Earwig Pincers

What Are Earwig Pincers?

Folklore says that the term “earwig” comes from the Anglicization of European terms tracing to “ear worm” or “ear wiggler” or even “ear turner.” Even though the origination of the term “earwig” can be debated, folklore also suggests that this insect would crawl into human ears and either lay eggs in the moist inner ear parts, or worse, bore into the brain. None of this folklore is true.

Earwigs have a very flexible abdomen, and protruding from the abdomen is a pair of pincers or “forceps.” These forceps are very intimidating and can cause anyone who encounters this insect to become concerned. Males have the more developed and larger forceps. The forceps are not just appendages but are developed and flexible for multiple uses. Forceps are used to fend off predators which would make a meal of the earwig. Forceps are also used to catch prey for the species that are predaceous. Forceps also play a role in the mating ritual of males and females.

With rare exception, considering the many species of earwigs worldwide, generally the male forceps are more utilitarian and have a much longer width. Female forceps are typically straighter with less of a distance between the forceps.

Earwig forceps contain hardened material made of chitin, the same material as the exoskeleton or shell of the earwig. When earwigs molt or shed their shells, the entire shell is softer, but the forceps quickly harden as does the shell. A good indication is the color; usually a darker chitin means that the shell has hardened.

Forceps are not dangerous to humans, but they can pinch a finger and if the earwig is an adult, the pinch can be unpleasant. If there are concerns after being "pinched," consult a doctor.