Photo by cottonmanifesto. Location: In my apartment, Brookline Massachusetts.
Urban species #191: European earwig Forficula auricularia
There are a few creatures, that with their very appearance, inspire revulsion in those who profess to love animals. Among these are the cockroach, the house centipede, and the earwig. All have in common a flattened body shape, nocturnal habits, and (combining these attributes into one) a tendency to scuttle rapidly when disturbed into the light. The earwig adds to these a menacing pair of cerci, anatomical features on the abdomen, that on other insects (cockroaches, especially) are organs of touch, telling the animal to run fast when they feel contact. On earwigs they are the diagnostic feature of the organism, from the layperson's point of view: large crablike pincers--surely designed to give a painful pinch. Except that they don't--at least, I haven't found any reliable reports that they do. Some larger species of earwigs may possess the strength to jab an intruding finger, but the North American varieties, and the European species that represents the dominant urban earwigs among us, does not. Unscientific lab tests, wherein this investigator repeatedly molested European earwigs with a thumb and forefinger--pinching the pinchered insect--resulted in no unpleasant sensations.
Likewise, the sordid tales of earwigs invading the aural canals of sleeping human victims (and then laying hundreds of eggs which hatch, creating an army of insects which eat the victim's brain, in the worst tales) seem to be apocryphal. At least, earwigs are no more likely to seek refuge in the ear than any other crack-dwelling nocturnal bug, such as those listed above. Perhaps my brother will regale us with his telling of the beetle that invaded his most personal ear-space, a Richard Burton-esque story, both true and horrible (the British explorer was rendered deaf in one ear, after dealing with an invading beetle with a rather too aggressive treatment).
Earwigs are omnivorous animals, feeding on detritus and the like. Most of the time they go about their business out of doors, gleaning plants for edible morsels. In the summer many earwigs find their way into houses and other buildings, bringing unnecessary terror and disgust to the human occupants of these places. European earwigs were long involved in such incursions and continued the habit when European humans spread their version of indoors to far-flung places.
Many thanks to the entomological community behind the scenes at this blog, who not only helped me identify the earwig from these photographs, but identified it as a youngster, probably on it's second-to-last molt. Earwigs do not metamorphose, but change from nymphal forms (sexually immature forms) that differ slightly from adults (fewer antennal segments, smaller wing buds) into mature forms.
badnoodles, and alsonutmeg and ankhanu I shout out to you.