Wildlife Cham­pion

In our se­ries about peo­ple with a pas­sion for a species, we ask TV pre­sen­ter Martin Hughes-Games why he cares so much about the com­mon ear­wig.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Contents - MARTIN HUGHES-GAMES was re­cently awarded the Dilys Breese Medal by the Bri­tish Trust for Or­nithol­ogy, and is the au­thor of A Wild Life.

Why TV pre­sen­ter Martin Hughes-Games has a soft spot for the com­mon ear­wig

Why are you pas­sion­ate about earwigs?

Many years ago, I bought The Nat­u­ral His­tory of the Gar­den by Michael Chin­ery. In this won­der­ful book, the au­thor gives a very in­for­ma­tive and af­fec­tion­ate ac­count of Bri­tish earwigs. It came as a sur­prise to me that any­one could be fond of these in­sects. In­spired by Chin­ery, I was de­ter­mined to find out more about them and be­came pas­sion­ate about earwigs, too. Why cham­pion an in­sect? The very lat­est sci­en­tific re­search has shown that in­sect num­bers are crash­ing all around the world. This is a ter­ri­fy­ing prospect be­cause they are crit­i­cal to a vast num­ber of ecosys­tems, pro­vid­ing food for a host of larger an­i­mals. If they dis­ap­pear, the im­pact will be cat­a­strophic. We need to be more aware of their im­por­tance. I hate the fact that so many peo­ple only like ‘cute’ an­i­mals.

Where does the com­mon ear­wig’s name come from?

Earwigs have the word ‘ear’ in their name in many dif­fer­ent lan­guages. These in­sects show thig­mo­taxis (they re­spond to touch stim­uli), mean­ing they tend to stop mov­ing when they feel their bod­ies in con­tact with the sub­strate above and be­low them. This helps them to recog­nise if they are in a pro­tec­tive en­vi­ron­ment, such as un­der a stone. Due to this be­hav­iour, earwigs have oc­ca­sion­ally crawled into a hu­man ear while search­ing for a safe place to rest.

Have you ever filmed earwigs?

I made a 30-minute doc­u­men­tary that fol­lowed the life of a sin­gle fe­male. It was one of my most en­joy­able TV ex­pe­ri­ences be­cause we cre­ated a mag­i­cal world in an al­lot­ment in Bris­tol. My friend Chris Tim­mins man­aged, by care­ful ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, to get an ear­wig to open its wings for us on cam­era. They were ex­tra­or­di­nary – shim­mer­ing iri­des­cent colours, fan­tas­ti­cally thin and won­drously folded. Earwigs be­long to the Dermaptera or­der, mean­ing ‘skin wings’ – it’s a per­fect de­scrip­tion of what we ob­served.

Why are fe­males ex­cel­lent moth­ers?

They spend the win­ter pro­tect­ing be­tween 20 and 40 eggs in a small cav­ity. In my ear­wig film, we cap­tured a fe­male at­tack­ing a pseu­doscor­pion that had en­tered her nest. To our amaze­ment, she killed it us­ing her pin­cers. Fe­male earwigs gather their eggs to­gether if they are dis­turbed, lick them to pre­vent fun­gal in­fec­tion, and feed their off­spring mouth to mouth – ex­cep­tional be­hav­iour in the in­sect world.

Why do earwigs have pin­cers on the tip of their ab­domens?

These are de­fen­sive struc­tures. You can eas­ily tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween a male and fe­male ear­wig by look­ing at their pin­cers – the male’s are curved like a pair of gar­den sick­les ( be­low, left) whereas the fe­male’s are straight and meet down the mid­dle.

How many species are there?

The UK has four species of ear­wig – we used to have five but the tawny ear­wig, found in sandy habi­tats, is prob­a­bly ex­tinct. I dream of fame and glory by re­dis­cov­er­ing a colony. Don’t tell any­one but I de­vote a lot of my holiday time to search­ing. As with so many crea­tures, once you start to delve into the lives of earwigs, you be­come ad­dicted and fas­ci­nated. Jo Price

I’ve filmed a fe­male ear­wig killing a nest in­truder with her pin­cers. It was amaz­ing!

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