Saturday, July 11, 2015

Ear Ye, Ear Ye!

This morning, I went to refill my sunflower and suet bird feeders, and noticed three insects "hiding" in the plastic hook at holds my suet feeder on my window.
"Shhh Dave, I don't think she sees us."

They were earwigs, a very common insect in my garden. Being nocturnal, I don't see them much during the day, but at night they are all over my plants. Many scientists learn a lot about a species through their own observations and interactions with the organism. Tonight, I present to you my own observations and interactions, coupled with what good ol' science has to say.

I have yet to have my brain destroyed by earwigs

Either that, or earwigs are smart enough to destroy the part of my brain that recognizes brain destruction first. Earwigs, whose name literally means "ear creature," were given their name based on the belief that females will crawl into the ears of humans in order to lay eggs in their brains. The only association with "ears" that earwigs truly are known for, however, is with ears of corn. Earwigs are quite fond of corn silk, something I observed one summer when some feeder corn sprouted in my garden.

Earwigs like to squish into some really tight places

When I first found earwigs on my small, developing corn cobs, I had initially thought the earwigs were eating the corn itself. I would peel back the husk on the cobs to check the progress of the corn, and 2 or 3 earwigs would go scrambling. Rather than eating the corn, the earwigs were only using the husk for a place to hide during the day. Earwigs are nocturnal, and favor dark, tight spaces, with ample moisture, so a corn husk would be a perfect place to hide. 

Apparently the three earwigs resting in my clear window hook missed the whole "dark" memo.

Yes, Mr. Nature Geek, those pincers can pinch

The most distinguishing feature of an earwig are their large pincers, geekily known as cerci, on their abdomens. 
In females, the cerci are straight and scissor-like, 

while in males, the cerci are curved, like calipers. 
Some earwigs are known to use their cerci for capturing prey, and all are able to use them for defense, as I found out one fateful summer night.

One day, back in college, I was sitting on a park bench on a warm summer evening with my current love interest, having a pretty big saying-I-love-you-for-the-first-time moment. As we were sitting there, pouring our hearts out, I felt a pinch on my butt...and it wasn't from the guy sitting next to me. I ignore it, not wanting to ruin the moment. But as time went by, I was pinched a couple more times, and noticed an earwig running away from the scene of the crime. I told my summer fling that I had been pinched by an earwig, and he refused to believe me, saying "earwigs don't bite." He was right, they don't bite, they pinch! Finally, after about the 8th time of being assaulted, I pointed to the earwig latched onto my thigh with its cerci. The guy finally had his proof.

A female earwig in threatening posture, cerci in the air.

Over the years, I have told Mr. Nature Geek this story about earwigs and although he has said he believes me, I have always sensed a patronizing tone to his belief. However he doubts no more! That's right, according to him one night a "stupid earwig crawled right up the couch just to pinch me on the elbow." Being the supportive wife I am, I laughed my earwig-pinched butt off, gave him a hearty helping of I TOLD YOU SO, and offered no sympathy whatsoever for his boo-boo. 

Earwigs are kind of drama queens

I'll admit it, even The Nature Geek enjoys teasing wildlife from time to time for her own amusement, whether it's playing house sparrow calls to the sparrows inside of Home Depot or watching a gull try to eat a gummi bear. Another source of amusement is gently touching earwigs that I find in my garden at night. It causes them to absolutely freak out and fall of of their leafy perch almost immediately. 
Other insects might run or fly away, or not react at all, but not the big "bad" earwig. It loses all grip and falls right off its leaf. To give the earwig some credit (and dignity), this is actually a pretty good defense mechanism. An insect that crawls away, like an ant, can be easily followed and potentially eaten. However an earwig, by falling off of its perch, instantly disappears to the ground, where it can scurry away in the split second it takes a predator to figure out what just happened. Defense or not, it still amuses me greatly.

Earwigs have yet to destroy my garden or home (just a small piece of Mr. Nature Geek's elbow)

One of the things I hate about researching an insect for my blog is just how many top results on a Google search have to do with how to kill said insect. Researching earwigs was no different. Earwigs can become a "pest" in your home simply because of the numbers in which they can occur as they look for a place to rest during the day. One source I read calls earwigs an "accidental invader." A household provides many dark, snug places in which to stay safe from predators. In gardens, I'm sure many people find earwigs during the day, like I did in my corn, and assume they are going to destroy the plant on which they are hiding. While it is true that earwigs do consume some plant material, they typically do not cause extensive damage. Instead, earwigs can be a beneficial insect in your garden, preying on aphids, snails, and other garden pests! In addition, earwigs are a source of food for birds, mammals, spiders, lizards, and other predaceous insects.
"Did you say 'earwig?' I like earwigs."

Speaking of birds, I really would like to see the chickadee that frequents my suet feeder try to get her beak on those three earwigs hiding in their see-through bunker! Now that would be some amusement.

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