What should I know about Earwigs? Are they considered pests?

You have probably heard about the little insects that crawl into people’s ears to lay eggs and burrow into their brains while they are asleep. The earwigs, yes. In fact, they got their name from this European myth. However, this phenomenon has not been scientifically proven. Their infamous reputation may be due to their frightening appearance.

What do earwigs look like?

With over 1000 species of earwigs occurring around the world, 22 can be found in the United States. These insects range from ¼ to 1 inch in size. They have long, flat bodies that differ in color from light brown to reddish-brown to completely black. Some species have dark markings running through their bodies. They have three pairs of legs and a pair of antennae that are roughly half their size.

Their most notable feature, however, is their pincers that stick out behind their abdomen. And although earwigs aren’t known to be good flyers, they also have two pairs of wings that let them fly in short bursts. Their hind wings usually fold underneath their front wings. But not all earwigs can fly.

An earwig feasting on some greens.
Because of those intimidating pincers, folks thought earwigs burrowed up your ear canal to lay eggs while you sleep. (This isn’t true.)

What are the characteristics of earwigs?

Earwigs live together in large numbers. They can be found outdoors under piles of lawn debris, composts, and within trees. Their small sizes allow them to enter structures through cracks.

These insects typically do not bite humans, except when you pick them up. Their pincers are mainly used for hunting prey, defense, and reproductive purposes. Their pinch can be painful, but it doesn’t break the skin, and it is non-venomous either, so they don’t pose a threat to humans. When agitated or threatened, some species of earwigs secrete a foul-smelling liquid to drive away potential predators.

Earwigs are nocturnal insects. They spend most of the day hiding in cool, wet areas then feed at night. They can feed on leaves, fruits, seedlings, flowers, molds, and other smaller insects, but they prefer decaying vegetation and plant parts.

Why are earwigs considered pests?

Earwigs aren’t considered pests because of the myth about crawling into people’s ears. That doesn’t happen. But earwigs have a quite complicated status as being pests.

You see, earwigs don’t really harm people. However, they have both beneficial and destructive traits for your garden. Earwigs are beneficial in compost piles and for eating other pests such as mites, aphids, nematodes, and other insect larvae. Even though they primarily feed on decaying vegetation, they eat these smaller insects as well.

Nonetheless, they still do a lot of damage to your garden. Earwigs eat ornamental and vegetable plants. Roses, dahlias, butterfly bush, zinnias, hollyhocks are some of the ornamental plants they target. On the other hand, they eat potatoes, lettuce, strawberries, blueberries, apricots, beans, beets, and the silk of sweet corn too. They leave irregularly shaped holes in leaves and flower petals, which can be very unsightly. They can also significantly reduce the productivity of a garden by eating seedlings.

Aside from wreaking havoc in the garden, earwigs can affect your home too. As they are attracted to cool, wet areas, they might seek shelter inside your home. Their numbers can increase exponentially, and they can be a nuisance.

The only way to tell if you have an earwig infestation is to see the insects themselves. Check under your rugs, plant pots, and inside your newspaper stacks. They may also be found under the sinks and other cool, damp areas in the house.

How should I manage earwigs?

Trapping earwigs is key to managing them, and it’s easy to do. You may use low-sided empty cans of food and fill them with 1/2 inch of oil, preferably fish oil. Sink them into the ground near plants and make the top of the can at soil level. Empty the cans together with the trapped earwigs each day and repeat the process. Earwigs are very attracted to fish oil.

You may also use other traps such as corrugated cardboard, rolled newspaper, or short pieces of an old hose. Damp the traps and put them on the ground near plants. Before dark, take them away and shake the trapped earwigs out into a bucket of soapy water or into a sturdy plastic bag and crush them. Rinse and repeat until no more earwigs are trapped.

If there are too many earwigs in your garden, consider using diatomaceous earth. Sprinkle it around your plants and make about a 2-inch wide barrier. This can kill the earwigs. Or you can use Steinernema carpocapsae, a beneficial nematode that is a substitute for chemical pesticides.

A Final Word About Earwigs

An earwig resting on a leaf.
Earwigs: not immediately dangerous to people and pets, but they can do some damage around your garden.

But what if the earwigs are already inside your house? Well, these insects may be vacuumed or swept. Then kill and dispose of them properly to prevent them from coming back. However, it may be hard for you to completely stop them from invading your home. They can enter through crevices in the ground or walls unless you seal them all up.

Luckily, you won’t have to do this taxing task. Rocklin Pest Control can handle that for you! We can find all the places they may hide and exterminate them until there’s nothing left. Our team will protect you, your home, and your garden. Contact us, and let’s get started!