There is a superstition that earwigs burrow into the ears of people while they sleep. This is a myth and without any scientific basis. Earwigs frighten many people because of the pincers on the back of their abdomens. Earwigs use these pincers for defense and for sparing with rival earwigs.There are more than twenty species of earwigs in the United States. Depending on the species, adults range in size from 5-25 mm. They are slender insects with two pair of wings. Some species produce a foul smelling liquid that they use for defense. Earwigs also produce a pheromone (scent). Scientists believe that this pheromone is the reason that earwigs cluster together in large numbers. Immature earwigs (nymphs) resemble the adults except they do not have wings.
Earwigs are active at night. During the day they hide in cracks in damp areas. They live under rocks and logs and in mulch in flowerbeds. Earwigs eat plants and insects.
Outdoors, earwigs spend the winter in small burrows in the ground. In spring the female lays eggs in the burrow. She tends the eggs until they hatch. Then she cares for the nymphs until they can find their own food.
Earwigs are attracted to lights. They can become a nuisance on porches and patios on summer evenings. In the morning they will be gathered under things like cushions that were left outside overnight.
Earwigs move into homes to find food or because of a change in weather.
Females typically lay between 30 and 50 but actual numbers depend on species. After hatching, the nymphs undergo four to five molts until they become adults.
Homeowners often find them in areas where there is water – kitchens, bathrooms, and laundries. Earwigs can also find their way into bedrooms and family rooms. They turn up in almost every part of the house.
The most important part of controlling earwigs is eliminating their hiding places. If the earwig harborages are not addressed, insecticide application will probably not control earwigs very well. There are a variety of things that can be done.
Move landscape timbers, logs, decorative stones, and firewood piles away from the foundation. Create a zone next to the foundation that is free of mulch, dead leaves, and other organic material. The “dry zone” should be 6” to 12” wide so that earwigs will avoid it. Trim trees and shrubs that cause damp, shady areas near the house.
Examine gutters and downspouts to make sure they drain away from the foundation. Set irrigation systems so that they water in the morning and allow the landscape to dry during the day.
Adjust outdoor lights to shine from the yard onto the house – insects will be attracted away from the house. If moving outside light fixtures is not practical, consider changing light bulbs to yellow bulbs since white lights are more attractive to insects. Repair screens on crawl space vents and make sure the vents are not blocked. A dehumidifier might help in a damp basement.
Earwigs can infest many different areas in a home. Because of that, it may be necessary to use several insecticide products to control them effectively. A pest control professional will have the products and equipment to control earwigs effectively.
Infestation & Treatment
Earwigs are some of the most interesting insects that are encountered. At the same time, there are many myths about earwigs. It is important to understand the truth about earwigs and to better understand their role in nature. Earwig information is not very abundant, but we do know about the biology and habits of this pest.
Most people see this insect and think that it is a one of the strangest looking bugs. The earwig is a ground insect, although some can fly. Most earwigs frequent most mulch and areas beneath leaves. These bugs have what appear to be pincers extending from their abdomens and jutting out on the opposite end from their heads. These pincers, also called forceps, are not used to aggressively attack people.
These pincers or forceps can be somewhat intimidating and, if disturbed, the forceps can latch onto skin leading to a slightly painful pinch but this is not common. Male forceps are generally larger than the female forceps.
The common name “earwig” probably comes from the old superstition that the insects enter people’s ears and ultimately feed there. This superstition is totally folklore and has no merit whatsoever.
Most earwigs are omnivorous. This includes vegetation for most species; however, some species of earwigs are predators. In fact, one species of earwig was tested as a control agent against sugar cane infesting beetles.
Earwigs are insects of the order Dermaptera. Stemming from the Latin, derma means “skin” and ptera means “wings” thus “skin winged” from the appearance of the front wings.
Researchers have identified several species of earwigs in North America. Of that number many are not native to North America but have been introduced from Europe or the tropics.
Earwigs are relatively fast moving. They run away quickly when the ground litter is moved, uncovering them.
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