Identification and Life Cycle
Earwigs (Forficula auricularia), got their name from the myth that they crawl into people’s ears and tunnel into their brains while they sleep. Contrary to folklore, they do not, but their appearance can be alarming to a homeowner.
They are approximately 3/4 – inch long and reddish brown in color. They can be easily identified by their forcep-like “pincers” on the end of the abdomen and long, thin antennae. The pincers of the male are curved compared to those of the female which are straight. Most species seem wingless, but actually have long back wings folded beneath its forewings that are rarely used to fly.
Their life cycle consists of egg, nymph and adult. During the spring and summer, the females will lay 20 to 50 oval shaped, pearly-white or cream colored eggs within the top 2 to 3 inches of soil. In about 7 days, the nymphs will hatch from the eggs. The nymphs are similar in appearance to the adults, but are white to olive-green in color and lack wings.
Over a 70 day period, the nymphs go through four growth stages before becoming an adult. They live for about 1 year, but most often the males will die during the winter months. Earwigs may dig as deep as 6-feet below ground to escape and hibernate during cold seasons. An earwig’s forceps are used to protect herself and her eggs from other insects, capture prey and to fold or unfold its wings.
Habits and Damage
Earwigs are a common garden insect that can occasionally become a household nuisance. They are not social insects, and do not establish colonies. They live together outdoors in large numbers, and can be found under piles of lawn debris, mulch, or in tree holes. They are harmless to humans and pets, although if handled carelessly, the earwig will give a slight pinch with its forceps.
They are sometimes found indoors, typically gaining entry to a structure through exterior cracks during hot, dry summers to seek shade and moisture. They can also unknowingly be carried indoors on clothing, garden vegetables, newspapers, damp cardboard, etc. Although finding large numbers indoors can be an annoyance, they do not present a health threat, but it may be an indication of a moisture problem.
They hide in dark, moist areas during the day and come out at night in search for food. Outdoors, they feed on insects such as aphids, spiders, and caterpillar pupae, and plant matter such as leaves, flowers, and soft fruits. They leave small holes in plant leaves and flowers, especially marigolds, petunias, dahlias, and hostas. Leaves and petals have a ragged appearance with irregular-shaped holes. Indoors, they feed on sweet, oily or greasy foods and houseplants. They are also attracted to lights.
If the outside of a dwelling has an abundance of moist soil and leaves, dead plant material, or any decaying vegetation, earwigs are more likely to use this habitat to feed, lay eggs, and raise their young. Easily inspect your grounds for earwigs by removing moist vegetation cover. Because earwigs do not typically dig more than a few inches underground, you may see them scurrying quickly to find other hiding places.
Prevention and Management
The best strategy for Earwigs is prevention. An Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program can help control earwigs by targeting the most common areas that these insects are attracted to.
To control earwigs inside your home, you must first control them outside your home. To help manage earwigs, use a combination of good practices for sanitation, modification of habitat, trapping, and pest control materials.
The following steps can be taken to help prevent or reduce a potential problem with earwigs.
- Provide suitable drainage for basements, cellars, and crawl spaces under the building to reduce moisture.
- Dry out damp moisture areas by using a dehumidifier.
- Fill all visible cracks and voids in the foundation as well as using sealant or weather-stripping around windows, doors and screens.
- Install door sweepers to insure that doors close tightly.
- Remove all debris, and leaf litter around property including dead trees, grass clippings, mulch piles, etc.
- Repair leaking faucets, water pipes, and air conditioning units.
- Indoors, earwigs can be swept or vacuumed and disposed of promptly.
- Turn off unnecessary lights at night or use yellow or sodium vapor lights, to avoid attracting earwigs.
- Properly install and repair roof rain gutters and down spouts to direct water away from the foundation.
- Modify your landscaping around the foundation. Create a clean, dry border by using gravel or ornamental stone to discourage earwigs & other pests.