Description: Primarily night feeders, the common earwig (Forficula auricularia) is considered to be an insect pest when it feeds on soft plant shoots, such as corn silks, and eats small, irregular holes in foliage and flowers. Sometimes ripened fruits are infested, but damage is usually tolerable. It can be particularly damaging to seedlings. Earwigs also play a beneficial role in the garden, acting as scavengers on decaying organic matter and predators of insect larvae, snails, aphids and other slow moving bugs. They are often carried great distances in produce shipments and other freight.
These slender red-brown insects (3/4 inch long) with elongated, flattened bodies are distinguished by a pair of sharp pincers at the tail end, which they use for capturing prey and mating. A few species have wings, although it is not a strong flier, and usually crawls in search of food. Earwigs get their name from an old superstition that they crawl into the ears of a sleeping person and bore into the brain. While menacing in appearance, they are harmless to man.
Note: Earwigs will occasionally enter the home. However, their presence is accidental and they will not establish themselves or reproduce indoors.
Life Cycle: Adults overwinter in the soil. Females lay 20-50 cream-colored eggs in underground nests during January and February, and the newly hatched young (nymphs) first appear in April. Nymphs are protected in the nest and do not leave until after the first molt, when they must fend for themselves. Young earwigs develop gradually, passing through 4-5 nymphal instars before becoming adults. They are similar in appearance to adults, but lack wings and the large sized pincers. Most species in this country have one generation per year.
Earwig Control: In many cases, this garden pest is probably best left alone in areas where it is not a serious problem. If it does become pestiferous there are several control measures that work well. Remove garden debris and excessive mulch where earwigs are living and breeding. Since earwigs seldom fly, a sticky band of Tanglefoot Pest Barrier around the trunks of trees, shrubs, and woody plants will prevent them from reaching the leaves and fruits on which they feed. Another favorite remedy is to spread diatomaceous earth where they are apt to crawl. Make applications in late spring about a week apart, and treat the soil around the foundations of houses, along walks, fences, and around trees. If pest numbers become intolerable, botanical insecticides should be used as spot treatments or crack and crevice sprays.
Tip: Trap earwigs by placing rolls of damp newspaper or burlap bags in areas where they are found. Collect and dispose of pests the following day.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons