Donít let me earwig you about gross bugs
By Bert Raynes, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: September 5, 2012
Jackson Hole supports its fair share of insect species. Bugs and allied creatures. Insects and noninsects that may bite, annoy, damage plants. Their role in the overall food chain largely going unrecognized.
Some insects are artificially held at bay in populated areas. Some are valued, some are tolerated — and some are despised. Think: earwigs.
I have yet to meet anyone who likes earwigs. There must be such, because technical information is available on these small creatures. Technically speaking, earwigs are pretty ugly. Secondly, they’re active at night and hide in the day almost anywhere dark and, preferably, damp. Say, under a washcloth or around a sink. Nothing will awaken a person quicker.
If you measure an earwig found in Jackson Hole, it will be around an inch in length. If you dislike earwigs and notice one, it will at first seem much larger.
They are black or near black, have flattish, segmented bodies and a prominent pair of appendages (cerci) resembling forceps at the end of their bodies. Earwigs use these cerci to capture prey, to sense their environment and in defense. Both sexes possess these forceps.
Many earwig species exist. It was recently reported in the New York Times that male maritime earwigs have notably asymmetrical forceps that are used in fights with each other. If otherwise matched in size, the earwig with the more asymmetrical forceps prevails.
Battles between males of that earwig species employ a kind of arm-wrestling contest over a food source. Why can’t they all just get along?
Two other factoids of interest about earwigs: Female earwigs show an instinct very rare in insects. Females turn, reposition and lick their eggs. They also bring food (an omnivorous diet of other insects and plant material) to hatchlings and protect them in their earthen nests for up to two months.
And then, male maritime earwigs have two penises, and each is functional. What’s with that?
Try to think about all of this when the next earwig comes out from nowhere into the house and appears to be ready to fight.
Incidentally, there’s another definition of the word earwig: to annoy or attempt to influence by private talk.
The sole reason I know that definition (aside from the fact that I sometimes attempt to earwig) is that years back a group of locals, including Meg and me, would meet on Wednesday evenings at Mardy Murie’s home to chat, share a meal, greet some of Mardy’s many visitors and complete an acrostic puzzle.
Correctly solved, an acrostic puzzle created by Thomas Middleton resulted in a quotation in horizontal form from a book plus the author’s name in a vertical column produced by the first letter of each definition. Well, once you got used to it ...
Tom Middleton, who became another great Mardy Murie champion, created these puzzles for decades. He rather liked to use “earwig” as a clue in his puzzles. Often enough that our little group got pretty wise to it.
Hope I haven’t earwigged you too much.
Field Notes: Gooseberries and huckleberries are said to be scarce this year, but other berries and fruits are ripe now. Birds and bears know all about them. A bear or a flock of waxwings or robins, for example, sure do know how to remove the berries from a shrub or bush.
As frequently happens, come a change in season or even a simple sizeable weather pattern change, some birders have lots of birds while other observers lament a dearth of birds. Sue Williams had lots of passerines (black-headed grosbeaks, robins, etc.), including three fledgling long-eared owls. Many other observers are noticing declining numbers of species in their yards.
It’s September 2012. I’m told there will be lots of politicking for a couple of months. Be aware.
The Jackson Hole Bird Club will try another outdoor meeting on Sunday. Come to the viewing platform just north of the Jackson Hole and Greater Yellowstone visitor Center on North Cache Street in Jackson at 7 p.m. Maybe for some birds. Surely for some good conversation, refreshments and exchange of observations. Come one, come all.
© Bert Raynes 2012
Bert Raynes writes weekly on whatever suits his fancy with a dash of news on nature and its many ways.