The name earwig
comes from a European superstition that these insects entered the
ears of a sleeping person and bored into the brain. This belief
is totally unfounded. Earwigs do often cause alarm to homeowners
when discovered indoors, despite the fact that they are harmless
to humans. They have a frightful appearance, move rapidly around
baseboards at the ground level and may emit a foul-smelling, yellowish-brown
liquid from their scent glands. Active at night and hiding during
the daytime, earwigs normally live outdoors and do not establish
themselves indoors. They are harmless to humans and animals, although
if handled carelessly, the earwig can give a slight pinch with the
forceps. Earwigs can be responsible for serious feeding damage on
flowers, vegetables, fruits and other plants, giving the leaves
a ragged appearance with numerous, small, irregular holes.
elongate, flattened insects, ranging from light red-brown to black
and are easily recognized by their forcep-like appendages (pincers)
on the end of the abdomen. The forceps (cerci) are unequal in length
in the males. Earwig female forceps are straight-sided, whereas
male forceps are strongly curved (caliper-like) and larger. They
have chewing mouthparts and long, slender antennae. Some species
are wingless but others have a pair of leathery forewings covering
a few segments of the abdomen and the membranous hind wings, which
have the tips protruding. There are many species of earwigs: the
European earwig ranges from 13-20 mm (1/2 to 3/4 inch) in length,
with banded legs and reddish head; the ringlegged earwig ranges
from 13-18 mm (1/2 to 3/5 inch) in length and is black-yellowish
underneath with legs having dark crossbands. Young earwigs (nymphs)
are similar in appearance to adults. They are white to olive-green
and lack wings.
(Clemson University Extension)
forceps are used to defend the nest, capture prey, probe narrow
crevices and fold or unfold wings. Earwigs are primarily scavengers
on dead insects and rotted plant materials. Some species are
feeding on aphids. Only a few of the winged species are good fliers.
They are often transported great distances in plant materials
occasionally in other freight. Earwigs require moist, cool places
and are found in damp crawl spaces, flower gardens near the home,
in mulches, compost piles, trash, under boards and in wood piles.
After entering houses, they feed on sweet, oily or greasy foods
or houseplants. They are attracted to lights.
from egg to adult through gradual metamorphosis with four to five
nymphal instars or stages. During the spring or autumn, females
lay 20 to 50 smooth, oval, pearly-white or cream-colored eggs in
a below-ground chamber (upper two to three inches of soil). The
female moves, cleans and provides maternal care by protecting the
eggs and new young until the first molt. Young then leave the nest,
fend for themselves and mature in one season. Most species in this
country have one generation per year, overwintering as eggs or adults
in the soil. Earwigs may dig as deep as six feet below ground to
escape the cold temperatures.
on living plants and often become pests in greenhouses and field
For best control indoors, one must first control earwigs outdoors.
Since they are attracted to lights, reduce lighting around doors,
windows and other potential entry sites. Use good night light discipline
and special sodium vapor yellow lights (less attractive to insects)
instead of white, neon or mercury vapor lights.
and are very attracted to moisture. High populations, practically
invisible during the day, may be present around foundations, in
landscaped yards, in mulch, under boards, etc. Be sure to eliminate
damp, moist conditions in crawl spaces under houses, around faucets,
around air-conditioning units and along house foundations. Rain
gutters and spouts should carry water away from the house foundation.
Use caulking compound, putty and weather stripping around doors,
windows, pipes and other entry sites, especially at the ground level.
Change landscaping by creating a clean, dry border immediately around
the foundation wall. Gravel or ornamental stones can make an attractive
barrier against earwigs and other pest invaders.
Earwigs can be trapped outdoors in cardboard boxes baited with
oatmeal or bran with pencil hole size entry sites punched in the
sides near the bottom. Place burlap bags, canvass, boards, newspapers
or other cover material in mulch, shrubbery and similar habitats
to collect individuals the following day. The adults can be squashed
by hand or vacuumed with a "shop vac." Indoors, remove with broom
and dustpan or by vacuum cleaner.
from the Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Ohio State University