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An Earwig Mother Post by :64525 Category :Essays Author :Elizabeth Brightwen Date :July 2011 Read :1762

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An Earwig Mother

I had often read of the earwig as an incubating insect, and much wished to see for myself how she carried out her motherly instincts. One bright May morning found me busily turning over stones, clinkers, and old tree-roots in a fernery, which, having been long undisturbed, seemed a likely spot for the nest I wished to find. There seemed no scarcity of worms, wood-lice, centipedes, or beetles, but no earwigs could I see; and I was just about to give up the search when, lifting a piece of stone, I saw a small cavity, about as large as would contain a pea, and in it lay about twenty-six round, white eggs, hard-shelled and shining, of the size of a small pin's head. An earwig had placed herself over the eggs, and I was delighted to think at last I had lighted upon the insect mother I had been searching for. But what was to be done with her? How could I watch the process of incubation? The difficulty was solved by lifting the nest and its mother with a trowel and placing it in a saucer under a tumbler, without any displacement of the eggs; thus the mother's care could be conveniently watched. The earwig first carefully examined her new home, touching each morsel of earth and stone with her antennae; and, having ascertained the exact condition of things, she set to work to make a fresh nest, labouring with great industry until it was formed to her mind. She then took up the eggs, one by one, with her mandibles, and placed them in the new nest, arranging and rearranging them, until at last she seemed content, and remained either upon or near them for the rest of the day, quite motionless.

Every night, and sometimes two or three times in the day, she would form fresh places in the earth, and replace the eggs. To prevent the soil becoming too dry, I used to sprinkle a little water upon it--a drop here and there--and if by accident the water fell too near the eggs, the earwig became much excited, hurrying to and fro with her eggs, until they were all removed to a drier spot. On the other hand, if I omitted the water until the earth became dry, she would choose the dampest spot that remained in which to form her nest, and seemed to welcome the water-drops, drinking herself from them, and feeling the damp earth with her antennae. She remained thus for three weeks, feeding on little pieces of beef or mutton, or an occasional fly; I did not then know that earwigs are mostly vegetable feeders, but it is clear they can eat other food when needful. The first time I dropped a newly-killed house-fly near her she looked at it intently, felt it with her antennae, and then suddenly wheeled round and pinched it with her forceps, and being apparently satisfied that it could do no harm to her eggs, she began to devour it, and after an hour or two but little remained except the wings.

As it was early in the year, but few insects could be seen, but by searching in the conservatory I found a large green aphis, which I gave to the earwig. To my surprise, instead of devouring it at once, she applied herself to one of the projecting tubes of the aphis, and evidently sucked its sweet secretion, and enjoyed it as much and in the same way as ants are said to do. She feasted thus for four or five minutes, but I am sorry to add that, unlike the humane ants, who care tenderly for their aphides and preserve their lives by kind treatment, the earwig ended by munching up the unfortunate aphis, till not a trace of it was left.

At the end of three weeks I found one morning all the eggs were hatched, and tiny, snow-white earwigs, with forceps and antennae fully developed, were creeping about and around their mother. I placed a slice of pear in the saucer, upon which the little ones swarmed, and seemed to find it congenial food. In a few days they increased to nearly double their size when first hatched, and turned a light brown colour. Having ascertained all I wished to know about the maternal instincts of the earwig, I released the mother and her family, and no doubt she was happy enough to return to her old haunt in the fernery, and would greatly prefer tree-roots and stones to my tumbler-and-saucer arrangement.

(The end)
Elizabeth Brightwen's essay: Earwig Mother

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