Jul 27 2011

Prehistory in my basement

Published by at 7:58 am under Insects, Fish, Frogs

I was doing the laundry the other day when I picked up a jug of detergent from the basement floor and this critter dropped off the underside onto our gleaming white washing machine.

He was not happy to be exposed in a high, bright place so he ran to the edge of the machine and looked down. 

I was startled (I think I screamed) but I got a good look at him before I killed him.  (Did I tell you I hate bugs?)  His long flat body and curved pincers impressed me so much that I looked him up.

This is a male earwig!  

Despite the name, earwigs do not crawl into human ears.  They’re nocturnal insects who spend the day hiding in dark damp crevices and come out at night to eat living and dead plants and animals, including insects.  I should probably be grateful to have a few patrolling my basement.

Earwigs are really successful bugs.  They first appeared in the late Triassic period 208 million years ago and they are still around today.  For comparison Dippy the Dinosaur (Diplodocus carnegii) lived for about 5 million years in the late Jurassic period, 154-150 million years ago.

Part of earwigs’ success may be due to this unusual trait:  Though they are not social insects, the mother earwig guards her eggs and babies.  She continuously cleans the eggs to remove fungi, monitors their warmth and protects them from predators.  When the eggs hatch she stays with her young until their second molt. 

There are 1,800 species of earwigs on earth but they don’t survive winter outdoors so there are only 25 species in North America.  The European earwig (Forficula auricularia) was introduced from Europe in 1907, the same year my house was built. 

After all this time I finally noticed my house is home to this prehistoric bug.

(photo by Scott Hussey via Shutterstock.com)

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Prehistory in my basement”

  1. Tim Vechteron 27 Jul 2011 at 10:55 am

    there was an episode of Rod Serling’s night gallery in the early 1970s about an earwig eating away in a man’s brain and laying eggs. pretty scary stuff were it to be true.

  2. Tim Vechteron 27 Jul 2011 at 11:12 am

    the story, considered one of the classics of Night Gallery, titled “The Caterpillar”, aired March 1 1972, the second season of Night Gallery.

  3. Kate St. Johnon 27 Jul 2011 at 11:52 am

    Fortunately it was totally false!

  4. Dianeon 27 Jul 2011 at 1:51 pm

    What is it about insects that can bring so many of us to our knees? Earwigs make me want to scream and run in the other direction. Spiders are even worse. I am not afraid of many other things either!

  5. Mary DeVon 28 Jul 2011 at 12:05 am

    Ha ha, I remember that Night Gallery ep — scared the bejeebers out of me! I’m pretty squicked out by anything penetrating an ear anyway (shudder!) so that was guaranteed to “bug” me! A while later, though, I was peeling some ears of corn for my Grandma to cook, and I found a little worm — known as a corn-borer or a corn ear-worm! But Grandma called it an “earwig!” I was actually relieved — since it seemed that earwigs ate ears of CORN, not HUMAN ears!

    Of course, I got a little older and learned that Grandma gave it the wrong name, and real “earwigs” were the bug in the photo — and got squicked out all over again 😉

  6. Libby Strizzion 28 Jul 2011 at 8:08 am

    “squicked” — that’s a crazy word, Mary DeV. Kate, you’re so lucky to have only met one earwig in your life. Must be city living. Here in New Castle, more out in the country, we are liable to have them anywhere. One year, there was an infestation. They hid under my picnic table & benches, among other places. If you banged the bench, a mess of them would fall to the ground. My worst earwig story is the time I was about to sip water thru a straw — but luckily I looked at the straw and it appeared dark in one spot. Suspicious, I tapped the straw on the countyer and out came an earwig !! Can you imagine . . .

  7. Joshon 31 Jul 2011 at 6:22 pm

    I can’t believe that you’ve only ever seen one in your life. I’m in my mid teens and i’ve seen more than I can count (including one in our hotel room this past month). I didn’t realize that they were scavengers, but I guess I’m not really surprised. Sounds like you had a close one Libby, I’d rather not have one of those squirming around in my throat.

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