Pincers

Have you ever wondered why earwigs have those menacing pincers at the end of their abdomens?

A ring-legged earwig (Euborellia annulipes) walking along the patio fence (204_0410)

I remember as a young kid thinking they were used to grip the inside of human ears where the earwigs could nibble on vital body parts and build a nest for a soon-to-be-laid writhing mass of eggs.  Hey, all I knew was that they were called earwigs and that the name had to mean something.

A ring-legged earwig (Euborellia annulipes) walking along the patio fence (204_0412)

Those frightening pincers are actually cerci, appendages found on most arthropods, from arachnids to insects.  They usually serve as sensory organs, but sometimes they evolve as weapons or copulation aids.  When it comes to earwigs, the cerci are in fact weapons, used for defense and/or to capture prey.

A ring-legged earwig (Euborellia annulipes) walking along the patio fence (204_0416)

This male ring-legged earwig (Euborellia annulipes) was scampering across my patio fence many moons ago.  He reminded me of that silly childhood fear I had of having one of these critters find its way into my ear.  Those formidable pincers would have made him hard to pry loose.

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Notes:

  1. The easiest way to determine the gender of an earwig is to look at the cerci, or pincers.  Females have flat cerci while males have curved cerci.
  2. Of all the native earwig species in Texas, this is probably one of the easiest to identify given the dark bands on their light-colored legs and the few pale segments near the end of each otherwise dark antenna.
  3. My apologies for the poor photo quality.  These were taken in 2007 with my little weak-powered, pocket-size point-and-shoot camera.

4 thoughts on “Pincers”

    1. That’s perfectly OK, Joy. My insect kryptonite is roaches. American cockroaches in point of fact. I can’t say why, but I’m pretty much a writhing mass of screaming wimpery when it comes to roaches.

    1. That’s very interesting, Ted. Like Joy’s continuing experience, we grew up with these critters getting inside–all the time!–so they became familiar to me at a very early age. I was horrified–even terrified–by them when I was quite young. I just knew one would crawl inside my ear while I slept.

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