Earwigs make up the insect order Dermaptera and are found throughout the Americas, Africa, Eurasia, Australia and New Zealand. With about 2,000 species in 12 families, they are one of the smaller insect orders. Earwigs have characteristic cerci, a pair of forceps pincers on their abdomen, and membranous wings folded underneath short forewings, hence the scientific order name, “skin wings.” Some groups are tiny parasites on mammals and lack the typical pincers. Earwigs rarely use their flying ability.

Earwigs are mostly nocturnal and often hide in small, moist crevices during the day, and are active at night, feeding on a wide variety of insects and plants. Damage to foliage, flowers, and various crops is commonly blamed on earwigs, especially the common earwig Forficula auricularia.

Earwigs have five molts in the year before they become adults. Many earwig species display maternal care, which is uncommon among insects. Female earwigs may care for their eggs, and even after they have hatched as nymphs will continue to watch over offspring until their second molt. As the nymphs molt, sexual dimorphism such as differences in pincer shapes begins to show.

Some earwig specimen fossils are in the extinct suborders Archidermaptera or Eodermaptera, the former dating to the Late Triassic and the latter to the Middle Jurassic. Many orders of insect have been theorized to be closely related to earwigs, though the icebugs of Grylloblattaria are most likely.

Life cycle and reproduction

The life cycle and development of a male earwig from egg to each instar
Earwigs are hemimetabolous, meaning they undergo incomplete metamorphosis, developing through a series of 4 to 6 molts. The developmental stages between molts are called instars. Earwigs live for about a year from hatching. They start mating in the autumn, and can be found together in the autumn and winter. The male and female will live in a chamber in debris, crevices, or soil 2.5 mm deep. After mating, the sperm may remain in the female for months before the eggs are fertilized. From midwinter to early spring, the male will leave, or be driven out by the female. Afterward the female will begin to lay 20 to 80 pearly white eggs in 2 days.

Some earwigs, those parasitic in the suborders Arixeniina and Hemimerina, are viviparous (give birth to live young); they would be fed by a sort of placenta. When first laid, the eggs are white or cream-colored and oval-shaped, but right before hatching they become kidney-shaped and brown. Each egg is approximately 1 mm (0.04 in) tall and 0.8 mm (0.03 in) wide.

Earwigs are among the few non-social insect species that show maternal care. The mother will pay close attention to the needs of her eggs, such as warmth and protection, though studies have shown that the mother does not pay attention to the eggs as she collects them. The mother has been shown to pick up wax balls by accident, but they would eventually be rejected as they do not have the proper scent. The mother will also vigorously defend the eggs from predators, not eating unless an egg goes bad. Another distinct maternal care unique to earwigs is that the mother continuously cleans the eggs to protect them from fungi. Studies have found that the urge to clean the eggs persists for days after they are removed; when the eggs were replaced after hatching, the mother continued to clean them for up to 3 months

The eggs hatch in seven days. The mother may assist the nymphs in hatching. When the nymphs hatch, they eat the egg casing and continue to live with the mother. The nymphs look similar to their parents, only smaller, and will nest under their mother and she will continue to protect them until their second molt in about July. The nymphs feed on food regurgitated by the mother,
and on their own molts. If the mother dies before the nymphs are ready to leave, the nymphs may eat her.

After five to six instars, the nymphs will molt into adults. The male’s forceps will become curved, while the females’ remain straight. They will also develop their natural color, which can be anything from a light brown (as in the Tawny earwig) to a dark black (as in the Ringlegged earwig). In species of winged earwigs, the wings will start to develop at this time. The forewings of an earwig are sclerotized to serve as protection for the membranous hindwings.