We can think of a few bugs that look like earwigs – even though earwigs are an insect commonly known for their distinctive appearance. The two curved pincers that protrude from their abdomens make them somewhat unique among other insects and arachnids.
That said, some insects look virtually identical to earwigs. Bugs with pincers or pincer-like structures, elongated bodies, segmented antennae, and other features make them hard to distinguish from earwigs.
What bugs are we talking about? There are several. Let me introduce you to nine bugs that look like earwigs, their characteristics, and how to differentiate them from earwigs.
Then let’s continue.
What Are Earwigs?
Earwigs are insects that belong to a specific insect order Dermaptera. The Latin name means leathery wings.
What they’re known for among everyday homesteaders are not their specific wings but pincers at their rear end – the forceps-like structures with a defensive purpose.
Here are ten earwig facts to get to know them better!
- Earwigs have a brownish-red color and slender bodies with visibly separated heads.
- The most common species of earwig is the European earwig, Forficula auricularia. Native to Europe, parts of Asia, and Northern Africa, it was spread to other temperate regions – North America, Australia, and New Zealand, probably via crop transport.
- As said, earwigs have long forceps-like structures scientifically called cerci on the end of their abdomen. The cerci of earwigs are modified limbs and serve for defense – though mainly for threatening since they’re not overly powerful. A disturbed earwig will often raise its rear end and spread the pincers.
- Although it may seem inefficient, earwigs have their weapons in the back rather than in the front of their bodies because that way, it’s easier to squeeze them through narrow passages and underground tunnels.
- Earwigs live in cool, damp, dark microhabitats such as forest floors, under rocks and bark, and in wet leaves. They are commonly found in gardens (e.g., under-potted plants) and traditional orchards. They also love to snuggle in fallen, half-rotten apples. They may be attracted to the porch and indoor lights at night and thus enter ground-level homes. Earwigs also like to take shelter in basements and fruit storage rooms.
- Earwigs eat all kinds of decaying plant matter, plentiful in their habitats, but also opportunistically eat other smaller arthropods and their remains. Thus, they’re omnivorous.
- Although their variable feeding habits can cause some crop damage, European earwigs are not typical garden pests and do not require pest control. Many farmers and gardeners consider them a nuisance since they enjoy hiding among stored fruits and vegetables. They can also be beneficial insects because they eat tiny common garden pests. Other native earwig species are not agriculturally significant.
- Earwigs display extensive parental care – a rare thing in the insect world. The females guard the eggs, protect them from intruders, and clean them from pathogens.
- Besides the now-cosmopolitan European earwig, some of the 2,000 earwig species include the Shore earwig or Stripped earwig (Labidura riparia, cosmopolitan), the Yellow-spotted earwig (Vostox brunneipennis, the Americas), and the Seashore Earwig (Anisolabis littorea, Australia and New Zealand).
- Two exotic earwig species of the genus Arixeina are bat parasites. Arixenia esau scrapes the upper skin layer of the Asian hairless Naked Bulldog Bat (Cheiromeles torquatus) – but also eats their poo (what a life!).
Are Earwigs Dangerous?
As their name suggests, the earwigs are best known for the European folk superstition that these bugs will approach a sleeping, unsuspecting person and crawl into their ear, burrowing into the ear canal and chewing or slicing through the eardrum. In most horrendous iterations of the story, earwigs even eat their victim’s brains or just enter the brain, causing insanity.
Is there any truth to these tales? Do earwigs go in your ear? Even worse – do earwigs bite in your ear?
The simple answer is that the myth isn’t true. After researching for days, we couldn’t find any documented cases of earwigs burrowing into the inner ear canal, let alone eating the eardrum and the brain.
Still, earwigs can accidentally enter human ears, but this is extremely rare – only a couple of cases ever got documented, with only one containing photographic evidence. In none of these cases was there any damage to the patient’s ear or hearing. However, these events are tremendously rare – you could say, a freak accident – so there is no reason to fear earwigs in our daily lives.
9 Bugs That Look Like Earwigs (But Aren’t) – Our Official List
Now that we know what earwigs are and how they look, we should examine some of the most famous bugs that look like earwigs.
1. Rove Beetles
Here are my favorite look-alikes of earwigs – and the most persuasive ones.
Rove beetles (Staphylinidae) are a group of fast, slender insects that hardly look like beetles at all. They don’t resemble beetles because their elytra (outer wings or wing covers) are short, with wings tightly folded underneath – like a parachute.
And who else has a shortened outer pair of wings, plus elongated bodies? Yup, earwigs.
Among tens of thousands of species of rove beetles, the Devil’s coach horse (Staphylinus olens) is probably the best-known one. This large, jet-black predator hunts for other invertebrates at night and rests underneath leaves and rocks during the day.
One of its signature moves is that when it feels threatened, this staphylinid raises the rear of its abdomen into the air – again, similar to earwigs. However, it can also spray a smelly substance at the opponent – something earwigs cannot accomplish.
However, details aside, the two insect groups are still different. Besides completely different ecologies and lifestyles, physical differences make it easy to differentiate these beetles from earwigs.
For example, rove beetles lack pincers at the rear end. But larger species have pincer-like jaws on the front. Also, the black color of the Devil’s coach horse is unseen in the dark brown or light brown earwigs.
Silverfish are ancient insects – and our standard roommates (or bathroom mates).
These shiny, wingless insects belong to the primitive order Zygentoma and love dwelling in our home’s dark, damp areas, such as bathrooms, kitchens, and basements.
Silverfish have a good reason to hang around. They feed on starch, and humans have plenty of starchy food around – paper, glue, wallpaper paste, and similar substances. Thus, they can be pests in museums and libraries. On a home scale, they can do some damage. But their impact is usually minuscule.
The elongated body shape is one of the main characteristics reminiscent of an earwig. More superficial similarities are long, slender, hair-like structures (filaments or cerci) at the rear – a distinctive feature of the whole order. Although a lot thinner, these filaments can be mistaken for earwig pincers.
Color is a distinguishing feature that instantly separates earwigs and silverfish. No matter which hue – silverish or golden – silverfish are light-colored, while earwigs are dark. Secondly, silverfish move erratically and in a kind of fish-like way; earwigs move more slowly and steadily.
Bristletails (Archeognata) are close silverfish relatives – and look quite similar. Their bodies are silverish, elongated, and wingless. They also have three tails (cerci) on their rear.
What distinguishes bristletails are their very primitive external mouthparts that inspired the group’s scientific name. What also differentiates them from silverfish are their large eyes and the fact they can launch themselves into the air (like springtails) when in danger.
Also, you won’t find bristletails in your house – they’re outdoor varieties. You can find them under rocks, in forest leaf litter, or underneath bark. There, they feed on algae, lichen, and decaying plant material.
Want to identify unknown bugs crawling around your garden - or home? Then here's an excellent all-in-one handbook for insect identification and taxonomy. It's the Insects Of North America Princeton Field Guide by Dr. John C. Abbott and Kendra K. Abbott. The insect field guide reveals all 783 insect families of North America and includes over 3,700 photos for easy identification.
Centipedes are related to insects – but belong to a separate arthropod group called Myriapoda, along with the millipedes.
Centipedes are predatory invertebrates with elongated and segmented bodies, numerous legs, long antennae, and a pincer-like last pair of legs at the rear end.
Although many massive centipedes exist, the smaller species are more common. And they may be mistaken for earwigs due to their speed, the pair of legs resembling forceps, and the fact that the two are often found in similar damp and dark places or microhabitats – e.g., under rocks and leaf litter.
Termites are social insects that live in ant-like colonies (although they’re not related to ants but to roaches!). They feed on cellulose. In other words, they consume wood, leaves, humus, and other plant material. Their affinity for wood sometimes, unfortunately, affects human housing.
Worker termites have pale, slightly flattened bodies. The large round heads end with elongated pincer-like jaws. Those pincers might be easily mistaken for earwig nippers. However, the pincers of these two insects are at opposite ends of their bodies.
Dobsonflies are large and impressive, primitive-looking flying insects. They’re among the most massive insects in the US. They have immense pincer-like mouthparts protruding from their heads. Various species are found in the Americas, Asia, and South Africa and are associated with freshwater aquatic habitats – mostly streams.
The most famous species is the Eastern Dobsonfly, Corydalus cornutus. Dobsonflies may be mistaken for earwigs based on the presence of their pincer-like mandibles. However, this is not very likely, since dobsonflies are large and have long wings and exceptionally large pincers.
Crickets are insects well-known for their chirping summer night songs they use to attract their mate.
They are very different from earwigs when looked at in detail, and their lifestyles are not similar at all. However, most species of crickets have long antennae and curved legs that can be mistaken for earwig pincers.
Also, many crickets have a visible pair of cerci, but not the pinching kind.
Although crickets have no actual pincers, they can give a pinching bite with their jaws when mishandled!
8. Assassin Bugs
Ah, true bugs on the bug list. At last!
Assassin bugs are predatory true bugs (Hemiptera) with elongated, relatively slim, thin bodies and sucking mouthparts. Many species have long, curved hind legs that can resemble earwig pincers at a glance. Still, they cannot pinch.
That said, their overall body shape and ecology are much different than that of earwigs.
9. Ground Beetles
Ground beetles (Carabidae) are a rather large group of predatory beetles that mostly live, move, and hunt on the ground – and they’re surprisingly fast. They’re every gardener’s friend since they are natural predators of slugs, caterpillars, and many other insects and arthropods that damage plants and dwell near the ground.
Some species of ground beetles have elongated, flattened bodies with visible pincer-like mandibles. These can resemble earwig pincers – although, again, like in the case of termites, they’re at the opposite end of the body. Still, since carabids are wickedly quick on their tiny feet, one can make a mistake in all that hustle.
Speaking of speed – ground beetles are much, much faster than earwigs. So if it’s lightning fast, it’s likely a ground beetle.
- How to Make Money Farming 5 Acres or Less [Not Just Market Gardening!]
- Growing Celery In Containers – The Ultimate Celery Garden Guide!
- 9 Disadvantages of Raised Garden Beds [and Tips to Make It Work]
- How to Start a Vegetable Garden From Scratch In Your Backyard [Step-by-Step Guide]
Earwigs are one extraordinary group of insects with unique physical features and behaviors.
Although there are some insect look-alikes, the truth is that not one of them is like earwigs. It would be great to start appreciating these brave pincer-bearers instead of unfoundedly fearing them.
What about you? Have you seen bugs that look like earwigs in your homesteading travels?
Or – maybe you have an insect that you can’t identify?
Let us know!
We’re a team of nerdy gardeners and homesteaders spanning worldwide. And we’ve encountered countless bugs in our time!
Thanks again for reading.
And have an excellent day!