Earwigs

Get Rid of Earwigs in Your Home or Business

General Information

Members of the order Dermaptera, earwigs are widely considered pest insects due to their propensity for infiltrating homes and gardens.

The most common species found in New England is Forficula auricularia, or the European earwig. Though generally harmless to humans and pets, earwigs can cause damage to house plants and garden vegetation.

The insects can also give off an unpleasant odor. Although earwigs typically live outdoors, the pests sometimes infest homes in large numbers requiring the use of hazardous pesticides or professional assistance to control.

Picture of Earwig
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Appearance

What Do Earwigs Look Like?

Long and narrow, earwigs are dark or reddish-brown in color. Adults typically measure between 5/8 and 3/4 of an inch in length, while immature specimens are generally smaller and either lighter or darker than their fully developed counterparts.

All earwigs have six legs, a pair of flexible antennae, and short wings that leave the abdomen exposed. Easily identifiable, earwigs notably feature appendages resembling forceps or pincers extending from the back end of their bodies.

Called cerci, the prominent appendages also identify the sex of earwigs, as the curvature of the forceps varies markedly between males and females.

Habits & Habitat

Earwigs are gregarious (not social), typically living together in large groups, and frequently take shelter under piles of:

  • Compost
  • Mulch
  • Wood
  • Other organic debris

Preferring to inhabit dark spaces with plenty of moisture, earwigs are also regularly found in common household items like flower pots and wet mops. Cracks, crevices, and the crawlspace behind loose boards also make ideal habitats for earwigs.

As nocturnal insects, earwigs remain in hiding during the day and emerge at night to look for food.

Diet & Reproduction

What Do Earwigs Eat?

Plants and other organic matter form the basis of the earwig diet. The insects feed on:

  • Leaves
  • Flowers
  • Vegetables
  • Soft fruits
  • Algae
  • Fungi

Omnivorous creatures, earwigs also consume small organisms in the soil, slow-moving invertebrates like snails, and other insects. When earwigs manage to infest homes, the insects often feed on trash in the kitchen.

Earwig Reproduction

As breeding typically takes place in the soil, female earwigs lay their eggs in the ground. Generally laid in batches of 50 to 90, the eggs hatch in the spring into larvae that look like smaller, wingless adults.

While adult males usually die in early spring, females live until summer and ensure the survival of the newly hatched larvae.

Earwigs reach adulthood during the fall and go into diapause (hibernation) during New England winters.

Problems Caused by Earwigs

Although earwigs pose no significant threats to humans or pets, the insects frequently prove destructive to plants and gardens.

Young earwigs regularly consume seedlings and the leaves of growing plants, while adults often eat and ruin flowers and fruit. In addition to damaging vegetation, earwigs sometimes produce a foul odor.

The insects can enter structures through cracks or via plants brought in from outside, causing potentially serious infestation issues. The large groups in which earwigs like to live often exacerbate the problems caused by the insects.

Earwigs primarily live outdoors and prefer dark, moist areas, like piles of leave, compost bins, and wood piles. The insects may enter the home to stay warm when outdoor temperatures decrease or by accident when hiding in plants or cardboard boxes.

When introduced into the home, earwigs will take residence in damp, unlit spaces similar to their natural habitats. Damp basements have ideal conditions for earwigs to live. The insects may also inhabit potted plants, garbage cans with decaying material, or wet mops.

Where to Find Earwigs in the Home

When occupying a basement, earwigs can be spotted on damp walls or ceilings. If cardboard boxes or newspapers are stored in the basement, they should be examined for earwigs.

Home owners may also want to shake out house plants or mops to check for earwigs that drop out. If multiple earwigs are found in the home, individuals should look for potential entry points.

The insects may enter the home through:

  • Cracks in walls.
  • Baseboards separated from walls.
  • Poorly sealed windows and doors.

Signs of Infestation

Indications of earwig infestations are frequently visible on the plants the insects like to eat.

As earwigs feed on the leaves of plants, the pests leave behind small holes across the leaf surface. Earwigs also make leaves appear ragged or frayed by chewing around the edges when feeding. The best time to inspect for earwig feeding is at night.

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Prevention

New England residents can take several measures to prevent earwig infestations.

The first and arguably most simple step involves the elimination of places where the insects live (harborage). Sweep up leaves and debris around the outside perimeter of the house to discourage earwigs from taking refuge in the piles that accumulate.

Prune the branches of shrubs and other low-lying plants, and keep the areas immediately surrounding flowers and vegetables free from dense patches of weeds. Gardeners should harvest fruits and vegetables promptly and avoid letting crops become overly ripe and soft.

Other earwig prevention strategies include sealing cracks and crevices where the insects can get into the house.

In the event of a serious earwig infestation problem, New England homeowners should contact a pest control specialist to assist in handling the issue professionally and effectively.