Earwigs belong to the Dermaptera insect family. Fortunately, earwigs do not make a habit of climbing into people’s ears, in spite of their name. Their scientific name “Dermaptera” comes from the Greek derma “skin” and ptera “wings”, due to the leathery forewings that protect their hindwings, though they rarely use these hindwings to fly. Earwigs have characteristic pincers on their abdomens. However, they are not poisonous. Their cerci—or pinchers—aren’t strong enough to cause injury to humans, but they would be a nasty surprise for a frog trying to eat them.
Earwigs generally mate in autumn and lay fifty or so eggs. Earwigs are unique among non-social insects because the eggs are cared for by their mother until they hatch. Sometimes the mother will even feed the young until their second molting. Earwig young look like smaller versions of the adults, and they will molt several times before they mature. Like other insects, each of these stages is called an “instar”.
Earwigs are omnivorous and mostly eat vegetation, though they can prey on other insects. Earwigs prefer decaying plant material, but they cannot tell the difference between the piles of foliage in nature and the piles of newspapers in your basement. It’s debatable whether they can cause harm to gardens of crops. So, unless they are a major infestation, they do about as much good as harm to large scale agriculture, as earwigs will prey on aphids more often than they attack live plants. However, earwigs can be a major nuisance in your garden, and more so if they attack your plants!
How Do You Stop Earwigs?
You will usually find earwigs in cool wet places near sources of plant matter. They often end up in your home because the weather shifted, and they wandered in, looking for shelter. They aren’t territorial, so many earwigs will end up finding the same hiding place under your sink. Earwigs do not carry any diseases, but their presence can mean you have damp spots in your home!
Like the control of most insects, controlling their habitat is often more effective than an application of pesticides. However, as rare as an infestation of earwigs can be, a technician will still be able to help you identify and resolve problem spots.
The first step to stopping earwigs is to remove harborages. Due to their flat bodies, they like to hide under piles of debris, bark, stones, or your flower pots. So, don’t store piles of mulch near your home, and trim back trees as well. And like many other insects, earwigs can be attracted to light. So, try to place your security lights along the perimeter of your home to draw them away from your porch. Remember, earwigs are also looking for a moist, dark place to hide, so make sure you have proper drainage around your property. A clogged gutter or an overwatered flowerpot are invitations for earwigs to stay!