What Do Earwigs Do With Those Pincers Anyway? | Deep Look

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Earwigs are equipped with some pretty imposing pincers on their rear, and they’re not afraid to use them. But when it comes to these appendages, size isn’t everything.

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DEEP LOOK is a ultra-HD (4K) short video series created by KQED San Francisco and presented by PBS Digital Studios. See the unseen at the very edge of our visible world. Explore big scientific mysteries by going incredibly small.

Many animals seem to show a preference for symmetry in a potential mate. It can be a clue that the mate has the genes necessary to develop properly and thrive in an environment full of stresses and dangers.

But in some critters buck the trend. Like the earwig, a diminutive insect found on every continent except Antarctica.

Andrew ZInk, an associate professor of biology at San Francisco State University, has been looking at how symmetry affects earwigs success when it comes to social interactions.

He’s studying maritime earwigs, a larger and more powerful cousin to the common European earwig you might find in your backyard. Both creatures bear fearsome looking pincers on their backsides. And they aren’t afraid to use them to defend themselves. Zink knows all about that.

— Do earwigs climb into your ear?
The quick answer is no. Earwigs are not interested in climbing into your ear to lay their eggs or otherwise. They’re no more likely than any other bug to accidentally find its way into you ear. The name earwig come from the old english words for ear and insect. It may have been named after the shape of the common European earwig’s wings, which when extended resemble a human ear.

— Do earwigs pinch people?
Earwigs will use their pincers to defend themselves, but the pinch is typically not strong enough to be considered dangerous.

— Do earwigs fly?
Male common European earwigs have wings and can fly to disperse and find mates. Females do not have wings or fly. Neither male nor female maritime earwigs have wings or fly.

— What do earwigs eat?
Most earwigs are scavengers and omnivores. In addition to scavenging and eating plants, the common European earwigs also hunts small prey like aphids. Maritime earwigs are carnivorous hunting smaller arthropods like sand hoppers.

—+ Read the entire article on KQED Science:

—+ For more information:

Biologists probe asymmetric warfare between earwigs

Asymmetric Forceps Increase Fighting Success among Males of Similar size in the Maritime Earwig

Sexual selection by the seashore: the roles of body size and weaponry in mate choice and competition in the maritime earwig (Anisolabis maritima)

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Written by lena

Foodie, Performer, Water Protector, Avid Baker, Syndicate Aggregator. I probably still live in my mom's basement.


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  1. Looks like there are lots of questions about how exactly male earwigs with more asymmetric pincers to their advantage during fights.According to Muñoz and Zink, earwigs slide the straighter side under their opponent and then bring down the the tip of their more curved side onto the top of their opponent’s abdomen. So instead of just grabbing their opponent, they are now poking them with the point of that curved side. Sometimes they apply enough pressure to actually penetrate their opponent’s abdomen, which is usually a fatal injury. There are illustrations in the scientific article.

  2. When I was a kid, I throw like 50 earwigs in a metal container and shook it for about a hour. When I opened it, there was nothing but dust

  3. I was thinking about saying "earwigs fighting looks incredibly awkward and difficult", but look at humans fighting.

  4. I love earwigs. They have the most beautiful wings folded up and hidden behind those leathery thorax coverlets.

  5. One if those things went in my nose while I was sleeping, and I had a massive cold until I sneezed it out.

  6. Hi, I have witnessed ants, when they drown in water after sometimes they get unconscious. Even after so many hours I have taken the ant out of the water and put it under sunshine and have seen it come alive again. Please take a DEEP LOOK at how do the ants manage to survive underwater that long.

  7. Hmm does symmetry really mean more health? I know we humans find a more bilaterally symmetric person attractive

  8. I was rinsing tomatoes to can and I was picking out earwigs and they kept trying to pincer me but failing and I got too relaxed and picked them out as if they could never make a successful grab, eventually one got me inside a fingernail. I had to pull the bug apart and take out each pincer side separately. I went back to picking them like I started, with minimal work toward avoidance, which is enough, as we really have the advantage – they have to get lucky and get a place like inside a fingernail.

  9. I was sitting on the couch and sure enough something bit me and when I jumped up..a dang earwig. Their all over the place here in Colorado.Yikes

  10. "so what do you do in life anyway as a scientist"

    "I stage fight against different earwings pincer types to see who is the strongest"

    and this is how the insect rebellion, led by some mad scientists, won.

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