Friday, June 18, 2010


Insect forms, Village of the Great Kivas,
Zuni, New Mexico. Photo: Teresa Weedin.

One insect form found in rock art in the American Southwest consists of a line with a number of shorter crossing lines, and with a fork or prongs at each end. The example illustrated is from Canyon de Chelley, Arizona. I believe that this form may have been intended to represent the common insect known as an earwig.

Earwig, Canyon de Chelley, AZ,
Photo Peter Faris, 1997.


According to Wikipedia:
Earwigs are characterized by the cerci, or the pair of forceps-like pincers on their abdomen; male earwigs have curved pincers, while females have straight ones. These pincers are used to capture prey, defend themselves and fold their wings under the short tegmina.
The common earwig is one of the few insects that actively hunts for food and is omnivorous, eating arthropods, plants, and ripe fruit. They have also been known to eat corn silk, damaging the corn.
Earwigs are generally nocturnal, and typically hide in small, dark, and often moist areas in the daytime. Earwigs tend to gather in shady cracks or openings or anywhere that they can remain concealed during daylight.

In a patch of growing corn the earwig finds ideal hiding places between the leaves and cornstalk, as well as within the leaves that make up the husks of the ears of the corn plant. Anyone who has ever experienced husking fresh picked corn from the garden has found earwigs in the process and would definitely accept an association between the corn and the insect.

Ancestral pueblo people of the Southwest depended upon their corn crop for the survival of their families. They would be expected to have an intimate knowledge of the life and development of the plants and would have been fully aware of insects associated with their corn crop. While the earwig might have damaged some of the corn crop by eating the silk on developing ears of corn, they also ate insects that may have damaged the corn such as aphids and plant lice. This knowledge may well have inspired the sort of approach-avoidance relationship that would lead to granting the insect a special place in agriculturally related belief complexes.

While I have been personally unable to find any ethnographic background that links this image to the earwig, I have little doubt that there is such based upon locations where this symbol is often found and which relied upon maize agriculture for subsistence.

1 comment:

  1. I think I'd need to see a bunch more examples to be convinced, but it is a compelling idea. Why all the extra legs in the first example? Russel