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 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 1907 in Seattle, Washington, 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 tend to 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’ll turn to feasting on living plant matter, like your 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?
Do Earwigs Pinch?
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. 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.