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 chomping on plants, they’re enjoying 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.

getting-rid-of-pincher-bugs.jpg

Do Earwigs Bite?

Some people think that earwigs use their 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.

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.

identify-earwig-damage.jpg

Photo Credit: Barbara Pleasant. Earwig damage involves jagged leaves with holes, which can be seen on this damaged basil plant.

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).

earwig-damage-identification.jpg

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.

Reader Comments

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earwigs inside my fruit trees

How do I keep my fruit trees from dying from earwigs and other bugs?

pest control

To control earwigs, you might try some of the remedies in the above article. Control of other pests will depend on the pest (which can vary with the type of fruit). A good start might be to check our plant pages on fruit trees, which are listed here:
https://www.almanac.com/gardening/growing-guides
Also, you might try our pest pages, https://www.almanac.com/gardening/pests-and-diseases
In addition, you might try contacting your county’s Cooperative Extension, who would know best about the local pests in your area and may have more advice as to control. For contact information, see:
https://www.almanac.com/content/cooperative-extension-services
In general, controlling insects involves clearing weeds and vegetable debris around the area that might encourage them or harbor their eggs, and maintaining healthy growth of the trees and avoiding stressing them (mechanical wounds, high or low temperatures, too much/too little water, etc.). If you see a pest and can identify it, then you might check our pages or ask a garden center for controls, which might involve introducing beneficial insects or companion plants, or physical controls (barriers, sticky traps, handpicking, knocking them off with a spray of water from a hose, etc.) or chemical controls etc.

Hope this helps!

Earwig Trap

If you don't want to make your own trap, consider the Earwig Abyss available on Amazon. Pitfall trap that comes with premixed Earwig Sauce. Works great, reusable, and nontoxic.

Earwigs Killing My Plants

I noticed in the above article, that sunflowers were not listed as a flower earwigs eat. They do, however, enjoy mine, immensely! Imagine my excitement bringing home new plants for a special landscaping project ~ only to find them nearly dead the following morning. I put out tiny bowls of beer, assuming slugs were the culprits. No slugs drowned in the beer the following day, though. I saw earwigs on the flowers and my curiosity led me here.
On the menu tonight: soy sauce and oil soup. We no longer serve cerveza! Thank you for the helpful information.

RE: EARWIGS ARE KILLING MY PLANTS

My sunflowers are also suffering the same fate, Lisa. I first noticed that my Yuccas were wildy infested with them and then turned my eye to the sunflowers, and oh yeah. Tonight I'm going to try alcohol and water on them, but I'd like to know if your soup was to their disliking. They are so repulsive, especially when one happens on a large gathering of them.

Earwigs in my kitchen

How can I keep the earwigs out of my kitchen? I do live in an apartment here in Guelph. They are showing up only on one side of my kitchen. That is where my microwave and my fridge is on. So is there a trap I can use to get rid of them for good? I am getting tired of looking at them. Right now I am using an ant trip to get them. But that is filling up. This ant trap is like a small box that has glue on it. They are getting trap on that. Plus I am using some oil. But that is not working. There is none in that dish. Thanks, Katherine Nemet

earwigs in kitchen

In order to keep earwigs out of the kitchen, you need to keep them out of the house. Earwigs are incidental invaders into houses; you may have carried them in on produce or even on your clothes. Outdoors, they usually dwell in leaf litter, mulch and woodpiles and are common “hitchhikers” on vegetables harvested from the garden. Moving compost and other piles away from the house will aid pest control. Indoors and outside, earwigs are attracted to fish oil, so you can trap them by filling shallow containers with fish oil and burying them so that the lip is level with the ground. You should close/seal any cracks in the foundation or spaces around basement windows and the like. Experts tell us that indoors, they are like cockroaches and linger around food scraps and garbage, so you should store produce and garbage where they can not get at it. There is some good news: From what we can glean, earwigs do not breed indoors.

Earwigs eating plants

My neighbor said the only thing she finally found that worked was slug bait. I had a really bad problem. I'd get up in the morning and entire plants would be gone. I use the slug and snail pellets and they have worked great so far.

Rid your garden of slugs

Use small bowls or cups filled with some beer in the garden where you know the slugs are. The slugs love the smell of beer and will center the bowls or cups and drink the beer, get drunk and die in the beer. Clean them out and use again! Really works great!

Earwigs eating plants

I spray my plants with a mix of dish soap and water, approx 10/1 ratio once a week or so, it works very well.

Not sure about the D.E. idea....

I love the idea of diatomaceous earth, and I use it successfully in my chicken coop nesting boxes. However, I read that it will kill other (good) insects that it comes into contact with, so that's why I don't use it in my gardens where it could affect bees, butterflies, worms, etc. who may come into contact with it. Can anyone verify that this is correct? It makes sense to me, since apparently it penetrates the insect's exoskeleton in order to kill it... Thanks in advance!

Diatomaceous Earth

You are correct—DE does not discriminate and will affect beneficial insects if they come in contact with it. However, if you take care to only spread it around the bases of plants, it’s unlikely that pollinators like bees and butterflies will encounter it. (Also note that earthworms aren’t susceptible to diatomaceous earth, as they do not have an exoskeleton.) Thanks for keeping the good bugs in mind!

Earwigs in Potted Basil

The petroleum jelly didn't work and the pot is too small st the top to put bamboo sections into. I just went outside (it's dark now) and earwigs were all over the tiny plants that can't even get a foothold. What can I do that won't damage the basil, make it inedible or hurt my dogs?

Getting Rid of Earwigs

We’ve had a lot of trouble with earwigs this year, too… Have you tried the oil trap solution, suggested above? Mix equal parts soy sauce and vegetable, olive, or fish oil, then place the mixture into a small container, such as a deli cup or tuna can (note that you will also need a lid). Poke three or four holes in the lid for the earwigs to crawl through, then place the container in the pot of basil, or directly nearby. (You may want to secure the lid with a few pieces of tape, as we have had mice manage to break into the trap before it could be effective.)

Blasted Earwigs!

I found that saving my leftover used cooking oil works best. In fact, it works amazingly well. Its's not uncommon to catch and kill up to 300 earwigs per trap in one night. Keeping multiple traps in your garden can completely decimate a colony of earwigs. Just keep checking your traps and emptying the dead bugs when it gets full followed by replenishing the used cooking oil. The way it works is that earwigs breath through there abdomens, so once they fall into the used oil they suffocate in a matter of seconds. No Joke! This really works. So don't throw out your used cooking oil. Pour it into a coffee can or a container that can be sealed and use it for bait. It catches and kills Beatles too.

Used Cooking Oil Traps

Fred,
Do you use the oil by itself or add soy sauce?

Kill Earwigs with Tempo safe to use inside too

Nothing and I mean nothing works better than
TEMPO insecticide. It also provides a barrier for a couple months.

Tempo

The problem with Tempo is it is fatal towards the good pollinators. I'm having issues with earwigs chomping on my butterfly garden. I've tried the soy sauce and oil traps and they work okay, but there is still a lot of damage being done to my flowers.

They ate the roses!

Thanks for this! I just moved to the PNW area, and after getting a decent rose bush started, it started to die and had earwigs all in the blossoms.

I'm going to definitely try a few of the things suggested here and in the comments.

Earwigs are attracted to beer too

Last year I planted my first vegi garden and I thought I was having trouble with snails, so I put out bowls of beer to catch them, but low and behold, I caught lots of earwigs. I used plastic picnic bowls with curved tops and once the critters got in, they couldn't escape.

Cheaper than Beer

Beer works, but in my area is expensive because of all the "sin" taxes added to it. A really cheap alternative is 1 cup water + 1 tsp bakers yeast + 1 tsp sugar + 1 tsp flour. Stir it up and put it out in a container. I use one of plastic food containers that sour cream comes in, and cut two notches on each side that descend about 1/2 inch from the top. When you put the lid on, you have two entrances just below the lid. Set it in your garden in a hollow to keep it stable, and fill it with the yeast solution. It will trap slugs, earwigs and woodbugs (pillbugs). I don't know why the critters drown instead of crawl out. but it works. Set several traps around the garden about 3 or 4 feet apart. Empty after about 3 or 4 days or the rotting slugs will attract carrion flies, beetles, etc., and you will be killing things you didn't intend to. I find it takes two or three batches to clear an area if there was a big population.

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!! :)

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