehair worms are interesting creatures, even though their effects may be unpleasant.

Peggy Woods

12 months ago from Houston, Texas

I have never noticed any problems from earwigs in our gardening efforts in Wisconsin or now here in Houston. It was interesting reading about them. Now you should write about those parasitic horsehair worms. That is a creature of which I am unaware. It certainly looked like they were attacking that earwig in the last video.

Linda Crampton

6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

Thanks for the comment and for forcing yourself to read about earwigs when you don’t like them, Glimmer Twin Fan!

Claudia Mitchell

Bugs don’t usually bother me, but for some reason earwigs have always creeped me out. Probably because of the brain myth. Interesting hub that I had to make myself read.

Linda Crampton

6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

Thanks for the comments, Rolly. I wouldn’t want to sleep on the ground where giant earwigs lived, either! I quite like the little guys, but I can certainly understand why gardeners might not like them.

Rolly A Chabot

6 years ago from Alberta Canada

Hi AliciaC. I think I may have lost my first message. Thank you for clarifying this little creature for us. I must admit they do look fierce when you first spot them. Not all that sure I would want to sleeping on the ground should there be the species that grow to be 3.3 inches in length. lol

Hugs and Blessings from Alberta

Rolly A Chabot

6 years ago from Alberta Canada

Hi AliciaC. yet another interesting article. Over the years I have been around many of these little critters. At first sight fear comes into play and after observing them they are just another of these important players in the eco system we have that have been given a bad wrap.

Thank you for clarifying this for us.

Hugs from Canada

Linda Crampton

6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

Hi, drbj. Many people seem to dislike these insects! Strangely, I saw an earwig in my garden today. I haven’t seen them there for a long time. I will be inspecting my garden very carefully for a while!

drbj and sherry

6 years ago from south Florida

I will probably not be visiting that remote island of St. Helena soon, Alicia, now that I’ve learned from you that the earwigs there are more than 3 inches long. Like Billy above, they gross me out!

Linda Crampton

6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

Thank you for the visit and the comment, Deb. In many places it’s the time of year when earwigs start to become noticeable and gardeners are thinking about control methods.

Deb Hirt

6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

I didn’t realize that they were in such hordes. Good solutions, though.

Linda Crampton

6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

Thank you for the comment, Martin.

Martin Kloess

6 years ago from San Francisco

Well researched. Thank you for this.

Linda Crampton

6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

Thanks for the comment, MJennifer. I don’t know anyone who actually likes earwigs, although some of my relatives have a neutral attitude towards them. I’m sure I’ll feel differently about them if they ever form an infestation in my garden, but at the moment I find them interesting little creatures!

Marcy J. Miller

6 years ago from Arizona

Interesting hub, Alicia. I’m normally pretty insect-friendly, and I find most of them fascinating. I’d never really contemplated the lowly earwig, though. I always had a minor aversion to them, passed down to me from my own mother, who despised them and considered them “filthy” insects. I enjoyed learning more about them through your hub. You’re right about the bias against them — they need a better lobbyist!

Linda Crampton

6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

Hi, Vicki. Thank you very much for the visit and the comment. It seems that earwigs have a big PR problem!


Sorry Alicia, this is not my favourite topic. I’m with the earwig detesters, but I do appreciate your writing and your photos, although they emphasise the ugh! factor with me. I don’t think too many gardeners appreciate these little creatures. Such a shame, because they can’t help how they look.

Linda Crampton

6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

Hi, Tom. I think that earwigs are interesting insects. They are very annoying when they damage garden plants, though! Thanks for the votes and the share. I appreciate your visit.

Thomas Silvia

6 years ago from Massachusetts

Hi my friend great informative and well research article on earwigs and their habits. We have them here where i live, they like to hide under my garden hose . Well done !

Vote up and more . Sharing !

Linda Crampton

6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

Hi, Cynthia. Yes, it is strange that old myths sometimes persist for such a long time and become so widespread! It’s sad when an animal is classified as a pest. It’s often very important that humans win the battle with pests, especially when they cause disease or economic loss, but as you say the pests are just behaving naturally and are trying to survive. Thanks for the visit.


6 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

Interesting hub on earwigs Alicia. It’s funny how old myths like them laying eggs in a person’s ear still do the rounds, although I bet nobody has ever met someone this has happened to.

I always feel a bit sorry for insects that are treated as garden pests because they are just doing what comes naturally, but I can also understand gardeners getting annoyed at their plants being destroyed

Linda Crampton

6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

Hi, anndango. It’s sad when the fight against earwigs becomes a war! They can be very annoying pests. Thank you for the comment.


Hi Alicia. We don’t have earwigs – must be too cold here for them. But, my mother-in-law who lives in Nova Scotia and is an avid gardener is always at war with the insect. Great hub!

Linda Crampton

6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

Thank you very much for the comment, the vote and the share, onegreenparachute! I actually felt sorry for the earwig in the last video. That’s a sad way to die.

Linda Crampton

6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

It looks like I’m in the minority, because I like earwigs (unless they’re acting as a pest)! I hope you have a great Sunday too, Bill.

Linda Crampton

6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

Hi, Beckie. It was brave of you to visit my hub when you hate earwigs so much! Thank you for commenting.


6 years ago from Greenwood, B.C., Canada

This hub creeped me out when I first spied it but it was actually very interesting. Your hub has loads of information and is well laid out. The creepiest part, to me, was the ear wig with worms! Ick

Voted up and shared

Bill Holland

6 years ago from Olympia, WA

Interestingly, or oddly, earwigs gross me out. I have no idea why, but I don’t like these bugs at all. Must be some childhood thing that I repressed a long time ago. Some people hate spiders, which I love. Me, I hate earwigs. 🙂 Go figure! LOL

Interesting facts, Alicia. Thanks and have a great Sunday!

Shining Irish Eyes

6 years ago from Upstate, New York

I despise these little creatures. I often find them in my garden and around the yard. I was surprised to learn they have wings. You would think I would have figured that out in all of these years.

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