Certain species of parasites have the apparent ability to alter the behaviour of their host in order to facilitate the completion of their own life cycle. While documented in hairworms (phylum Nematomorpha), the ability for mermithid parasites (from the sister phylum Nematoda) to force hosts to enter water remains more enigmatic. Here, we present the first experimental evidence in a laboratory setting that an insect which normally never enters open water (the European earwig Forficula auricularia) will readily enter the water when infected with a mermithid nematode (Mermis nigrescens). Only adult mermithids appear capable of inducing this polarising shift in behaviour, with mermithid length being a very strong predictor of whether their host enters water. However, mermithid length was only weakly associated with how long it took an earwig to enter water following the beginning of a trial. Considering the evidence presented here and its alignment with a proteomic investigation on the same host–parasite system, this study provides strong evidence for adaptive behavioural manipulation and a foundational system for further behavioural and mechanistic exploration.