Do Earwigs Really Lay Eggs in Your Ears?

Nathan asks: Do earwigs really burrow into your brain and lay eggs?

earwigLet me just say I hate earwigs. Small, slimy-looking, fast moving, and always popping out of some dark place when I least expect it- no insect short of a silverfish fills me with more revulsion.

Now, to answer your question, we’ll start off talking about the mating habits of the earwig.  To make baby earwigs, the male grabs and holds onto the female and they, literally, bump uglies. The eggs may not fertilize immediately (the sperm can hang around for several months before fertilizing the eggs), but ultimately they will.

At some point, the lady comes to her senses- no doubt realizing the male is super creepy looking- and exiles him from the nest- yes, nest, that is not your ear.

Then she lays anywhere between 20 and 80 eggs . . . seemingly most of which end up on a chair where my husband sits, and my children come to play with their toys.

After hatching, earwigs develop in a series of five stages, each grosser than the last. The mother earwig, unlike most non-social insects, actually guards her young, at least until they leave the nest after the first molt. Throughout their development, earwigs retain that familiar handsome profile.

There seems to be a consensus that people have always thought the earwig would climb in your ear if given a chance. In fact, the name is thought by most etymologists to come from two Old English words that mean “ear insect” (ēare wicga).

While humans may have long associated the insect with burrowing into ears, in reality this almost never happens and even when it does, they aren’t going there to lay eggs and burrow into your brain.  Earwigs simply like moist, dark places to hide, but they choose these places for day-time hiding, not at night when you are presumably sleeping.  At night, they hunt for insects and plants to eat.

That being said, throughout history, there have been anecdotal reports of earwigs being found inside people’s ears. One story submitted to the Bug Doctor by a man known only as Frank, goes like this:

At 3 am, my 8-year-old daughter awoke me from a sound sleep. She was extremely upset. For the preceding few minutes she had attempted to remove a creature crawling about in her left external ear canal. A light sleeper, she had been aroused by the ‘sound of little feet.’ Otoscopic examination revealed a dark brown mass near the tympanic membrane. My brief discussion with her on the importance of proper hygiene was interrupted when I saw the form move. Then, bathed in brilliant illumination from the otoscope, a female earwig . . . measuring 20 mm in length, cautiously emerged, to the relief of insect, child and father.

While this story may or may not be made up, it doesn’t seem too far fetched to think at some point in human history, possibly many times, and earwig crawled into a person’s ear canal. As stated, there are many anecdotal stories, some even well documented, of this sort of thing happening, along with similar occurrences from many other small insects. Insects like exploring and if you let them crawl all over your body, eventually one might dink around in your ear canal for a bit to see what’s there.

But regardless, once there, the female earwig certainly isn’t going to find it a good environment to mate and nest. If left alone in the ear, she also would not burrow into a person’s brain and lay her eggs. Besides the fact that the ear canal / brain wouldn’t make a very good nest, this simply isn’t possible considering the amount of bone and other tissue the earwig isn’t equipped to burrow through.  At best, the earwig can use their pincers on you, but even these aren’t strong enough to do any real damage.

As for their often slimy appearance, leading some to believe that this is from earwax, this likely comes from the damp crevices where they reside as well as the waxy secretions from their abdominal gland.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Bonus Facts:

  • Nocturnal, earwigs come out to feed at night. They love decaying organic matter, like dead leaves, but they also eat a variety of other insects including mites and aphids. Omnivorous, they eat beneficial healthy plants, too.
  • Although there are nearly 2,000 different species of earwigs (why, God, why?), the one most of us flinch from is the Forficula auricularia. Growing to lengths of about half an inch, earwigs are brown and flat; one end hosts a head and pair of antennae- the other has the characteristic pincers that are capable of pinching, although I tend to squish them under my shoe before they get the chance.
  • So, knowing an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, here are some of the best methods for eliminating earwigs from your life and Martha Stuart Collection.  To the extent possible, eliminate their preferred habitats. Keep areas around the foundation of your house, under stones, and pots and in the corners as dry as possible. This may require removing vegetation such as thick ivy and densely planted flowers and bushes.
  • Traps made from cardboard tubes and lengths of hose, filled with straw and sealed shut at one end, are another effective way to eliminate the slimy horde. Put these near the places where the pests have been spotted and in the morning, throw them into a bucket of soapy water. Another trap can be made with shallow cans, like from cat food or tuna, filled with a small amount of fish oil and sunk into the ground. To clean the latter traps, sop up the bug-infused oil with paper towels, rather than trying to remove the cans without sloshing the smelly oil.
  • One intrepid organic gardener recommends attracting the fly that feeds on earwigs into your garden with plants it likes, such as dill and fennel; personally, I’d rather not compound my bug problem with more bugs. However, toads and birds are known to eat earwigs, so you may want to encourage these natural predators by having a small pond or other water source… though again, water sources tend to be great ways to acquire other bug problems.
  • For those who don’t mind chemicals, treating affected areas with pesticides that contain Deltamethrin, Cypermethrin or Bifenthrin have all been proven effective.
  • If you are unlucky enough to have an earwig, or any other insect, crawl into your ear, there are a few simple steps to removing it:
    •  DON’T STICK ANYTHING IN YOUR EAR (not a finger or a Q-Tip). Poking at the insect may cause it to bite or sting.
    • Lay your head flat, infested ear facing up. Say a prayer to your higher power of choice that the insect will crawl out on its own. If it doesn’t, proceed to step three.
    • Have someone pour baby or olive oil in your ear, pulling the lobe as they pour. For children, the lobe should be pulled backward and downward; for adults, it should be moved backward and upward. It is hoped the insect will drown, and then drain out with the oil.
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  • I always understood they are called earwigs due to the fact anatomically their ears are similar to ours.

  • I actually pulled an earwig out of my wifes ear about two years ago and she still won’t talk about it!

  • michael tomlinson

    I was swimming one day and one flew inside my ear. After listening to it walking around in there for a couple of hours, it left of its own accord. I wish this article had been around back then … 🙂

  • Yes, indeed those lil creepy bugs find their way into moist damp cracks. Last year around 3 am I too heard a swashing sound. At first I thought I was still dreaming, no the sound persisted. I got up to look around the house for burglars or the sort ( still half asleep ) until it moved again. Realizing the sound was not from outside the house or the house itself, but within my own ear? I rushed to the bathroom mirror and attempted to remove the object. And like most things that move on land, require air to live. I applied a few drops of water and the bug immediately crawled out. It was only then as it crawled out that I realized what it was. Its size alone was astounding but seeing it crawling out like it did. Ugh… one of the most revolting memories of my life. A horror movie in action. It took me three months to stop sleeping with ear plugs. Just as a precaution, not that I was afraid of them no.. Just… a precaution. The chances of that happening again are 1 in almost never. Or so I hope.

    • I have similar story… I awoke one night, feeling something crawl in to my ear. Immediately, I started to panic. I didn’t want to kill it in my ear, so I ran to the kitchen sink, turned the water on full blast & stuck my ear under it for probably half a minute. Then I ran to wake up my roommate, to try to get a ride to the hospital. I could still feel it moving & everytime it did, I screamed. It was more creepy than anything. As I sat waiting, just a minute or so later, I felt the insect crawl out of my ear & down my face. I grabbed it & opened my hand to find this fat, nasty earwig. I couldn’t believe it! They were always the insect that I disliked the most, but I thought the “ear thing” was an old wives’ tale. To this day, I still wear ear plugs at night… & it’s almost been 10 years!

  • I had 1 get in my ear 2 nights ago, let me just ell u not to try to get it out with your finger, it started pinching and clawing my eardrum and I literally screamed from the pain, I havnt slept in almost 3 nights cuz I keep seeing them around my room and I even have cottonballs in my ears and my big headset on.. put bug spray down today and it killed a few of them but I was watching tonight and I killed almost 10 of them… im never gunna sleep again!

  • I had one in my left ear last night and made the mistake of putting my big dumb finger in my ear and it started pinching me and it hurt like hell and I was so tired that I put my finger back in and wriggled it around and it pinched me again and that time I screamed and then my brother asked me what was wrong and I finally got it by chance but I only broke off it’s head and then mum and dad came to the rescue and dad got the rest of the earwig out with a pair of tweezers and mum cleaned my ear out with peroxide and alcolhol and finally got to go back to sleep but much like you I couldn’t sleep.

    • Brutal, but at least the bastards didn’t do it again. I don’t remember on getting one in my ear so i was curious to go on this website.

  • They aren’t creepy at all! Except for the pinchers on their tail end, they look a lot like fireflies.

    And those pinchers (cerci) don’t pinch hard at all. I used to play with these little critters when I was a kid. They are totally harmless.

    Anyone saying the got pinched hard is making up stories! You have a better chance at having an ant bite you. And they hardly hurt. For protection, some earwigs can squirt foul-smelling yellow liquid.

    People need to stop being creeped out by harmless insects that are many times smaller than you are. If you stop and watch them, they are very interesting. All living things are beautiful in their own way!

    • you’re a beautiful human being

    • Raven, you don’t know what you are talking about. They certainly do pinch hard. When I was a boy one pinched me on my lower back and it certainly did hurt.

  • I… I had a spider crawl into my ear once while going to bed. It bit the inside of my ear, drawing blood. The weird part is that I’d seen the spider around my room a couple times before (it had bitten me a few times) but failed to find and kill it. I know it was the same little bastard, and rest assured it’s dead now!

    It’s still one of the worst memories in my life. I get shivers thinking about it. earwigs? they don’t bother me so much.

  • OMG I keep having earwigs go into our house! I already found 4 EARWIGS in 3 DAYS!!!!!!!!!!!!

    3 days ago: 1 earwig crawling on my bed. I killed it. I found another one in the bathroom in the corner. Failed to kill.

    2 days ago: Earwig found crawling along living room floor. Dog squashed it and killed it.

    Today: Earwig found on top of my soda. I was scared, so I kept whacking it with a heavy, white, long stick. I dunno if it was killed.

    HELP! :C

  • Then why did a ear wig get pulled out of my ear at the doctor? Fully inspected as a ear wig …where is this research that supports that they don’t climb in the ear while you sleep, because I was sleep.

  • Yeah, screw that. I had one crawl in my ear in my sleep. And it wasn’t a hygiene issue, my room is well cleaned and sprayed.

  • Oh my God I have seen a lot of these bugs in our house we live on a farm there is lots of bug’s here .I have always lived in the city so I am not used to seeing a lot of bug’s I am so scared now what can I do please help me .if one of those bugs got in my ear I would probably have a heart attack on the spot so what can I do ? I will never be able to sleep again.

    • When I was a little boy my grandmother used earwig bait between two sheets of newspaper and it worked. They crawled in between the two pieces and ate the bait and died. Be sure to keep the newspaper in a dry place, and also where your pets cannot get to it

  • I fished an earwig out of my ear that had somehow crawled in while I was sleeping (back in college days). Had a stabbing feeling that went away for a few minutes when I tapped my ear. Kept coming back. Finally went to the sink and used wadded up paper and with a couple of twists while facing that ear downward, out fell the earwig into the sink.

    The ORKIN website says “There is a superstition that earwigs burrow into the ears of people while they sleep. This is a myth and without any scientific basis.” I must have been dreaming the whole time NOT!

    • A lot of these so-called experts do not know what they are talking about, but, wanting people to think they are wise, they spout off their ignorance.

    • This is why I sleep with a scarf or towel around my ear. We are not only vulnerable to earwigs but any pest that decides to stray.

  • Oh com’on! Anyone who has ever grown corn knows that earwigs are uber-often found crawling on the ears of corn when your shucking them. Ears of Corn….? Earwigs….?
    So much more common an occurrence than crawling in ones own ears.

  • Creep ? No insect causes more revulsion ? Let me present you, the domestic cockroach…..

  • not to be a buzz kill

    Okay i call bull on almost everything here, the whole reason i found this is cuz i suddenly woke up relized something was on my face and i caught it. Judging by the appearance it seemed to me an adolescent earwig, y the fk was it on my face, its 6am how am i gonna fall back asleep now!? Y was it on my face!? Im so superstitious i don’t wanna take the chances, good god im a wuss…but it was on my face.

  • I was cleaning my room after i moved and i put a bed sheet in my drawer and once it was in the drawer an earwig just came running out of the sheet!! I killed it but does that mean when i moved in there were already eareigs infested because when we were looking at thr house before we moved in there were alot of bugs in the corbers of the rooms or does that mean that it wad just 1 out of place, or was it becaude the draeer that i were using are new so maybe it was from the dtore but it is 3 am!! How am i supposed to sleep!! Please give me suggestions!!!

  • I did forget to mention…NO they do not crawl into your brain and lay eggs but they can crawl into your ears and pinch but when they do pinch they do not usualky breack skin or draw blood. If yiu do not want them crweling in your ear…then dont use q-tips. If you use q-tipd then 1. They do not clean your ears they just push tge earwax onto your eardrum and can danmage your ear or make it hard to hear 2. The earwax will be sticky so any type of bug will bot want to live inside your ear 3. On the packaging of q-tips they say not to put it in your ear

  • Hello all,

    I found myself on this article at 2am for one reason and one reason only. I WOKE UP TO AN EAR WIG TRYING TO CRAWL INTO MY EAR! Maybe it’s a coincidence or I’m a Mythbuster, but I’m freaking out still! In my sleep I must have felt a tickle near my ear, so I used my finger near my ear hole to wipe away what I would initially assume is hair, but I did not feel hair. I felt a creature and felt that creature making a swift move towards the inside of my ear. So quickly used my finger nail to catch onto it and pull it out, where I lost it in the dark near my pillow. I jumped up, grabbed my phone light and low and behold there it was.

    Aghhhhh. So not a myth…maybe I’m the lucky .001%, but now you know it can happen.

    • Did you actually see the creature? You did mention it was dark. I am not saying that an earwig didn’t try to crawl into your ear but it could be anything. For instance, some beetles (and pretty much any insect) could stray and land in that area. Maybe that’s a special characteristic of earwigs, but I don’t know.

      • Kenneth R Jones

        Did you actually read what she wrote? Because she already answered your question.

  • I came to this article because I literally just had this experience. When I went to insert one of my earbuds into my right ear, I felt movement. I’ve previously had wax work its way toward the open of my ear canal, but this was moving like something alive. At times, its presence was painful. I tried using my fingernail and a pen cap to flick it out, but was unsuccessful. After clinching my nostrils and attempting to force air out, it seemed to give whatever was there the motivation to vacate. As I felt whatever it was coming to the outside, I held up my hand to catch it. Sure enough: an earwig. My inner ear is still a bit sore from when it tried to wedge itself in further, but I have no idea when it might have entered my ear. I never felt anything unusual until, as mentioned earlier, I inserted an earbud.

  • I just woke up 15 min ago to what felt like swimmers ear until I turned over to let the water out and felt and heard something crawling in there!!!! Freaked out and woke up my husband to help and after about 2 min of shaking my head it finally came out and my husband killed it!!!! I can still feel it… most disgusting feeling ever to wake up to a bug in your ear especially an earwig!!!! Obviously this happens most often then they say for so many people to be looking it up. Deffinantly getting my ears professionally cleaned today. Ugh….

  • Happened to me too. I was falling asleep and then my ear started hurting and I screamed. My husband came in. I did stick a q-tip in. He saw something and then I tipped my head and it fell out or maybe my husband pulled it out with the q-tip. So gross. Used peroxide to clean it. Hoping the odds are now in my favor for it not to happen again.