Friday, September 4, 2009

The Year of the Earwig

I had my first encounter with an earwig at about age two. I was climbing the concrete steps leading up to our front door. An earwig pinched my finger. There were two tiny dots of blood. I continued up the steps and through the front door to where my mother sat in the livingroom, surrounded by ancient women. I think they must have been one or both of my great-grandmothers and their sisters.

I've had an aversion ever since.

To earwigs, not old ladies.

I don't care what the Chinese say - 2009 has been The Year of the Earwig. There are tons of them and they are everywhere. In the laundry room, in the garage, in the family room, on my kitchen table when guests were over, in my flower beds and under every rock in the yard, and there's been one in the back of my mind all summer. It never leaves me. There's a myth about earwigs crawling into the ears of sleeping people, causing fever and insanity. No fever yet, but the insanity thing? Could be happening.

When I was about twelve I had a close encounter of the very disturbing kind. It was summer, and I was getting ready to go to the beach. I got my bathing suit off the clothesline in the backyard, took it up to my room, and put it on. There was an earwig in it. I'm still traumatized. I have not used the bathing suit clothesline since.

Earwigs are hideous creatures. I think that, like the horseshoe crab and the alligator, earwigs have probably changed very little since prehistoric times. I've done some research on Wikipedia. Did you know that most species have wings tucked away somewhere and are capable of flight? How disturbing is that? But they hardly ever use them. Instead, they use this tactic called the "defensive drop." They like to crawl up high on things like walls and ceilings and bathing suits on outdoor clotheslines. Once they know you've seen them, they let go and free fall to the ground. Then, while you're shrieking and flailing your arms, they scurry into the nearest crack or crevice. Makes me want to scream just thinking about it.

Two other upsetting facts I learned: they're nocturnal, and they're year-round.

One of our kids, when he was little, built a birdhouse out of a kit. We hung it in a tree in the backyard. One day I thought I'd look inside it for evidence of a resident bird family. I tipped it a little to get a good look into the hole. Hundreds of earwigs did the defensive drop. The birdhouse still hangs in the tree. I haven't touched it since that day. I'm uncomfortable even standing under that tree.

In the spring, I planted my vegetable garden. As soon as the green beans came up, something started eating them. My broccoli plants, too. Each morning, I'd go out to check for damage and find that huge amounts of plant material had been consumed. Someone at the nursery suggested that it might be quail. We'd had quail in the yard that month for the first time ever. Must be the quail. I spent half the summer replanting beans and bad-mouthing the quail. Now I'm pretty sure it was the earwigs; Wikipedia says they like to feed on seedling beans. It makes me crazy to think I've been feeding them all summer.

I recently put some peas in for a fall crop. Something's eating them.

Sometimes I get cold at night so I keep a polar fleece blanket under my side of the bed. But I haven't been able to use it. That earwig, the one in the back of my mind, whispers to me when I wake up cold in the night. It tells me that some of its brothers are burrowing in the folds of my blanket.

Almost every day for the last while I've seen one scramble across the basement floor and under the washer or dryer.

If I get up and come downstairs in the night and turn on a light, will I find them all over my walls and ceiling? Will they then perform the defensive drop?

So, is the earwig in the ear thing really just a myth or can it cause insanity? You tell me. I'm in no condition to decide.


  1. I agree, they are creepy little things. And what are they even good for? Do they eat other bad bugs? Do they produce a life saving toxin in their blood? Pretty pointless if you ask me.