The name earwig has an interesting background. It comes from the Old English, earwicga, meaning “ear wiggler”, from the traditional belief that earwigs burrowed into people’s brains through the ear and laid eggs in their victim’s head. It is easy to see why people might have believed this, given the earwig’s sinister appearance. Fortunately, there is nothing that menacing about earwigs.
Earwigs are easily identifiable by their large cerci, the forcep-like pincers protruding from their rear end. The earwigs is flattened with an elongated body, usually black or brown in coloration. They are typically about a 1/2 inch in length, if not a little longer.
Earwigs are nocturnal, feeding at night and hiding out in small, moist crevices during the day. Earwigs are omnivorous and will feed on a wide variety of insects and plants, especially decaying organic matter such as rotting leaves and partially decomposed animals. They prefer moist, dark areas for their habitats. Earwigs are non-social, but they will live near each other in extremely high densities, giving the impression of dens or colonies Earwigs prefer to live inside moist debris, such as under wet leaf piles or fallen logs. They will also dwell underneath rocks, boards or almost anything left out in the yard, such as barbecue grills.
Earwigs will feed on a variety of vegetation, such as clover, dahlias, zinnias, butterfly bush, hollyhock, lettuce, cauliflower, strawberry, sunflowers, celery, peaches, plums, grapes, potatoes, roses, seedling beans and beets, and tender grass shoots and roots. Their typical insect prey is lice. Earwigs are also prey to a variety of predators, including birds, amphibians, lizards, centipedes, spiders, tachinid flies and yellow jackets.
When it is time for earwigs to mate, the male and female will dig a small nest in the dirt. Shortly after mating, the female will lay 20 to 80 eggs. Around this time the male leaves the nest or is driven away by the female. The pearly-white eggs will hatch within seven days. When they hatch, the nymphs look exactly like adult earwigs except they are smaller and white in color. They will eventually pass through six stages on their way to adulthood. Earwig mothers are unique among non-social insects in that they demonstrate a maternal instinct for their young, cleaning the eggs, assisting the young in hatching, and watching over the earwig nymphs during the first phase of their life cycle.
Despite their intimidating look, earwigs pose no danger to people and generally do not pinch or bite humans (the dangerous looking forceps are used to hold prey, as a weapon against other insects, and during mating); although an earwig who feels threatened may use its forceps to pinch. It is debatable whether or not earwigs damage crops or not, since although they eat the crops, they will also eat aphids and other insects that feed on crops. The real problem with earwigs is due to their occasional presence within the home, which most people are uncomfortable with. You are more likely to have issues with earwigs if your home sits on marshy ground, is in the vicinity of a pond or lake, or if you have a lot of mulch beds near the foundation of the home.
Earwigs are legendary for their ability to get into absolutely everything. Earwigs are most frequently sighted on house walls and ceilings, but their flattened body allows them to get into a multitude of locations. Earwigs will turn up anywhere: in the crevices of outdoor patio cushions, behind couches, under the coffee pot, inside mailboxes, on the sill plate under doors, in the dirt in potted plants (indoor and outdoor), crawling around in the sink, scurrying across the kitchen counter, inside shoes that are left out, inside barbecue grills, and even in the folds of wet laundry that has been hung out to dry. If you have mulch beds around your home’s perimeter, they will frequently be swarming with earwigs, as the decaying organic material in the mulch is an ideal food source.
Fortunately, earwigs do not “infest” houses – that is, they do not come into the home with the intention of setting up any sort of nest or colony; they are non-social insects that lay their nests in the dirt. So, although sometimes it may feel that the home is being overrun by earwigs, you can take consolation that this is not the case. They are attracted to warm, dark, moist places and get into the home by following cracks in the foundations or climbing in under the door. Once they are in the house, they usually become fairly inactive due to the lack of available food inside a home (unless they can get into a potted plant or something with organic material).
Even so, their presence can be alarming and there are ways of keeping earwigs out. Creature Control recommends a combination of pesticide treatment with habitat alteration to make your yard and home less conducive to earwigs. A foundation pesticide treatment coupled with spot treatments of the home’s interior can usually take care of the existing earwigs, while removal of harborage areas, such as rotting logs and mulch beds, will discourage earwig activity near the home. Cities and townships near marshy areas are more susceptible to earwig problems, such as Pinckney, Hamburg, and Lakeland.