by Matt Gibson
Earwigs (also known as pincher bugs and dermaptera) are a scary looking garden pest that look like a miniature version of a creature in a horror movie. Their half inch to one inch red-tinted brown bodies have two large pinchers at the tail end. The pinchers look somewhat menacing, but they aren’t used to do any pinching of humans or animals, but to capture and carry prey, and for mating. Some species of earwigs have wings as well, but they rarely do any flying.
There are over 2000 species of earwigs in the world. In the United States, the european earwig (Forficula auricularia) is most commonly found in the northern states, while the ring legged earwig (Euborellia annulipes) is most predominant in the south.
Haunting Earwig Myths
The earwig gets its name from a disturbing myth that is not at all true, but commonly told and widely varied in levels of exaggeration. The folklore of the earwig, at its worst, is a haunting tale of a small insect that crawls into your room, waits for you to fall asleep at night and crawls inside of your ear. This is, of course, just a myth, and the common garden pest is not at all dangerous, nor a threat to humans or animals in any way.
Milder versions of the myth involves the earwig’s supposed fondness for the human ear and tendency to make the ear canal into a home, the earwig’s burrowing causing deafness, laying eggs, or simply a mild discomfort, once believed to be remedied by spit to get it out. In actuality, the earwig is practically harmless, and at the worst, might pinch someone who is handling it roughly.
Garden Friend or Foe?
In fact, there is even some debate over whether the earwig is a garden pest or beneficial garden insect. Earwigs feast on aphids, snails, slugs, larvae, and nematodes that your garden is better off without. Having a small amount of earwigs who call your garden area home can work in your advantage. Aside from eating common garden pests, earwigs also fatten up on plant debris found underneath pots and containers and on the garden floor.
Unfortunately, they also have a fondness for herbs, corn tassels, dahlias, roses, zinnias, marigolds, berries, apricots, and peaches. If none of their favorites are available, they will also eat whatever plants are around. Because the majority of their diet is beneficial, they are only treated as pests whenever the damage that they cause becomes excessive.
Where Earwigs Lurk
Earwigs are not the typical specimen among insects. The female earwig stresses and takes special care for her eggs and nymphs, using her pincers to protect them from potential threats. Overwintering mature female earwigs lay clusters of round, white eggs in the ground in the late months of winter. Her larvae, which resemble adults, emerge from the eggs in the springtime. Adults, however, are known to overwinter under some form of protection, such as garden debris, stones, and boards as well as underneath a few inches of soil.
Different Methods for Controlling Earwigs In The Garden
Earwigs are nocturnal insects. They do not like the sun, or bright lighting, but enjoy dark, warm, humid, and damp locations. They like to hide out and sleep during the daytime hours, the times in which you are working in the garden, so you may not actually notice them rooting around much, aside from perhaps scurrying off quickly if uncovered or disturbed.
They like decaying wood, damp basements, compost piles, and sheltered locations. Obviously, there are plenty of places like this in a healthy garden environment, and it is pretty impossible to rid your garden of moist places. However, clearing away mulch, or letting soil dry out temporarily until the earwigs move on to a more suitable environment.
Create traps made of a shallow bowl or dish filled with vegetable oil and soy sauce. The soy sauce will attract them to the trap and the oil will keep them from being able to escape the trap, containing them inside the dish. Cat food cans or tuna cans work perfectly for such a bowl or dish that is disposable and a good size for the task.
Make traps out of dampened rolled-up newspapers and small cardboard boxes (like cereal boxes) with a bit of bran or oatmeal inside of them as a lure. Leave these out overnight and collect them in the morning if they have caught a few earwigs during the evening hours.
Spread a sticky substance along the base of woody plants, such as tanglefoot, petroleum jelly, or sticky tape. As earwigs crawl along the ground to get to the next plant they plan to feast on, they will often get stuck before they reach their destination.
During a dry period, spread diatomaceous earth over the soil to drive the earwigs away from your garden area. Reapply DE after the area has dried out following any significant rain or soaking of the area, and each week (if no rains occur). In the evening time, before earwigs like to feed, apply insecticides for crawling insects following the product’s application directions closely.
Set some simple traps all around the garden area in the early evening, such as dampened wads or rolls of newspaper, perhaps with a touch of bacon grease. In the morning, quickly toss them all into an empty bucket. Fill the bucket with hot soapy water to get rid of earwigs from the traps you collected.
You can also add dry barriers to the edges of your garden. Earwigs cannot journey very far, especially over dry areas, and a few feet of dry material will seem like a vast desert to the earwig. Adding a yard long (or slightly smaller) dry moat of utterly dry material, such as gravel or coarse sand, around garden beds will help to keep earwigs out of your garden beds.
Videos About Earwigs
There are quite a few YouTube tutorials that show you how to make earwig traps to rid your garden of the pincher bugs when they start to cause excessive damage in your garden. However, most of them use a mixture that is insufficient and not as successful as it could be. This video shows how to make a trap that will get the job done:
This informative video teaches you why earwigs come into your home in the first place, which, in turn, teaches you how to prevent them from coming inside before it actually occurs. So, if you want to prevent an earwig invasion before it ever happens, check out this film right away:
Earwig wings are actually quite beautiful, and look kind of like origami. Check them out in this short National Geographic film:
22 species of earwigs are known to have the ability to fly. Here is another short but must-see film clip of some incredible footage of earwigs unfolding their wings and showing off their assets:
Want To Learn More About Earwigs?
The Old Farmer’s Almanac covers Pincher Bugs
Gardening Know How covers Removing Earwigs from the Garden
Good Housekeeping covers How to Control Earwigs
HGTV covers Getting Earwigs Out of the Garden
liveaboutdotcom covers Truth Behind the Most Popular Earwig Myth
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