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biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Order: Dermaptera (earwigs)

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Ecdysozoa > Panarthropoda > Tritocerebra > Phylum: Arthopoda > Mandibulata > Atelocerata > Panhexapoda > Hexapoda > Insecta (insects) > Dicondyla > Pterygota > Metapterygota > Neoptera > Polyneoptera > Anartioptera

Small earwig on daisy in Cape Town garden. [photo HG Robertson, Iziko

Earwigs are easily identified by the pincers they have at the end of the abdomen which are used for capturing and holding prey, for protecting themselves and for helping to fold the hindwings. Earwigs could be mistaken for some diplurans which also have pincers but diplurans are eyeless whereas earwigs have large prominent compound eyes. In winged species of earwigs, the hind pair of wings is membranous (Dermaptera = 'skin-winged') and folded under the forewings which are short, leathery and not used for flight.

Earwigs are mainly nocturnal and by day live in secluded places such as under rocks, in leaf litter and under bark. Most species are omnivorous feeding on dead or living plant and animal matter. Some are active predators and a few are herbivorous. A suborder of earwigs called the Hemimerina are parasitic on vertebrates.

Eggs are usually laid in batches in a burrow underground and females care for the eggs and the young nymphs. Nymphs pass through four to five moults before reaching adulthood.


  • Skaife, S.H. 1979. African Insect Life. Struik, Cape Town, pp. 64-65.