Earwigs are nasty-looking, very misunderstood insects that are primarily considered a nuisance pest. A widely spread superstition is that these insects will burrow into people's ears and lay eggs. This story may be where the earwig got its name, but it's far from true.
Some species of earwigs are capable of causing extensive damage to plants, while other species can cause minor irritation and abrasions when they pinch, but overall they perform (mostly) beneficial functions. If you're noticing earwigs inside your home, where are they coming from? How do you get rid of them? And if you're noticing damage to your garden plants, how do you tell if it's earwigs or something else?
What Do Earwigs Look Like?
Earwigs are long, flat, and wriggly little creepy-crawlies with six legs. Some have wings and others do not, but they are most commonly recognized for their menacing-looking cerci.
What Are Cerci?
Cerci are the pinchers on an earwig's abdomen. Earwigs use these cerci in a variety of ways, including hunting, defense, and courting. Males have more curved cerci, where females have more straight or sometimes crossed cerci that they use to defend their egg nests from predators. Flying earwigs also use their cerci to assist in folding and unfolding their wings.
There are more than 1,800 species of earwigs worldwide and more than 20 species north of Mexico, but only a handful of these species are considered common pests in North America.
There is a lot of variance in the size, coloring and appearance of earwigs. Common pest earwigs of North America include:
European earwig, Forfiucla auricularia
- 3/8-5/8 inch long (9-17mm)
- red-brown coloring
- pale coloring on their legs, cerci, and antennae
- most damaging to plants
Spine-tailed earwig, Doru aceuleatum
- 1/2-3/4 inch long (12-18mm)
- brown and yellow markings
- black abdomen with yellowish legs
Striped earwig, Labidura riparia
- 3/4-1 inch long (18-26mm)
- winged with lengthy antennae
- mix of light brown to red-brown in color with two dark stripes on the thorax (mid-section) and a dark stripe down the length of their abdomen
- occasionally dark all over
Ring-legged earwig, Euborellia annulipes
- 3/8-1 inch long (16-25 mm)
- live in coastal regions
- dark brown to black in color
- light yellow legs marked in a distinct but lightly colored ring pattern
Maritime earwig, Anisolabis maritima
- 5/8-1 inch long (16-25mm)
- large and wingless
- shiny dark brown to black appearance
- long dark antennae with pale short legs
- males have strongly curved asymmetrical cerci and females have straight symmetrical cerci
Least earwig, Labia minor
- 1/8-1/4 inch long (4-6mm)
- small with short cerci
- color is variegated and ranges from light brown and tan to black
- brown-yellow legs
- yellowish hairs on the legs and body
6 Natural Ways to Get Rid of Earwigs
If you do not have a large number of earwigs present, it is recommended you leave them alone. If they are creating issues for you in your home or garden, however, that's a different story. Once you have positively identified that you're dealing with earwigs, it's time to start addressing the potential root causes of the issue. Chemical application is rarely the best way to deal with earwigs. Some pesticide labels will list earwigs as a target pest, but just because you could treat for them doesn't mean you should.
Even natural pesticides like diatomaceous earth and horticultural oils can interrupt the balance of the delicate garden ecosystem, killing off pests both good or bad. Avoid these treatments when it comes to earwigs and try something else. If you happen to be the victim of rare circumstances and have a drove of earwigs descending on your house in mass number when the cold weather comes, this is a situation where a professional pest control treatment might be a good idea. Otherwise, try one of these all-natural control methods instead.
Make sure there aren't any moisture issues around your home that could be attracting earwigs. Earwigs can hide out under cedar siding, so make sure you're not drawing them up against the house with any standing water.
Moisture attracts pests of all kinds, not just earwigs. There are many steps you can take to avoid a moisture issue in your home, including:
- Addressing any leaks, including broken or leaky irrigation systems
- Cleaning out the gutters and downspouts to avoid a back up
- Avoiding overwatering your lawn or garden
Remove Food and Harborage Sources
Think of areas where the earwigs may be hiding or feeding and eliminate them or move them away from the house. Earwigs hide and feed in places like:
- Wood piles
- Leaf piles
Keep the Lights off at Night
If you deal with flying earwigs in your area, you can reduce their presence by keeping your porch lights (and interior lights) off at night when they are not in use. Not only will this discourage earwigs from flying at them, but other insects are attracted to light, as well ... other insects the earwigs and local spiders are hoping to eat. Turning off lights will cut down on this activity.
Seal Them Out
Keep earwigs out of your home by sealing up cracks and crevices with caulking and making sure your doors and windows close with a proper seal. Sealing your home will also help reduce moisture.
Protect Your Fruit Trees
Earwigs are have been known to burrow into ripe tree fruit. As a gardener, nothing is more frustrating than watching your harvest be eaten full of holes while still on the tree. Protect your fruit with a Vaseline trap.
Do not apply Vaseline directly to your tree's trunk. Protect the tree trunk by wrapping it in plastic wrap first, then smear a line of Vaseline about two inches wide around the tree. This will create a sticky barrier the earwigs will not cross and will prevent them from climbing up and eating the fruits of your labor.
Traps can help reduce the number of earwigs present around your home. One of the easiest traps to use is a magazine or a rolled up piece of cardboard. Set this out and encourage the earwigs to hide in it. In the morning, pick up your trap and shake the earwigs out into a bucket of soapy water. You can also look into making an oil trap or a trap using terracotta pots and straw.
Signs of Earwigs
You may notice a lone earwig inside your home or in the garden from time to time, but how do you know if you have a serious earwig issue? Luckily, severe earwig infestations are not likely inside, and if you're noticing earwigs in your garden, they are doing the important work of breaking down organic materials and enriching the soil for your plants, as well as eating plant damaging nuisance pests. If you're experiencing damage to your plants, it could be earwigs, but it also could be something else. You'll need to investigate.
During the day, earwigs are likely to be found in areas such as under paving stones, under tree bark, inside dead logs, in cracks in the soil, or buried deep inside flowers such as dahlias. Be careful poking around their hiding spots, though. Some earwigs release a foul odor when they are disturbed.
Earwigs hunt and scavenge, feasting on rotting plant material, cleaning up dead insect parts, and hunting live insects that cross their path. Sometimes, they will chew holes in live plants or eat flowers, especially depending on what species of earwigs are present. If you are waking up and finding skeletonized leaves on your plants, you could be dealing with earwigs. Earwigs will also chew holes in plant leaves, but their holes are irregularly shaped. The damage is also typically one hole here and there, not a bunch of holes all grouped together. Keep an eye out for slime. If there's slime, you could be dealing with slugs.
What Causes Earwigs?
Earwigs have managed to spread all over the world via imports and exports. These insects are attracted to compact, moist environments that offer them shelter and protect them from drying out in the sun during daylight hours. Earwigs hide in these wet, dark spots (sometimes alone, sometimes piled up by the dozens) and wait for night to come so they can scavenge for food.
If there is an excess of moisture around your home, this will draw them in. Even "drowning" them is no big deal, given that earwigs can float in the water for up to 24 hours and then resume their normal activities.
If you are consistently finding earwigs in a particular area of your home, this could be as a sign that there is a moisture issue present. Not only are earwigs attracted to moisture for their water needs, but moisture can create wood rot and other issues that earwigs are happy to make a meal out of.
Earwigs will eat from a variety of food sources, mainly preferring to eat rotting organic matter, fresh plants, plant debris, and insects (both dead and alive). Accumulations of organic materials such as compost piles, mulch, dead leaves, and manure are the perfect spot for earwigs to hide and feed. If these things are close to your house, earwigs are more likely to come in.
Seasonally speaking, some species of earwigs will attempt to come inside homes in large numbers during the fall months when insects are naturally looking for places to overwinter. If your home has a history of attracting earwigs in the fall, make sure that you have removed or addressed any conditions that may be attracting them.
Do earwigs bite?
Occasionally earwigs will bite, but this is incredibly rare. When they do happen, these bites are considered minor.
Will earwigs go away on their own?
Earwigs are important to a healthy eco-system. As long as there are not excessively large numbers of them, it is best to let them be. If they are inside in larger numbers, you may want to contact a local pest control company for help.
Where do earwigs come from?
Earwigs have spread across the world through means such as shipping and trade. They live outside in moist environments where they feed on rotting plant matter and insects. Sometimes they wander inside, but are mostly considered a nuisance or garden pest.
Mallis, Arnold, and Keith Story. Handbook of Pest Control. Cleveland, Ohio. Franzak & Foster, 1982.
Evans, Arthur V, and National Wildlife Federation. National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Insects and Spiders & Related Species of North America. New York, Sterling Pub.; Woodstock, Vt, 2008.