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If you've noticed an explosion of earwigs in the garden this year, you've probably experienced an extended period of cool, wet weather. Although usually considered a beneficial insect in the garden, large populations of earwigs can result in significant damage to garden plants. Their presence in large numbers can also be a bit unsettling. Here are some ways to keep their population in check.
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.
You can get rid of earwigs, if you mix some Dawn dish soap with some water and spray them. The solution will have an acid like reaction with them, eventually killing them.
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.
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Tips for controlling earwigs and keeping them out of your home. Post your ideas.
I you put empty cans of tuna fill with oil, soapy water or cucumber it will work wonders. Put them close to the areas of more trouble. Another thing I do is by at Cosco a huge container of dish soap, fill my buckets with water and the soap and empty them around the house once a week or so, depending on the problem. Let me know if it helps.
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!
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Tips for controlling earwigs and keeping them out of your home. Post your ideas.
Nobody likes killing earwigs, just because they are so ugly looking, and kind of scary at times. The best hands-free way to kill these suckers is to buy a bottle (spray) of "Fantastik" (www.fantastikcleaners.com). Yes, the stuff you clean countertops, sinks, toilets, etc. with.
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)
I recently bought some bug traps that are about two inches by four inches wide with stickum on the surface. I had them inside, and they caught a few. I finally turned one upside down and found out that it's an excellent way to catch earwigs. They love to crawl under and into tight areas; "ha!" fooled them. I hate earwigs and spiders the most. I took two of them and set right outside my doorways; success. I might as well get them before they get into the house. I think the thing that works the best for keeping spiders down is hosing off the house under the eaves and all the nooks and crannies on the outside of the house every two weeks.
By Ardis (06/24/2005)
I have been invaded by earwigs. I think I have the ants down to a dull roar.
It seems at night the earwigs invade my porch just about dusk. That's when I like to keep my door open to cool down and air out the house. I thought I had picked the right pest control product so that I wouldn't have that problem. So, back to Wal-mart I go. There happened to be a very helpful lady shopping there who must have been some sort of master gardener. I also asked the clerk what product I should use.
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)
While Fantastik does work really well, it is kind of pricy. I find it just as effective to buy ultra cheap dish soap, mix some with water in an old Windex bottle and blast em. Also if you spray some around the outside of your lower windows and decks once in a while, it will help keep them away all together. (07/04/2006)
Place two teaspoons of melted bacon grease in a small (margarine, etc.) container add just enough vegetable oil to cover the bacon grease. Place container outdoors.
Earwigs love the grease and will crawl into the container and die. This works!
Keep container away from pets or they will get to the mixture first. (05/15/2008)
Try stale beer in a container, they are attracted to the smell and drown (will also attract slugs). I use old glass jars with a few nail holes punched in the tops, so the rain won't dilute it. Also, insecticidal soap works, but it's best to go out at night, with a flashlight, and spray them as they eat your plants. They have a tendency to congregate with each other in the joints of fences, in bird feeders, etc. Spray with the soap during the day, if you can find the groups. If someone invents a bait for them (like roach bait), I would be eternally grateful, I hate these things. (06/18/2008)
I would greatly discourage any toxic chemical use and Fantastik falls into this category. Especially if you have children or pets! With all the current publicity out there, we should know better.
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)
I have those horrible little things bad, too, and I hate them with a passion. We even spent the last weekend caulking our living room and putting up molding just to try and stop them from coming in, but I have read that toads, yes toads love to eat them. They will actually gorge on them. I have noticed that we have a toad living out by our garage and there are no earwigs in the garage at all! So, I am going on a toad hunt and putting them around our basement wall. (07/30/2008)
I read some on hosing them down. Do not hose them down the water will attract them. Instead, rake up any yard debris because they love to hide under it. I read they love leaves love to eat them to the veins. So any tree's close to your house get rid of. Earwigs are harder to control than cockroaches. (11/04/2008)
I moved back to my family home in Massachusetts in 2005. We never had earwigs, but I started to find them in small numbers at first. I hired 3 different exterminator companies, but they don't seem to know how to treat for them and unfortunately the earwigs seem to have developed immunity to the chemicals they use. These companies also just treated the house and not the yard.
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)
Well I have some new treatments that work great. First seal every crack and hole in your house near the foundation. Hard I know, but that's the first thing.
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)
Don't waste your time and money buying pesticide products. If you want to kill earwigs, fill a spray bottle with water and add some dish detergent. Spray the earwigs and they will die almost immediately. We didn't believe it at first, but it works! (07/02/2010)
Solution for earwigs in house, no lights.
I had a major problem with earwigs in house. Researched on internet and learned that earwigs are
similar to lots of other insects, like moths, and are attracted to lights. I turned off all lights in house after dark, no earwigs. This solution may not be suitable for all households, but if so, problem solved. Am presently experimenting with light on in only one room in house, with window completely blacked out (no light allowed to outside), and this seems to work.