You've just moved a potted plant on your deck, only to discover five or six slender, crawling, creeping bugs with very large pinchers. Earwigs! Those pinchers are enough to make anyone jump, but are earwigs really dangerous? And how do you get rid of them?
Meet the Earwig
Don't worry! Earwigs won't likely hurt you.1 Those surprisingly sizeable pinchers on the tail end of an earwig aren't normally strong enough to pinch human skin, and if they do, it's not much of a pinch. Earwigs do use those forceps in defense against other insects and to grasp things.
There are about 2,000 species of earwigs, but one common variety in the U.S. is the European earwig. Earwigs are night owls. They're on the go at night, then hide in dark, damp places during the day. Many are about three-quarters or five-eighths of an inch long.
Earwigs are somewhat unique among solitary insects because the females display mothering instincts. After laying a nest of eggs, mother earwigs will stay to guard and clean the eggs and even continue to care for the young earwig larvae after hatching. Female earwigs display rather straight pinchers (called cerci), and male earwigs have pinchers that are more curved.
Earwigs get their name because their (rarely used) folded wings look vaguely like a human ear.
Why Earwigs are a Problem
With their large hind forceps, earwigs look intimidating, but they really don't present much of a problem. Earwigs aren't poisonous, seldom bite, and generally aren't too interested in being destructive or bothersome. Still, there are a few ways these insects may cause trouble.
How Earwigs Affect Your Pet
If earwigs are startled (or injured), they may release an unpleasant odor. This could be uncomfortable for your pet if it tries to eat or chase an earwig.
How Earwigs Affect Your Home
Nobody wants earwigs in the house (or any other bug, really), but again, earwigs are more of a nuisance.2 Still, if earwigs move into a house (possibly seeking moisture), they may hide in cabinets, under rugs, behind baseboards, and generally in and around tight spaces.
How Earwigs Affect Your Yard
Earwigs eat other insects, but they do have an occasional vegetarian side. Unfortunately, they might want to munch on your outdoor ornamental plants. Earwigs in the flower garden may enjoy particularly soft petals like those on your marigolds, roses, zinnias, and hostas. In your vegetable garden, earwigs may target plants like lettuce, potatoes, corn, and herbs. They also bore holes in fruit.
How to Get Rid of Earwigs
Troublemakers or not, nobody wants bugs in their house. Even if earwigs aren't especially bothersome, they're still creepy-crawlers that most people would rather avoid having march around the basement, kitchen, bathroom, or bedroom. Luckily, there are a few steps you can take to encourage earwigs to leave.
- Eliminate hideouts. Remember that earwigs are nocturnal, and they enjoy dark, moist crevices to hide in during the day. Earwigs love nothing better than a stack of newspapers in the basement, a pile of firewood on the porch, or a heap of mulch in the yard. So the more you can eliminate potential hiding places, the less likely you'll have earwigs trying to move in.
- Block entrances. Those pesky earwigs can squeeze through many tiny holes, but you can still put everything in your favor by keeping screens in good repair and caulking and sealing cracks and openings around your house.
- Use a barrier. A permethrin-based product can be used to create a "barrier" several feet wide around your home's foundation,3 and this may keep earwigs from crossing over and into the house. Adam Plus Yard Spray is up for the challenge.
- Set traps. Outdoor glue traps can be effective in capturing earwigs.
- Use a home spray. A stray indoor earwig here and there probably isn't much of a concern (can anyone say "vacuum?"). But if your home is suffering from a larger earwig infestation, a product like Adams Flea and Tick Carpet & Home Spray should provide indoor earwig control.
- Keep them out of the garden. Outside, try Adams Yard and Garden Spray on your porch, lawn, or ornamental garden plants.
- Keep the home dry. Again, earwigs seek moisture. Eliminate the moisture, and you may drive out the earwigs.
1. Hahn, Jeffery, and Phillip Pellitteri. University of Minnesota Extension. "Earwigs," 2018. https://extension.umn.edu/nuisance-insects/earwigs
2. Cranshaw, W.S. Colorado State University Extension. "European Earwigs," July 2014. https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/insects/european-earwigs-5-533/
3. Dill, James F., and Clay A. Kirby. University of Maine Cooperative Extension. "Earwigs," 2020. https://extension.umaine.edu/ipm/ipddl/publications/5017e/