Twenty species of earwigs occur in the U.S. They are widely distributed, however more species are found in the warmer regions. Larger populations are found in the moist coastal areas.
Earwigs are elongate and somewhat flattened. Adults are about one-half to one inch in length. Most have short leathery wings that do not cover their abdomen. Some species are wingless. Most species are brownish, some are black. Some have reddish or yellowish markings. They are easily recognized by their large, well developed forceps-like cerci (a paired organ at the end of their abdomen). When handled, earwigs give off a very pungent odor. This odor comes from a secretion that they use in self-defense, spraying it at their enemies.
Females lay their eggs in a shallow cavity in the soil. They will brood over their eggs and young hatchlings, protecting them until they are able to survive on their own. The young look like the adults except they are smaller and wingless.
Earwigs are omnivorous, feeding mainly on decaying plant material but also on small insects. These insects are very territorial and may be seen running backwards at each other and trying to grasp each other with their pincer-like cerci.
Contrary to an old wives tale, earwigs will not enter the ears of someone lying on the ground. However, earwigs are mainly nocturnal creatures that feed at night and hide during the day. They frequent moist, dark places and can be found under loose bark, logs, rocks, under leaves, or hiding in other debris on the ground.