Everything You Need to Know About Controlling Earwigs and Why They're Good Guys in the Garden

I get asked about controlling earwigs on a regular basis. These are an ugly creature and they tend to surprise us when we find them in the house (usually under things).

They are a reddish brown - just under an inch long with antennae and massive set of pincers protruding from their back end. (Just for the record - the male pincers are
curved - the females are straight).

And to put your mind at ease, the pincers are used against other insects, they will not hurt humans or pets (unless your pet is an aphid - see below). Believe it or not - an earwig also has a set of wings but thank goodness, they seldom use them.


Earwig with eggs

Earwigs are also good guys.

Earwigs are also good guys in the garden as they eat scads of aphids and other smaller garden pests so controlling earwigs shouldn't take a central role in gardening life.

What Damage Do They Really Do?

These are nocturnal creatures searching for food and shelter and they love dark, moist places where they can feed on decaying plant and animal matter. Generally, they'll also chew on leaves and the damage is similar to slug damage on leaves, petals, fruit and vegetables. I did find a few earwigs in tomato fruit - they entered through a small hole and then tunneled away happily inside the tomato. Their preferred food though is easily-found decaying matter.

Earwigs sometimes falsely blamed for slug damage.

Earwigs sometimes are blamed for slug damage because the slug takes a chunk/bite and then the earwigs congregate to get the sweet sap or to hide in the hole the slug ate in the tomato. The slug meanwhile has moved on (smart slug) :-)

One way to determine if a slug or earwig is causing the damage is to look for the trail of slime that slugs leave behind. There's little point in controlling earwigs if slugs are doing the damage.

Earwig Life Cycle

The life cycle of an earwig is egg, nymph and then adult. The overwintered female lays her eggs (approx 60) in the top layer of soil and in 7 days, they hatch into small nymphs.

The female tends to them like a mother for the first two weeks. If you've ever seen a big earwig with a bunch of tiny ones - you've found a mother and brood. The nymphs resemble tiny adults. Over the next 70 days, the nymphs mature through 4 stages until they emerge as fully grown adults. Then they start to lay eggs themselves for the two generations per year the insect produces.

Earwigs are a long-lived insect, often living a year or more. That is, unless you're a male earwig and then you often don't make the winter (having done your procreative duty in the fall).

So what can I control them?

Controlling earwigs successfully takes advantage of several things.

The first is they love to hide so putting a length of black plastic 3/4" inch pipe on the ground will give them a hiding spot. Simply tap the pipe into a pail of soapy water and you'll get a great catch every morning; if you are consistent at controlling earwigs you can bring their levels down to where they are not a major problem.

Similarly you can lay a board down and stomp those hiding under the board.

You'll find earwigs hiding under most everything in the garden so you take advantage of these hiding spaces.

I'm told they love honey so you can bait a trap with this although I don't see the need - they'll hide in anything with or without bait.

Another more passive control is to spread Diatomaceous Earth around the base of plants you want to protect. The earwigs will be killed by this organic substance.

Because they tend to love to eat organic decaying matter I find they tend to hide under the thick layer of mulch I maintain on my garden and don't bother the plants. They're there all right but that thick mulch works for me.

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And then there's the motherhood advice to remove anything they can hide under - such as a woodpile or logs or ?? If you've got it lying around, remove it. I've never been able to do this as there's always something in the garden - be it a rock, statue or leaf.

Rotenone is a fast-acting protective dust for vegetables although it has a short life span once applied (it breaks down in sunlight). Do be careful if you use Rotenone as it can harm humans as well as insects ("organic" doesn't mean harmless)

And that's all the news that's fit to print about controlling earwigs.

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