Earwigs: More Hype Than Bite

No, they won’t lay eggs in your ears—but they could cause some minor damage to your garden.

by Kevin Fogle
PHOTO: Kevin Fogle

The old wives’ tale about earwigs crawling into your ear canal and laying eggs inside your brain still seems to have life. It is amazing how many folks are creeped out by earwigs. They’ve been the victim of an age old smear campaign—ever since they were given their unfortunate name, which roughly translates to “ear creature.” Fortunately, the earwig is not a threat to humans, and while it feasibly could enter your ear, it has no interest in doing so and certainly will not lay its eggs there.

What Are Earwigs?

Perhaps the unusual reputation comes from the insect’s rather grotesque appearance, which makes it one of the most easily recognizable insects found in North America. The earwig has a long flattened body which reaches from 1 to 1½ inches long depending on the species. The body is typically brownish-red to dark black in hue and features the characteristic elongated forceps (or pincers) on the rear of the abdomen, which are used for capturing prey and for self-protection. The earwig is primarily active during the night and spends the daylight in damp dark spaces.

While not a threat to humans, earwigs can be a nuisance creature or minor pest around the home or garden. They feed on a wide range of materials, from other insects and organic debris to plant vegetation, such as corn silk and a range of soft-fleshed fruits, like berries. Their appetite for other soft-bodied insects, such as aphids, and insects eggs can balance out many of the minor issues to crops.

Controlling Earwigs In Your Garden

To see if earwigs are causing damage to your garden, take a quick trip out to garden at night with a flashlight to do some pest surveillance. If earwigs are the culprit, you can look into organic insecticide treatments specifically labeled for earwigs, the most effective of which is spinosad.

There are also several cultural strategies that can help lower earwig populations in and around your landscape or farm. These include removing common earwig refuges, like thick weed stands and any organic debris piles, near the gardens. You might also consider encouraging natural earwig predators, including toads and many species of birds. Remove suckers and weeds from around the base of trees, and be sure to pull back mulch from the trunk of the tree, as these zones tend to harbor earwigs.

When it comes to farm insects, earwigs are really the least of your worries, as creepy as they might be.

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