Earwigs

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Identification

  • Colour Dark red-brown
  • Size About 5 to 16 mm long. Young are around 5 mm and will grow up to 16 mm as they become adults.
  • Description Are a dark red-brown, with pale yellow wings and legs. They have short, thick forewings that cover and protect their hind wings, and a prominent pincer-like appendage, called a cerci, at the tip of its abdomen.
  • Notes Earwigs often climb as high as possible before taking flight, typically preferring to run from one place to another.
Earwig close up photo

General Facts

Earwigs are small insects of the order Dermaptera, which takes its name from the Greek words “derma,” meaning skin, and “ptera,” which means wings. The name refers to the thick forewings that cover and protect the hind wings of the insect. The common name of the earwig is actually a misnomer stemming from the early European belief that the insect would crawl into the ear canal of a sleeping person and bore into the brain. In reality, earwigs rarely do any more harm to people than an occasional nip to the skin when defending itself. Despite being generally perceived as a pest, the earwig is a beneficial insect because it helps in the decomposition of detritus and feeds on destructive insects.

Appearance

There are several species of earwigs, with the European earwig (Forficula auricularia) being the most common in Canada. As the name suggest, it was first introduced from Europe and is now well established in North America. It is dark-red in colour with prominent pincer-like appendage (cerci) at the tip of its abdomen. It measures about 16 mm long, with pale yellow wings and legs. The antennae are long with 12 segments. In preparation for flying, earwigs have been observed to climb as high as possible before taking flight. However, they do not typically fly and prefer to run from one place to another.

Habitat

Earwigs tend to prefer dark places rich in moisture and prefer to forage at night. The insects therefore rest in narrow cracks in foundations, under floorboards, and in other tight spaces around the home. In nature, they may appear under tree bark or beneath stones. The insects also release a pheromone in their feces that attracts other earwigs to the spot.

Diet

Earwigs are omnivorous; they feed on dead or decaying vegetable matter, dead insects, and other small invertebrates. They use their cerci to grab and hold prey, including spiders, aphids, and even caterpillar pupae, before bending back in order to move the food to their mouthparts. Earwigs also feed on plants and, consequently, can cause injury to plants.

Life Cycle/Reproduction

Earwigs undergo an incomplete metamorphosis made up of three stages: egg, nymph, and adult. Females initiate the cycle by laying between 20 and 60 eggs in burrows in a suitable environment. After about seven days, the young emerge from the eggs as nymphs. Generally resembling adult earwigs, nymphs pass through four stages, called instars, before fully maturing. Earwig nymphs live in the nest during the first two instars, begin to forage freely during the third one, and leave the nest completely upon reaching adulthood. Nymphs typically develop into adults in late summer or early fall. Adult earwigs can survive cold weather.

Baby Earwigs

The earwig life cycle begins in the soil. Adult females emerge from overwintering to lay eggs in the ground. They produce about 60 eggs at a time, which hatch within a week into nymphs (smaller versions of adults). The nymphs molt 4 to 5 times before becoming adults. Most of these pests die during their first cold season.

Baby Earwigs in the Garden & House

Depending on their numbers and location, earwigs can be helpful. These insects eat decaying plants and prey on garden pests like insect larvae, slug eggs, and aphids.

However, large populations of adult and baby earwigs can be problematic as they begin to feed on garden and field plants. They may also enter homes to search for moisture during hot, dry periods.

Baby Earwig Prevention & Control

Checking produce and flowers for baby earwigs before bringing them indoors is one easy way to avoid infestation. Residents can also reduce humidity around the house to repel these pests. Common tactics include:

  • Trimming shrubs and aerating or removing mulch to create a low-moisture zone around the home.
  • Cultivating garden soil to uncover and dry out eggs before they become baby earwigs.
  • Keeping bathrooms, crawl spaces, and other damp areas well ventilated.

The best way to control an active infestation is to focus on reducing baby earwig populations. The professionals at Orkin Canada have the right training and tools to help get rid of these pests and keep them from returning.

Problems Caused by Earwigs

Even though they feed on refuse and certain harmful insects, earwigs may still pose multiple problems for home and business owners. The pests present various issues by feeding on flowers, vegetables, ornamental trees, and shrubs. In large enough numbers, earwigs can eventually kill healthy plants. Additionally, humans and pets are sometimes recipients of defensive pinches from earwigs when the insects feel threatened. Earwigs also possess a gland that discharges a foul-smelling yellow to brown liquid as another defence mechanism.

Earwig in Ear

Earwigs get their name from the notion that these pests often climb into sleeping people’s ears. Urban legend goes so far as to suggest that, once there is an earwig in an ear canal, it will burrow into the brain to nest and lay eggs. It sounds terrifying, but is there any truth to these rumours?

The Earwig in Ear Myth

While the pests do like to hide in dark spaces, there is no evidence that an earwig seeks out the human ear canal. It is highly unlikely that these pests would deliberately enter and remain in a person’s ear.

In fact, an earwig in an ear would likely leave as soon as possible, finding it an unsuitable place for nesting. The myth probably originates from the insect’s menacing appearance.

With its shiny body and long pincers, an earwig’s looks can be unsettling to many. However, these pests are harmless to people, capable of delivering no more than a slight pinch.

Flying Earwigs

Although the pests spend most of their time in the soil looking for food, most earwigs have membranous wings under their leathery outer wing. In fact, part of the pest’s taxonomic group name, Dermaptera translates to leather or skin wing. Some of the insects are capable of flight, but homeowners rarely see flying earwigs.

In the Home

In houses, the presence of earwigs is mostly a nuisance. Their pincers may look frightening, but the pests are relatively harmless and only pinch when handled.

In the Yard

While flying earwigs cause few problems for homeowners, they may be an issue for gardeners. Although generally beneficial, the insects may feed on plant parts as well as other pest insects.

Preventing Flying Earwigs

Homeowners can avoid problems with flying earwigs by controlling the amount of decaying organic matter in their yards. Remove piles of leaves, logs or wood to deplete food sources and shelter. Setting traps may also reduce the insect’s numbers.

Getting Rid of Flying Earwigs

Prevention is the first step in removing earwigs in and around homes. Under persistent and high levels of infestations insecticide treatments may be necessary. For effective and safe applications, contact the pest professionals at Orkin Canada for help with earwig control.

Detection/Signs of Infestation

Although earwigs are not typically encountered in large numbers, the easiest way to identify an earwig infestation is seeing the insect firsthand. Damp and dark basement areas with multiple cracks in the foundation provide perfect hiding places for the pests. Garbage and refuse may also attract earwigs, as will piles of leaves, vegetation, and mulched areas. The insects release pheromones which may lead other earwigs to assemble in the area. Populations may increase during nesting, as well.

Where it Starts

An earwig infestation usually begins outside the home near a garden, in a flowerbed or compost pile. These pests mostly eat decaying fruits and plants, so brush and organic debris attract them. While breaking down rotting vegetation is good for the soil, earwigs in gardens may destroy healthy plants and flowers in the process.

Heading Inside

Most earwig infestations in the house start around June or July. Being good climbers, they enter through small cracks in the wall, seeking out dark areas with a source of moisture. Homes with leaky pipes, cracks in wall and foundation are most vulnerable. This search for shelter can lead earwigs to food, clothes, and bedding.

Cause for Concern

These insects do not harm people. Larger earwigs are able to pinch humans, but rarely do so. Some homeowners even consider them helpful because they prey on other pests. As a result, an earwig infestation is a nuisance, but the pests do not cause much damage.

Home infestations also tend to be self-limiting. Males usually die in the winter, while females return outdoors to nest in the soil. Finding dead earwigs creates unpleasant clean-up for residents, but the pests rarely spend much time in houses.

Prevention Tips

The easiest and most complete way of preventing earwigs from entering a structure is to modify the surrounding area. Get rid of all decaying vegetation, such as leaf piles, grass clippings, and compost heaps, to get rid of potential nesting sites. Fix leaky downspouts, reroute drains when necessary, and repair broken irrigation systems to eliminate the moist, dark areas where earwigs flourish. While pesticides and traps may work, these methods cannot guarantee total removal and may present dangers to people and pets if used improperly. To fully remove an earwig infestation and reduce the chances of future problems, call a pest control professional.

Earwig Traps

Earwigs live in damp soil and feed on organic materials, insects, and plants. In the summer, the pests may accidentally make their way inside through cracks, holes, and open doors. Homeowners often try a variety of methods from earwig traps to pesticides to repel these insects.

Setting an Earwig Trap

Homeowners can use household products to create earwig traps on their properties. Some items useful for catching the pests include:

  • Rolled up newspaper or a cardboard paper towel roll
  • Upside-down flower pots filled with a moist material like straw
  • Empty sardine cans or frozen juice containers submerged in the soil

When placed in dark, damp spaces, earwig traps may reduce the pests’ numbers. Although they rarely get rid of an infestation altogether, traps can help residents pinpoint the source of an earwig problem and begin control.

Other Methods of Getting Rid of Earwigs

Insecticidal products are an option for removal without using earwig traps. It is important to read and follow product label for efficacy and safety. For serious infestation, contact pest specialists. The team at Orkin Canada will work with residents to remove earwigs and prevent future issues.

 

Why do I have earwigs?

The European earwig seeks out dark places rich in moisture, so often rest under tree bark or beneath stones. However they are also attracted to the narrow cracks in foundations, under floorboards, and in other tight spaces around the home.

Damp and dark basement areas with multiple cracks in the foundation provide perfect hiding places for earwigs. Garbage and refuse may also attract earwigs, as will piles of leaves, vegetation, and mulched areas.

When foraging at night, earwigs like to feed on dead or decaying vegetable matter, dead insects, spiders, aphids, caterpillar pupae, and other small invertebrates. They use their cerci to grab and hold prey, including, before bending back to move the food to their mouthparts.

How worried should I be about earwigs?

It’s a common misperception that earwigs crawl into the ear canal of sleeping humans and bore into their brains. In reality, earwigs do not attack, however when defending themselves, they may give a short nip and discharge a foul-smelling yellow brown liquid.

The earwig can be beneficial, since it aids the decomposition of detritus and feeds on destructive insects – but it can also feed on flowers, vegetables, ornamental trees, and shrubs. In large enough numbers, earwigs can eventually kill healthy plants.

An infestation is not easily tackled, as earwigs release a pheromone in their feces to attract other earwigs to the spot. Even if you kill existing earwigs, more could be on the way. To be truly sure you’ve eradicated your earwig infestation, contact a professional pest control service.

How can I prevent earwigs invading?

Remove any decaying vegetation around, Clear leaf piles, grass clippings, and compost, Fix leaky downspouts and reroute drains, Repair broken irrigation systems, Seal cracks and crevices in foundations, walls and around doors and windows

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