Earwigs

How to Get Rid of Earwigs or Pincher Bugs

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Here are tips on how to identify and get rid of earwigs, also known as pincher bugs or dermaptera, in the garden.

What is an Earwig or Pincher Bug?

Earwigs can be found in almost any zone, although they more likely to inhabit southern climates. You might have trouble spotting one—not only are they quick movers, they are also nocturnal, and tend to hide out during the day when you are tending the garden. They like decaying wood and plant material, and dark, damp spaces. Oftentimes they can be found in basements and woodpiles.

Earwigs are the sole members of the insect order Dermaptera, ancient bugs who began crawling around Earth about 208 million years ago. Today, some 1,100 species are scattered everywhere but in Earth's polar regions. The name "earwig" comes from the Old English ear-wicga, which means "ear wiggler," and it is named so because its hind legs are shaped like human ears. In France they're called ear piercers, and in Germany, ear worms.

In North America, we're most familiar with Forficula auricularia, a European variety thought to have arrived with our immigrant ancestors. Earwigs were first reported in 1907 in Seattle, Washington, and they have now spread to most of the United States and parts of Canada.

When earwigs aren't comping on plants, they're engoing a lively social scene. They congregate during the day because they tend to find the same hiding places. Their nests can number in the thousands, and they aren't territorial, so they tend to live together.

Pincher bugs feed on other insects, such as aphids, maggots, and army worms, which is one benefit. Unfortunately, they will also feed on the rest of your garden.

Do Earwigs Bite?

Some people think that earwigs use thier pincers to pinch. Physically, this is possible, but there wouldn't be enough pressure to cause a wound. Earwigs usually use their pincers to ward off enemies like toads and birds or to catch prey.

The pincers, or cerci, are also important for romance. They are indicators of gender, like tusks on an elephant. A male earwig's pincers are long and curved, while a female's are shorter and straighter.

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Identification

How to Identify Earwigs

  • Earwigs are three-quarter-inch-long, reddish-brown bugs with tails that look like forceps. Few other bugs have a set of scary-looking pincers like the earwig has. This is why some folks call them “pincher bugs” or “pinching bugs.” Attached at the insect’s abdomen, these appendages are called cerci.
  • Earwigs run very quickly and can also fly but rarely do so. They actually have two sets of wings, and their pincers aid in unfolding the wings.
  • What do earwigs eat? Nocturnal by nature, an earwig’s main meal is decaying plant material and wood, but it will attack living plants, including vegetables, fruit trees, and ornamentals, if given the opportunity. Earwigs are especially fond of flowers, lettuce, celery and fruits.
  • Female pincher bugs lay 40 to 50 shiny eggs in underground tunnels. The eggs are protected from predators and hatch in about a week, making it very difficult to control earwig populations before they hatch.
  • Nymphs simply appear to be miniature versions of adult earwigs. They shed several skins, and ten weeks later they reach adulthood.
  • Earwigs often hide underneath pots and then eat the flowers in the pots.

Earwig Damage

  • Leaves will appear jagged and full of holes.Plants will become ragged overnight, and some leaves will only be partially eaten. There will also probably be a scattering of earwig excrement, which will be black.
  • Damage will often occur after rainy weather, which forces earwigs to seek dry shelter and climb up into plants and leaves.
  • You might find the earwigs under pots that contain damaged plants.

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Control and Prevention

How to Get Rid of Earwigs

Generally, earwigs are not as much of a threat to your garden as other pests like Japanese Beetles, but they are just as big of an annoyance! They can also produce a foul odor when disturbed, so be careful. Try these remedies:

  • Lay one-foot sections of bamboo or garden hose in the beds between your plants. Check these “traps” each morning, and dump the earwigs into a bucket of soapy water.
  • Spread petroleum jelly around the stems of your plants. Earwigs won’t crawl over it.
  • If they are infesting your woodpile, try sprinkling borax around it, but keep pets and children away from this area after doing so.
  • Oil pit traps are a great remedy for earwigs. Combine equal parts soy sauce and olive or vegetable oil, put it in a small plastic container, and secure the lid. Punch holes in the top of the container, near the lid. Make the holes large enough for the earwigs to get in. Bury the container in the soil just up to the holes. The soy sauce will attract the earwigs, and the oil will prevent them from escaping. Change the mixture as needed.
  • Alcohol controls these pests by acting as a surfactant, or wetting agent, that can penetrate an insect’s waxy coat of armor and kill on contact with the body. Isopropanol (rubbing alcohol) works fine and is easy to find, but be sure it doesn’t have additives. Ethanol (grain alcohol) seems to work best. Alcohol usually comes in 70 percent strength in stores (or 95 percent strength purchased commercially). To make an insecticidal spray, mix equal parts 70 percent alcohol and water (or, if using 95 percent alcohol, mix 1 part alcohol to 1 ½ parts water).

How to Prevent Earwigs

  • Expect more earwigs during rainy years, and prepare accordingly.
  • Avoid growing susceptible plants near walls covered in ivy or hedges, as many earwigs might live in these areas.
  • Birds and toads are both natural predators of earwigs. Check out our tips for creating a bird-friendly garden.
  • Occasionally, earwigs will move from mulch and other moist material outside into your house. To prevent this, check for bugs on everything you bring inside, especially laundry, lawn furniture, flowers, vegetables, and firewood. Also, move mulch away from your house’s foundation and establish a zone of bare soil that will dry out. If earwigs do happen to get into your home, vacuum them up.

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lots of Earwings in my spike plants

I have planted huge planters of mini petunias Vinca vines and spike plants in the center. My plants appear healthy and beautiful. When I water in the center of the spike, lots of earwigs come crawling out. I do not want my plants to be destroyed! There is no room in the planter to try the lil cans of water with oil or soy sauce. I tried an insecticide spray.they are still living there.What should I do?

Earwigs

Hi Karen,

Earwigs love moisture. If the crown of your center plant is full of sitting water, that creates ideal conditions for them. Water the pot from the outside edges, keeping that are dry (no overhead watering). When the center of the plant is completely dried out, try suctioning them out with a vacuum hose. Also, try luring them out: Next to the pot, place a box baited with bran or oatmeal; poke pencil-size holes on the sides, near the bottom for entry.

How do I keep earwigs out of

How do I keep earwigs out of my dahlias?

Hi, Teri: Earwigs love

Hi, Teri: Earwigs love moisture. Do a test. Take 3 plastic butter or deli tubs and bury them top-edge-deep in three different places. Put a half inch of water in each. Put a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil in the first, of soy sauce in the second, and of molasses in the third. See which trap catches the most for three nights (rotate their positions twice), then convert all to that method. If you have problems with critters or pets, put the lids on the containers with a slot cut in them for the earwigs to crawl through. Or: Roll up newspapers, put a rubber band around them, wet them thoroughly (i.e., soak), and set them in your bed. Well, flower bed, we mean. In the morning, lift them up quickly and totally immerse them in a bucket of hot, soapy water. Don't succumb to curiosity and inspect them or try to count earwigs or see if anybody's home. Just lift and dunk. Lift and dunk. Bye, bye, wiggies.

Earwigs eating dahlias

I am so glad to hear that there maybe relief in sight to get rid of these pesky "bugs". They have eaten almost all the leaves on dahlias and they are looking pretty bad. I'm going to try these three to see which one is the best. Thanks so much.

I sprinkle Diatomaceous Earth

I sprinkle Diatomaceous Earth around my plants & yard. This also works well against Fleas. It can be purchased in the pool center of your home improvement store.

Diatomaceous earth works

Diatomaceous earth works wonders; a good natural defense against unwanted insects! However, it is best to use a food-grade quality, ensuring no harm will come to any animal it comes in contact with (other than the bugs it will destroy, of course). The kind used in pools does not meet this standard. I buy mine in a 40lbs sack at my local feed store. Remember, it is no longer effective once moisture hits it, so you must reapply often.

I am so happy to read about

I am so happy to read about others using Diatomaceous earth for earwigs. I have food grade DE that I am using for my garden and was curious if it worked well for these buggers. Thanks all you DE users :)

Earwigs have invaded our

Earwigs have invaded our grill by the hundreds. How can I get rid of them? Its very disturbing to see them crawl all over the hood and grates when its heating up. Actually they can withstand quite a bit of heat!! :)

Earwigs like moist dark

Earwigs like moist dark places, so you want to keep surrounding areas sunny and dry and open, including the grill!
For a DIY method, clean out a tuna or cat food can and fill it nearly to the top with water. Add a tablespoon of vegetable oil. Place the can in an earwig-infested area near the grill. If you have lots of the pests, place several cans in the area. When the bugs come out in the evening, they will crawl into the cans for a swim, but the vegetable oil will prevent them from getting out.
The best way to get rid of earwigs is to trap them. Here's a good link that explains how to do it: http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG....

Don't be so kind to earwigs.

Don't be so kind to earwigs. They will exfoliate the whole plant. A horrible import from overseas, the only thing that will partially eradicate them from temperate climes is a very cold winter which kills most of them. I spray my marigolds every two days with neem oil or I'll have no marigolds left.

Another great way of getting

Another great way of getting rid of earwigs that I learned from http://www.domyownpestcontrol.... is attracting birds onto your property. They take a liking to earwigs so have them solve your problem for you. To welcome birds near and around your garden, one simply needs to place bird baths or bird feeders in the vicinity and let them come!

Does this truly work?

I'm quite worried about my vegetable-garden-to-be. I've been tilling the soil and have found all sorts of earwigs. I've been told they like to eat through all the vegetables. I love birds though... well most birds. I just don't want all the effort to be wasted.

And the question is…what to

And the question is…what to do? Read the responses above, esp the one from the Almanac staff about the tuna can as a deterent. If you have that many earwigs (as many as you imply) you may also have poor soil, soil that holds too much moisture (see above; they like dampness). Search this site for advice on soil and improve your with compost and other additives suited for the proper pH for the plants you plan to grow. 

If you don’t do this, you may wish you did in six—or fewer—months. Why go to the trouble to plant if the site is not suitably prepared?

Good luck!

 

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