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Earwigs A Common Fall Invader

By Dwight Reynolds, Terminix International
Photographs courtesy of Terminix

There are approximately 1200 species of earwigs with over 20 of them known in North America. Some are considered to be nuisance pests including the European earwig, striped earwig, and the ring legged earwig.

Earwigs are considered only minor pests, but may be destructive to garden vegetables, flowers, stored grains, and some greenhouse plants. Leaves and petals that are impacted by earwigs may have a ragged appearance, with multiple irregular shaped holes. Earwigs are also often considered beneficial predators of other agricultural pests.


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Leaf damage caused by Earwigs

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Earwig feeding

Earwigs are easy to recognize by the forceps-like appendages at the end of their abdomens. This key characteristic is used to distinguish between the sexes and species. The pincher-like forceps gives them a formidable look, while their name adds to the unfounded fear that they aggressively crawl into people’s ears. They may be winged or wingless. If winged, they have two pair of wings, the hind wings folded beneath the short, leathery appearing front wings.

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Male vs. Female Earwigs

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Earwig in “defensive” posture

Earwigs are omnivorous, eating both plants and other insects, and are nocturnal by nature. They prefer to seek cover during the day in protected moist environments such as under mulch, bark, rocks, flowerpots, and other similar items. Earwigs are primarily outdoor insects that can become an indoor nuisance when they find their way inside homes, usually in the fall. The best way to stop them from entering the structure is to manage them outdoors. Sealing potential entry points and proper weather stripping on doors and windows can be beneficial in reducing entry.

To impact the overall population, removal of favorable outdoor harborages is necessary. Moisture problems under or around the structure should be corrected. Piles of wood, rubble, and any other debris that could provide harborage with elevated moisture levels should be eliminated. Breeding and nesting areas including leaf piles, grass clippings or other favorable habitat should be identified and removed.

 A good practice is to remove debris and organic matter a minimum of three feet away from the structure. Debris removal from under decks and suspended porches, and a zone of bare soil next to the structure are also helpful.

Earwigs are attracted to lights so outdoor lighting should be reduced, or replaced with sodium lights or yellow bulbs.

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