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7:37 p.m. - 2007-01-07
Silverfish and Earwigs.
Halooo, Critter Readers!

Happy January to you all. This weekend I was graced not only with the presence of Super GH aka Domestic Nemesis, but also many other women, who came over for our "Girl's Night"! The roster follows: CN, LF, PG, SH, CH, CK, Dr. AA, KB and soul-sisters KB and AB. Yay! We ate 100 lbs of cheese, some wedding cake (it was awesome, sis L!) and many other delights.

GH is on my bad-list because she didn't think the vole-trails in the front yard were REALLY tunnels!

A week ago, CN and I were discussing a subject that was much less pleasant than the above festivities; the difference between earwigs and silverfish. These bugs both possess the qualities to freak people out, and therefore need to be covered on Wendell's Critter Corner. However, one of these insectoids has a sweet tooth: (as we all proved to have last night, when we devoured CH's chocolate goody tray) the silverfish.
A photo from

Indeed, its' Latin species name, Lepisma saccharina, refers to the sugars and starches silverfish prefer to eat! These "sweet" items include book glue, paper, photos, hair, dandruff, dirt and lint. Silverfish can survive without food for several months, provided they're in a moist environment.

These one-half to one inch long bugs, also known as "fishmoths", are very ancient. They emerged about 300 million years ago from the basal (they split off the insect family tree earlier than others) Order Thysanura. In 2006 a new, eyeless silverfish species was discovered in a cave in the Sequoia National Park in California.

Silverfish nooky is interesting! Apparently the male bug lays a sperm mass called a spermatophore, which a female then locates by sensing its biochemical emissions. She then picks it up and (I'm assuming) inserts into herself, where the spermatophore becomes an egg cluster. She then deposits the eggs, which hatch and go through several larval stages. After the third molt, the brownish-colored juvenile silverfish grow the silver scales for which the insects are known. Silverfish can live two to eight years!

These nocturnal bugs can be destructive, but do not carry diseases that affect humans. One way of eliminating silverfish is to clean up your piles of crap. You can also sprinkle around infested areas a 1:1 ratio of borax powder mixed with sugar, which will kill them. Natural enemies include the common house centipede,

(yuck!) the occasional spider and the following bug, the earwig!

A pic from

(I got the heebie-jeebies from this picture!)

Contrary to its' name, earwigs do not crawl into people's ears. Their name comes from the Old English words for "ear insect", and the French call it a "perce-oreille" or "ear piercer". The Latin species name, Forficula auricularia, refers to "ear" and apparently an ancient remedy for curing ear disorders was to grind up earwigs and dump them in that orifice. Gross!

Earwigs are tiny, though, about 12 to 15 mm long for the North American species listed above. The earwigs belong to Order Dermaptera, which is a small group of insects; 1800 species spread among 10 families.

The most distinctive feature of the earwig are the forceps-like appendages at the end of its abdomen. These cerci do work like pincers, with which the earwig holds its prey, or apparently uses to assist with nooky. The whole abdomen is very flexible to help the cerci grab stuff.

Earwigs are good parents. The female lays the fertilized eggs in the fall, and lies dormant underground with her partner and the eggs over the winter. In the spring, the male dies, and the female stays with the hatchlings until they are bigger. She, in turn, goes to insect heaven mid-summer, and the cycle begins again in the fall. An earwig will dig up to six feet underground to hibernate!

Like silverfish, earwigs are nocturnal, and they both enjoy moist environments. Earwigs do have wings, however, but can't fly very well. I guess the wings are folded up under the thorax "upper" wings.

For dinner, earwigs eat plants, ripe fruit, and garbage, and are often mistaken for cockroaches because of their similar appearance and proximity to dumpsters. Insects are also a popular snack for earwigs, along with the silk on corn cobs, which causes problems for farmers. But also like silverfish, earwigs aren't harmful to humans, and can be a beneficial part of the garden ecosystem.

To get earwigs out of your vector, they can be easily caught in a shallow pan of vegetable oil that you have sunk in flush to the ground. Apparently earwigs also avoid diatomaceous earth sprinkled around plants.

All right, I know this was a gross subject for a Sunday night, but, it's important for us to be able to distinguish between the silverfish and earwig. Knowledge is power, people.

Have a good week!


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