The Earwig Life Cycle

The life cycle of an earwig takes place over several molts. Life begins in the egg phase. Eggs that have hatched begin nesting until they have undergone their first molt. After this first shedding of skin, some of the braver youth, also called nymphs, may rise to go on night hunts, returning to the nest during the day. Others will stay in the nest full time and take advantage of their mother’s nurturing instinct for a little while longer.

A maternal instinct

The maternal instinct of a female earwig is a unique aspect of the earwig’s life cycle. Care for her young begins with the excavation of a small egg cell, well before the eggs have hatched. When the nest is complete, the female will organize the eggs and place them into the cell, about 20 to 60 at a time. While waiting for them to hatch, she stands guard over the eggs, defending them from other insects, and even her own mate. Periodically, she will lick every individual egg. Scientists are not sure what encourages this licking behavior, though some believe it prevents the growth of fungus, which could threaten the eggs and prevent them from hatching.

Age of adolescence

Every molt stage in the life cycle of an earwig is called an instar. Nymphs undergo about four to six molts before reaching maturity. During every molt, they acquire an additional antenna segment, lengthening the size of their antennae.

After the first molt, a mother earwig will open the “door” of the nest to her brood, or young family, clearing a passageway for second instar nymphs that want to scavenge for food at night. Third and fourth instar nymphs, or those that have undergone two or three molts, begin leaving the nest permanently to start a life closer to the surface of the soil.

A brood or two, or six

Many female earwigs lay two rounds of eggs, although some lay as many as six and others as few as one. Broods laid earlier in the spring or summer when temperatures are not as warm, take longer to hatch than those laid in the middle of the summer when temperatures are at their highest. The full length of the earwig life cycle, from egg to adult, can vary, as well as the total lifespan. The average lifespan of earwigs in the wild is about a year.

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