Earwigs get their name from the old wives' tale that they crawl into people's ears while they're sleeping in order to tunnel into their brain and lay eggs. Of course that's not true, but it's certainly unpleasant to think about! Their scary appearance doesn't help either.
Earwigs are reddish-brown in color. They have long, slender bodies, beaded antennae, and a pair of large cerci (pronounced "sir-see") at the tip of their abdomens. The cerci are used like pincers for grooming and capturing prey. Earwigs come indoors to hide, especially in the fall.
They become active at night, when they seem to appear out of nowhere and scurry across the floor like cockroaches. In cold climates, earwigs overwinter by burrowing 2-3 inches into the soil. In late winter to early spring, the females lay 25-30 eggs. Unlike most insects, female earwigs carefully nurture and protect their young until they are old enough to leave the nest.
Gardeners tend to have a love/hate relationship with earwigs. These insects are omnivores, which means they feed on plants, insects, and other organic materials like starch, soap, and glue. Earwigs are beneficial when helping control soil pests, so we love it when they feed on populations of aphids, mites, and other harmful pests in the garden. It's when they turn to our dahlias, hostas, and leafy greens that they're no longer welcome. If disturbed they may try to defend themselves by "biting" you with their pincers, but they will seldom break the skin and are essentially harmless to humans.
Earwigs feed at night. They chew small holes in the leaves of plants, and although large populations are capable of causing significant damage, the damage they cause is usually minimal. More often it's cutworms, slugs, and other nocturnal pests that are to blame. Earwigs are seldom seen on plants during the day, preferring instead to congregate in dark, damp, places like under garbage cans, patio furniture, welcome mats, and flower pots. If you suspect earwigs are the cause of the damage, check under these potential hiding places during the day to confirm their presence.
As stated earlier, earwigs provide some important benefits to your garden by helping control populations of harmful insects like aphids and mites. The goal then should be to keep their populations in balance, not try to eliminate them entirely.
The most direct approach to controlling earwigs is by way of erecting physical barriers or luring them into traps.
Barriers: To protect the waxy or slimy coating on their bodies, crawling insects like earwigs typically avoid exposing their bodies to abrasive materials. To deter them, sprinkle a 3" wide strip of an abrasive material like crushed shells, wood ash, diatomaceous earth, or sawdust around the base of plants.
Traps: The same types of traps used for capturing snails and slugs are also effective for trapping earwigs.
Shaking: In small gardens, simply shaking earwigs from infested foliage takes less time than removing them individually by hand (and it's less creepy). By reducing their numbers, you will be reducing the amount of damage they cause. This method is most effective if done early in the morning (just before sunrise) near the end of their active period. Lay a white sheet on the ground and use your hands or a stick to tap the stems of affected plants, then collect the bugs from the sheet and dispose of them in a pail of soapy water.
The best way to control earwigs indoors is to keep them outdoors by altering your gardening practices in a way that puts earwigs at a disadvantage. Earwigs like confined dark places to hide. They are also attracted to moisture and light.
By Ellen Brown
To control earwigs in your house, get a spray bottle and put a generous squirt of Dawn Dish soap in it, then fill with water. Spray directly on the earwig. If you coat the bugs in the solution, they die immediately. It's a safe alternative to pesticides and you can control them rather than eradicating them completely and causing harm to your environment!
Our home gets infested with them and we use this alternative daily at that time of year. I heard about this from a relative and decided to try it and it works. I have young children so I prefer this to the pesticide options. I even let the kids spray them and it helps them feel more at ease.
I have a really bad problem with them this year. I don't have any wood around my home to encourage them. Does anyone know of a natural odor or any natural thing that would get them out of the house? There must be something they don't like. Thanks!
Tips for controlling earwigs and keeping them out of your home. Post your ideas.
Buy the lemon kind and your house will even smell nice after. Believe it or not, this stuff will kill earwigs and spiders in just 10 seconds, but it has no effect on ants for some reason. Just simply spray a squirt on the insect and wipe it away with paper towel. This stuff is also "OK" to use on carpets as long as you don't get the one with bleach in it. Same thing, just spray on the earwig, wait 10 seconds and pick up with a vacuum or paper towel. All in all, the pest will be dead and your house will smell like lemon "Fantastik".
By David (06/24/2005)
By Ardis (06/24/2005)
The other shopper and the clerk were right: Diazanon. Now of course you have to read and follow the directions. That's the real catch, but what a success. I may have to do it again in a few weeks, but wow, no earwigs, and not a lot of other bugs too. All these products are good, but you have to buy the right ones and you have to read the directions and do exactly what it tells you to do.
I also learned from the other shopper, that if you have weeds in your white rock where there are no plants, pour vinegar on them. It worked, and that was months ago, and it's still working. It changes the ground and inhibits growth till next year. A gallon of white vinegar is still very inexpensive.
By Ardis (07/06/2005)
As for the earwig issue, I live in Montreal where the weather in the summer is very hot and humid making it a perfect breeding ground for earwigs. Furthermore, we have a pool in our back yard and lots of gardens with river rock and mulch. My best advice, things I have done for over 10 years, is as follows: Do "not" leave any clothes or towels hanging overnight. When bringing in these moist items after spending the day in the pool, shake them well! Also shake all children's toys (trucks and buckets) before the kids play with them. Teach your children to do this on a regular basis. Repeatedly fill a 10 litre bucket with hot water and add generous amounts of liquid dish soap (or any other detergent). Pour around your home and pool at dusk. You may have to refill several times, but it is well worth it. I may only have to do this once or twice during the season.
We do not have serious earwig problems every year, but this year is definitively a winner. This is what we have done in the past and it worked well. Keep in mind that any toxic products you use around your house and your fruit/vegetable garden will affect you as well as your vegetation. I am happy that we live in a pesticide and herbicide-free province and we are able to find healthier solutions to pest-control. I hope you will all take this into consideration, for a healthy home and healthy planet!
Good luck. (07/12/2008)
This year the problem was so bad that the earwig babies were everywhere and I can relate to the people who had bugs falling on them; it is horrifying. I tried a Sevin like solution, Ortho Max, and Fantastik. They were immune to the Sevin like solution (it aggravated them and made them more active), Ortho Max worked only for 24 hours as did Fantastik. I tried two things that, so far, have helped and are more "natural" that I found about online. One is 20 Muleteam Borax, a laundry detergent that is a brand of boric acid. I place this weekly in any "opening" in my house like window sills, door entrances, etc. I don't let my dog walk through it though. Additionally, I found insecticide soap mixed with one tablespoon of isopropyl alcohol sprayed around the outside of my windows and doors helpful.
Both products I believe are supposed to negatively affect their nervous systems. I have heard of trapping, but they gross me out so I haven't started that yet. Some things exterminators told me: keep basement low moisture using dehumidifier, keep brush and plant life away from house foundations, remove mulch, especially against house. Sealing cracks and crevices also helps. I too am waiting for something that kills these things off outside. Apparently in small numbers they are good for gardens, but I don't have a garden just tons of these bugs. Good luck to all. I keep praying that these measures that have given me some relief keep working and that they don't develop immunity to these too. (12/28/2008)
Then pull all the mulch back from the foundation 1 inch so that the soil is exposed. Go to the local pool store and get some diatomaceous earth. Diatomite is also used as an insecticide, due to its physico-sorptive properties. The fine powder absorbs lipids from the waxy outer layer of insects' exoskeletons, causing them to dehydrate. This also works against gastropods and is commonly employed in gardening to defeat slugs. It is most commonly used in lieu of boric acid, and can be used to help control and eventually eliminate a cockroach infestation.
For a trap outside place soy sauce or beer and a tsp. of fish or vegetable oil in a glass bowl. Put a couple of sticks as access ramps and cover with some card board leaving a 1/4" or so open and place in a shady area where you are having the issue. You will find tons in there. Also you can put 2 tsp of cheap Palmolive (the green kind) 2 oz of mouth wash (Listerine) a can of Coke and a can of beer in a garden sprayer and spray the area you think they are coming in. The soap will make them sick and the Listerine will too. The Coke and beer are there for the plants, helps green things up and will promote bacteria growth. If they are coming in your house it's because it is damp and cool. Cool good, damp bad, turn on the dehumidifier or get your air conditioner serviced. (07/01/2009)