Earwigs: What to Know and How to Get Rid of Them

Got earwigs? Don’t sweat it! These quirky critters, known for their fancy rear pincers, are more helpers than pests.

Earwigs bust myths by being awesome decomposers and pest controllers in your garden, not the ear invaders of old wives’ tales. These night lovers keep your soil healthy and your pest count low.

Dive into the world of over 2,000 earwig species and discover how these misunderstood garden guests are actually cool neighbors.

Key Takeaways

  • Earwigs are recognized by their distinctive pincers and vary in appearance across species, thriving in moist environments and feeding on organic matter and small insects.
  • They undergo a life cycle from egg to nymph to adult, with habitats ranging from gardens to indoor damp areas, indicating their adaptability.
  • Earwigs rarely harm humans or property, but signs of infestation include plant damage and sightings in moist, dark places.
  • Managing earwigs involves reducing moisture, sealing entry points, encouraging predators, and using traps.
  • For severe earwig infestations, professional pest control is recommended, especially when widespread damage or a persistent indoor presence is noticed.

Understanding Earwigs

earwig on a leaf

Earwigs are insects characterized by their distinctive pincers and lifecycle. They belong to the order Dermaptera and exhibit various physical and developmental traits across different species.

Anatomical Features

Earwigs possess several unique anatomical traits that distinguish them from other arthropods.

  • Pinchers: Their most prominent feature is the pair of extension pincers or forceps-like appendages at their bodies’ rear ends.
  • Antennae: Their antennae are long and thread-like, which helps with their sensory perception.
  • Wings: While most species, including the European earwig, have two pairs of wings, with the hindwings folding underneath the short, leathery forewings, they rarely fly.

Here’s a comparison of some species of earwigs based on color and pincer shape:

SpeciesColorPincer Shape
European Earwig(Forficula auricularia)Dark brownSlightly curved in males
Pacific Earwig(Anisolabis pacifica)Reddish brownSimilar to European
Striped Earwig(Labidura riparia)Light brown to yellowish with a darker head and stripesStraighter, with less curvature
Ring-legged Earwig (Euborellia annulipes)Dark brown to black with distinctive yellow-brown legsMore circular, forming a ring-like shape
Saint Helena Earwig(Labidura herculeana)Predominantly dark brownRobust and heavily curved

Earwig Life Cycle

The life cycle of an earwig is broken down into several stages:

  • Egg: Female earwigs lay eggs in batches of underground nests after the mating ritual of male earwigs.
  • Nymph: Eggs hatch into nymphs, resembling small adults without wings.
  • Adult: The young earwigs undergo a series of molts before reaching adulthood.

Earwig Habitats and Behaviors

Earwigs are versatile creatures favoring moist, sheltered environments. These insects display behaviors that ensure survival in various habitats, from natural settings to human homes.

Habitat Preferences

Earwigs thrive in areas that provide moisture and cover, such as:

  • Mulch and organic material in gardens provide both nutrients and shelter.
  • Damp areas around basements, faucets, and air-conditioning units are attractive due to their constant moisture.
  • Narrow crevices in house foundations or under patios offer protection and easy access to indoor spaces.
  • Undisturbed places like burlap bags or under butterfly bushes are ideal for their need to hide during the day.

These insects might enter homes, seeking the same conditions they favor outdoors, often at ground level or through gaps in gutters or hiding places near the house.

Earwig Diet

Earwigs are primarily scavengers, feeding on a wide range of materials:

Type of FoodDescription
Dead and Decaying Plant MatterAn essential service in the ecosystem.
Living PlantsCan impact garden aesthetics.
Small Insects and AphidsCan provide natural pest control.
Accumulated Organic DebrisCan attract them to human residences.

Signs of Earwig Infestations

Despite their unsettling appearance, earwigs rarely pose a significant threat to humans or property. However, spotting the warning signs of an infestation can prompt timely action.

Here are several distinct signs to help you recognize earwig infestations:

  • Sightings of the insects: Earwigs are nocturnal and prefer dark, moist environments. They are often found under pots, cushions, and debris.
  • Damage to plants: Look for irregular holes and chewed edges on leaves, particularly in seedlings and flowering plants like zinnias.
  • Droppings: Small, black fecal spots may be seen near feeding areas.

Earwig Impact on Home and Garden

Earwig infestations may result in:

  • Plant damage: Earwig feeding may consume or scar flowers and vegetables, impacting garden aesthetics and yield.
  • Household disturbances: When earwigs enter homes, they can feed on pantry items and cloth materials, though this is less common.

Here’s a closer look at how they compare to other pests in terms of foliar damage, indoor presence, and the types of plants they affect:

PestsFoliar DamagePresence IndoorsPlant Types Affected
EarwigsHoles in leaves, flower damageRare, but possible around damp areasSeedlings, flowering plants
Other PestsVariable patterns, may include discolorationCommon in various areasBroad range, often specific to pest type

Managing an Earwig Infestation

Earwigs may not cause damage like termites or carry diseases like cockroaches, but their presence in large numbers can be bothersome.

Earwig Prevention and Control

Here are ways to effectively manage and get rid of earwig infestations in homes and gardens.

  1. Reduce Moisture: Ensure proper drainage away from your home’s foundation and keep gutters clean to prevent water from pooling.
  2. Seal Entry Points: Use caulk to seal cracks and crevices on the home’s exterior.
  3. Clear Debris: Regularly clean up and remove leaf piles, mulch, and other vegetation near the home’s foundation.
  4. Encourage Natural Predators: Attract natural predators like birds and toads to eat earwigs, helping to keep their populations in check.
  5. Use Insecticides: When the infestation persists, opt for insecticides labeled for earwig control.
  6. Plant-Based Repellents: Incorporate some plants, like lavender and basil, which act as natural pesticides to repel earwigs.
  7. Trap Earwigs: Create traps using oil-soaked newspapers or shallow containers filled with soy sauce and oil to capture nocturnal earwigs.

When to Call a Professional

Identifying a severe earwig infestation can be tricky, but there are some tell-tale signs that it’s time to bring in a professional pest control company.

If folks notice any of the following, it could be time to reach out for help:

  • Large numbers: Seeing earwigs frequently and in large groups isn’t a garden party anyone wants invited to.
  • Indoor invasion: Finding these critters consistently inside the house means they’ve moved in, and that’s not okay.
  • Damage to plants or crops: If plants look munched on and a squad of earwigs lurks nearby, they might be the culprits.
  • Moisture problems: They simply adore moist areas, so persistent dampness in the house might be a welcome mat for these unexpected guests.