Earwigs

How to Get Rid of Earwigs (or "Pincher Bugs")

earwig-insect-get-rid-of

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

What Are Earwigs?

Earwigs can be found in almost any growing zone, although they are more likely to inhabit warm, humid 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 that began crawling around Earth about 208 million years ago. Today, nearly 2,000 species are scattered everywhere but in Earth’s polar regions. The name “earwig” comes from the Old English ear-wicga, which means “ear wiggler”—so named because the insect was once thought to seek out human ears to reside in. In France, they’re called “ear piercers,” and in Germany, “ear worms.”

In North America, we’re most familiar with Forficula auricularia, a European species thought to have arrived with our immigrant ancestors. Earwigs were first reported in North America in the early 1900s, and they have now spread to most of the United States and parts of Canada.

Earwigs enjoy 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 often live together.

What Do Earwigs Eat?

Pincher bugs are omnivores, meaning they’ll eat pretty much anything that’s made available to them. In the garden, they primarily feed on dead or decaying plant and animal matter. However, they will also readily prey on aphids, insect eggs, maggots, grubs, and army worms. When their population gets out of control, they may turn to feasting on living plant matter, especially the seedlings or young foliage of vegetables and flowers.

This creates a conundrum for gardeners… Should earwigs be allowed to remain in your garden to eat up aphids and other pests? Or should they be removed before they turn their attention on your plants? Generally, earwigs do not cause enough damage to be worth fighting. However, if you do see large numbers of them around your plants, you can consider taking action.

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Do Earwigs Pinch?

The pincers at the end of an earwigs abdomen look rather formidable. They are capable of pinching (and sometimes biting) humans, but the pinch is not particularly powerful. Earwigs usually use their pincers to ward off enemies like toads and birds, or—in some species—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 get to be about ¾-inch long. They’re reddish-brown insects with appendages on their tail-ends that look like forceps. Few other insects 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, though they 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 earwigs 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 during the day and then eat the flowers in the pots at night.

Signs of 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 small, black pellets.
  • 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.
  • Earwig damage looks similar to that of slugs and snails. To tell the difference, look for the tell-tale sign of slugs and snails: a trail of slime residue on foliage.

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

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 and aphids, though they can be as big of an annoyance! They can also produce a foul odor when disturbed, so keep that mind. 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).
    • WARNING: Before using an insecticidal spray on your plants, test it on a single leaf. Wait 24 hours and observe to see if the plant has an adverse reaction. If it does, dilute your alcohol solution more and test again. 
  • Earwigs are also susceptible to diatomaceous earth (DE), so consider placing a ring of DE around the bases of plant if the soil is dry enough. In wet weather, DE is not effective.

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. They aren’t harmful, but can be an annoyance nonetheless. To prevent this, check for bugs on everything you bring inside, especially laundry, lawn furniture, flowers, vegetables, houseplants, 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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Reader Comments

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Marigolds

They destroy my marigolds. I can no longer have them in my garden or pots. I like to plant them with my tomatoes but the earwigs destroy them. I will have to try the Dawn dish soap.

KILL THEM WITH SIMPLE DISH SOAP!

My Mother absolutely detests earwigs and one summer a few years ago her yard was full of them! She researched all the remedies, trapping, poisoning, and in the end she found the best remedy and has successfully gotten rid of the large numbers. Dawn dish soap (and probably any other dish liquid) and water. Mix it fairly strong....maybe 1 part soap, 4 parts water. Spray that solution on them and they die within seconds...they just curl up, wiggle around, and are dead! She found a large sprayer and would walk around the yard after dark checking her plants (under leaves, all the hot spots) around the foundation of the house and spray like mad! We all laughed at her slinking around in the dark with a flashlight, but it worked! Also keep a small bottle in the house in case you spot one....they can squeeze in little spaces but they can't escape the dish liquid! This shouldn't harm your plants or pets and it really works. If you are diligent enough early in the year you can absolutely reduce their numbers.

Earwigs

Is there something that can be done to get rid of earwigs as they get into the bottom of my hanging pots of flowers and eat the roots. They like it there because of dampness when watering. Thanks

Earwigs

I have earwigs in my new hut and found a white one never seen a white one before I killed it but I have got a lot of black ones what does the white one mean.

Pincher bugs in garden & bathroom window sill

Your web site proved it was pincher bugs and now I know how to save my vegetable garden from the unknown bug.....thank goodness it wasn't termites. Looking forward to the info on garden care from you

Earwigs on my cherry tree.

My cherry tree was looking fine after blossoming, them I looked and most cherries had been killed, leaves chewed up. When I looked, I found a nest of earwigs inside a foil wrapped around the tree to scare birds. I pulled it off but they killed most young cherries on our new tree from last year. I never knew they would attack leaves on tree and eat them.

Pincher bugs!

I come across this little creepy crawlers quite a bit, even sitting outside on my porch every so often I get one crawling up my leg!
After all these years I have never had one pinch me!

Vouching for the fact that earwigs DO pinch; painfully!

Okay, whoa. "Some people think that earwigs use their pincers to pinch. Physically, this is possible, but they can’t exert enough pressure to result in much of anything.".
This is false! When I lived on the farm, my "room" was an old converted schoolbus. One summer after pulling on a shirt from the closet, there was a horribly painful pinching on my belly. I shook out my shirt, to no avail. Panicking, I reached up to brush at the spot and felt something which wouldn't be brushed away! Lifted up my shirt and there, with a tenacious grip on my abs, was a nasty earwig! It *would not* let go, and I had to actually grab the lil sumb*tch and PULL it off me! Kayh is right!

Edit****

**Many articles say that they ***can not*** pinch with their pinchers**

Earwig Pinches

A lot of articles about earwigs also say that they can pinch with their pinchers. I was also told this by adults as a kid. I, among siblings and cousins tested this. They CAN and DO pinch with them and it WILL pierce through human skin. I vividly remember lifting my right hand after it was pierced on my ring finger with the little buggar hanging off and then one side of the pincer breaking off deep in the pad of my finger, when I got it out a big drop of blood followed.

Earwigs

I have 3 little dogs how do I get rid of these bugs they come in through my sliding glass doors I think ,I kill at least 6 a day and I have been bitten buy them

Earwig Bites

I don't understand why all the articles regarding these insects claim they don't bite. I had one fall into my shirt (from the ceiling) while I washed dishes. As I looked into my shirt, the little jerk bit me hard! I had some sort of weird reaction to the bite and still have a hard lump at the site a year later. This year, we are infested with them. Each night, they inundate our home shortly after dark. My entire family is being bitten repeatedly as they crawl up our legs or onto tables where we're sitting. It almost seems like they are purposely seeking us out. We kill fifty or more per night. Each of us have bites that look like tiny vampire bites. We feel the harsh pinch and actually see them biting, so there is no mistake here. Either we have some sort of terrifying subspecies, or all the articles I've read are written by less than knowledgeable individuals. WARNING: EARWIGS DO BITE, AND HARD!

Bugs all the sudden

Swollen fingers like blistering around the nail. Tiny black bugs every where. White seed like soft specks. What the he'll happened??? Help. Burning itching in nail bed.

EARWIGS DO NOT BITE THEY USE PINCER

FOR EVERYONE WHO THINK THESE BUGS BITE THEY DO NOT!!! DO YOUR RESEARCH BEFORE YOU POST! THEY ACTUALLY WILL PINCH YOU WITH THEIR PINCERS, THIS IS THEIR WAY OF WARNING YOU AS THEY ARE TRYING TO DEFEND THEMSELVES! I SAT ONE ONCE AND HE PINCHED ME WITH HIS PINCER. THIS IS WHEN I STARTED RESEARCH ON THIS GROSS LOOKING BUG THAT NOBODY SEEMS TO LIKE INCLUDING ME! THEY USE THEIR PINCERS AS DEFENSE, IF PICKED UP, AGITATED OR IF THEY JUST HAPPENED TO BE SAT ON OR THEY HAPPEN TO FALL IN YOUR SHIRT! GET YOUR FACTS CORRECT BEFORE POSTING!
THE EARWIG CAN BE BENEFICIAL Yes, earwigs do have some redeeming qualities. They clearly walk the line between being a beneficial garden insect or a garden pest. ... The earwig is a scavenger, roaming the yard and garden for delicacies like aphids, mites, nematodes, slugs and their eggs, other soft bodied insects and decaying plant matter.

earwigs "biting"

dictionary def. of bite includes stinging by an insect, the FACTS are that a bite can be by mouth , stinger or PINCERS. A bee is warning when it stings, the reason has nothing to do with the FACT that you are bitten. I was bitten by a "kissing bug" in my shirt, they use pincer like jaws to bite and it got my attention, it had a reason to bite me but that's not what is at question here. The previous person was correct that they were "bitten" by an earwig! Do your research before you become the expert on what a bite is.!

earwigs inside my fruit trees

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

pest control

The Editors's picture

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

I find the earwig cocoons on fruit trees in the spring. They roll up the leaves and around the cocoon. I know it's earwigs because I have seen them come out of the cocoon. I spray my trees once in the Spring with an organic insecticide, first signs of cocoons. They do some kind of bite or sting. I had one land on my shoulder. It felt like a bee sting. When I looked it was an earwig. It drew blood and I had a bruise and very tender for about 3 weeks, which is a long time. Bee stings go away faster than that! Thanks for the helpful tips.

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 and Sunflower Plants

Yes I agree with this one! I grew sunflowers last summer and wow, I learned real fast that the earwigs had taken over my sunflower plants. I could actually hear them one night munching on my sunflowers! I went out with Soapy water in a spray bottle and it seemed to work until the next night! The next night I heard something eating again, yes it is very silent around here. It was earwigs and slugs! I put crushed eggshells down for the slug issue and a tuna can down with vegetable oil for the earwigs! The crushed eggshells do work but the bird love them! So put down enough to please all as the bird will deal with bug issues!!! AND put down more then one tuna can with vegetable oil because the raccoons love this stuff!! :) I THEN TRIED VASELINE ON THE BOTTOM OF THE STEMS AND IT WORKED!!!! BUT CAUTION DO NOT USE VASELINE OR PETRO JELL AROUND BACKYARD BIRDS IT CAN HARM THEIR FEATHERS AND THEIR FLIGHT! SO BE VERY CAREFUL AS TO WHERE YOU PUT THE VASELINE ON YOUR SUNFLOWER PLANTS!! Put it down near the dirt!! Hope this helps!!!!

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

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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!

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