Earwigs are a member of the Dermaptera order. The word Dermaptera means skin wing. They have thickened wings that serve as a protective cover. Earwigs are not big flyers, although they are closely related to the Dragonfly Order. There are three Suborders of Earwigs. Most earwigs relevant this conversation, belong to the Forficulina group. The other two Suborders, Arixeniina and Hemimerina, are parasites of Asian bats and African rats respectively. Any following mention to earwigs will be describing the Forficulina group.
The key identification feature with earwigs is their elongated cerci. These form pincers that are used for grooming, courtship, and defending themselves. The name earwig comes from the superstition that they enter people’s ears and burrow into their brains while the person is sleeping. They do like to nestle into dark moist areas. An ear fits that description perfectly! If they find their way into your ear, that is probably the worst that they can do. They are basically harmless to humans, and do not spread disease.
Earwigs hold very little economic importance. The European Earwig, Forficula auricularia, was introduced to the United States around 1900. These earwigs have been known to damage fruit and vegetable crops. Damage to ornamental flowers have also been reported. Watch your cucumbers with these guys. Most earwigs are scavengers or herbivores. Some are predatory. They eat a wide variety of vegetable matter and insect parts. They hide in dark places during the day and come out at night.
Earwigs live in large numbers outdoors. You can find them underneath rocks, piles of grass clippings, compost or in tree holes. Earwigs can enter structures through cracks in walls. Since earwigs are attracted to voids in dark places, earwig control can be a real challenge, especially inside houses that sit on concrete slabs. Earwig populations increase when the weather is cool and damp for extended periods of time. Earwigs wander into buildings during hot, dry periods searching for cool, dark areas to rest. It is important to note, that this nuisance pest does not reproduce within buildings. They reproduce in the soil, under rocks, leaves, and under thick layers of mulch.
Reducing harborage sites is the best way to control this nuisance pest.
Remove leaf piles, compost piles or other vegetation from around your home or garden. Stone and timber that is used as landscaping edging are also hot spots for earwigs. Reducing the amount of debris, stone and timber around a property can reduce earwig populations to an acceptable level without the need for pesticides.
When earwigs enter a structure, exclusion tactics are the most effective control method. Seal all possible wall voids and cracks. Sealing doors and windows with weatherstripping is is an easy first step to sufficiently exclude this nuisance pest. It is common to find potato bugs inside the same buildings that have earwigs. They require similar environments and often live together.
Trapping is effective for controlling earwig populations, especially in the garden. If they are eating your vegetables you can trap them by placing a board or a cut section of hose on the ground overnight. The earwigs will go under the board or in the hose during the night. In the morning, empty the hose into a bucket of soapy water or lift the board up and spray them with insecticide. This is a great way to trap earwigs and reduce the population in your yard or garden. This trapping method is also effective outside of infested buildings. By reducing earwig populations around a structure, you will also reduce the amount of earwigs within them. We recommend using the above control methods before using chemical control.
Perimeter Barrier Treatments
When the above methods are not practical or effective, chemical control may be a valid option. A chemical barrier with a repellent insecticide may be used to prevent earwigs from entering a structure until proper repairs can be made to exclude them. Homeowners can use a low toxicity pyrethrin, like Bifenthrin. This is the active ingredient in the retail product, Ortho Home Defense. We recommend barrier treatments to the perimeter of structures only be used temporarily and only when needed. Do to pesticide resistance, we do not recommend using preventative insecticide treatments.
Baiting and the Use of Professional Products
When control is required to knock down a population of earwigs quickly and effectively, a Pest Management Professional should be called in to perform the job. We have the tools and skills to manage difficult earwig infestations. Sprays are not highly effective for more than the short term. Professional products used for baiting applications are very useful when used with the above listed cultural controls. Exclusion, trapping, reduction of harborage sites, and baiting should all be integrated into a plan to control earwigs long term.