What Are Earwigs
Earwigs can be found in almost any growing zone, although they are more likely to inhabit warm, humid climates. You might have trouble spotting one—not only are they quick movers, they are also nocturnal and tend to hide out during the day when you are tending the garden. They like decaying wood and plant material, and dark, damp spaces. Oftentimes, they can be found in basements and woodpiles.
How to Identify Earwigs
- Earwigs get to be about 3/4-inch long. They’re reddish-brown insects with appendages on their tail-ends that look like forceps. Few other insects have a set of scary-looking pincers like the earwig has. This is why some folks call them “pincher bugs” or “pinching bugs.” Attached at the insect’s abdomen, these appendages are called cerci.
- Earwigs run very quickly and can also fly, though they rarely do so. They actually have two sets of wings, and their pincers aid in unfolding the wings.
- What do earwigs eat? Nocturnal by nature, an earwig’s main meal is decaying plant material and wood, but it will attack living plants, including vegetables, fruit trees, and ornamentals, if given the opportunity. Earwigs are especially fond of flowers, lettuce and other tender greens, celery, and fruits.
- Female earwigs lay 40 to 50 shiny eggs in underground tunnels. Oddly enough, the eggs are diligently cared for and protected from predators by the mothers. They hatch in about a week, making it very difficult to control earwig populations before they hatch.
- Nymphs simply appear to be miniature versions of adult earwigs. They shed several skins, and ten weeks later, they reach adulthood.
- Earwigs often hide underneath pots during the day and then eat the flowers in the pots at night.
Signs of Earwig Damage
- Leaves will appear jagged and full of holes. Plants will become ragged overnight, and some leaves will only be partially eaten. There will also probably be a scattering of earwig excrement, which will be small, black pellets.
- Damage will often occur after rainy weather, which forces earwigs to seek dry shelter and climb up into plants and leaves.
- You might find the earwigs under pots that contain damaged plants.
- Earwig damage looks similar to that of slugs and snails. To tell the difference, look for the tell-tale sign of slugs and snails: a trail of slime residue on foliage.
How to Get Rid of Earwigs
- Lay one-foot sections of bamboo or garden hose in the beds between your plants. Check these “traps” each morning, and dump the earwigs into a bucket of soapy water.
- Spread petroleum jelly around the stems of your plants. Earwigs will hesitate to crawl over it.
- If they are infesting your woodpile, try sprinkling borax around it, but keep pets and children away from this area after doing so.
- Oil pit traps are a great remedy for earwigs. Combine equal parts soy sauce and olive or vegetable oil, put it in a small plastic container, and secure the lid. Punch holes in the top of the container, near the lid. Make the holes large enough for the earwigs to get in. Bury the container in the soil just up to the holes. The soy sauce will attract the earwigs, and the oil will prevent them from escaping. Change the mixture as needed.
- Alcohol controls these pests by acting as a surfactant, or wetting agent, that can penetrate an insect’s waxy coat of armor and kill on contact with the body. Isopropanol (rubbing alcohol) works fine and is easy to find, but be sure it doesn’t have additives. Ethanol (grain alcohol) seems to work best.
- Earwigs are also susceptible to diatomaceous earth (DE), so consider placing a ring of DE around the bases of plant if the soil is dry enough. In wet weather, DE is not effective. DE will also kill pollinators, so refrain from using it around flowers.
How to Prevent Earwigs
- Expect more earwigs during rainy years, and prepare accordingly by removing plant debris and other hiding places.
- Avoid growing susceptible plants near walls covered in ivy or hedges, as many earwigs might live in these areas.
- Birds and toads are both natural predators of earwigs.
- Occasionally, earwigs will move from mulch and other moist material outside into your house. They aren’t harmful, but can be an annoyance nonetheless. To prevent this, check for bugs on everything you bring inside, especially laundry, lawn furniture, flowers, vegetables, houseplants, and firewood. Also, move mulch away from your house’s foundation and establish a zone of bare soil that will dry out. If earwigs do happen to get into your home, vacuum them up.
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Almanac. (n. d.). Earwigs. Retrieved May 26, 2022, from https://www.almanac.com/pest/earwigs