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The name earwig comes
from a European superstition that these insects entered the ears of a sleeping
person and bored into the brain. This belief is totally unfounded. Earwigs often
cause alarm to homeowners when discovered indoors, despite the fact that they
are harmless to humans. They have a frightful appearance, move rapidly around
baseboards at the ground level and may emit a foul-smelling, yellowish-brown
liquid from their scent glands. Active at night and hiding during the daytime,
earwigs normally live outdoors and do not establish populations indoors. They
are harmless to humans and animals, although if handled carelessly, the earwig
can give a slight pinch with the forceps. Earwigs can be responsible for
serious feeding damage on flowers, vegetables, fruits and other plants, giving
the leaves a ragged appearance with numerous, small, irregular holes.
Earwigs are elongate,
flattened insects, ranging from light red-brown to black and are easily
recognized by their forceps-like appendages (pincers) on the end of the
abdomen. The forceps (cerci) are unequal in length in the males. Earwig female
forceps are straight-sided, whereas male forceps are strongly curved
(caliper-like) and larger. They have chewing mouthparts and long, slender
antennae. Some species are wingless but others have a pair of leathery
forewings covering a few segments of the abdomen and the membranous hind wings,
which have the tips protruding. There are many species of earwigs: the European
earwig ranges from 13-20 mm (1/2 to 3/4 inch) in length, with banded legs and
reddish head; the ring legged earwig ranges from 13-18 mm (1/2 to 3/5 inch) in
length and is black-yellowish underneath with legs having dark crossbands.
Young earwigs (nymphs) are similar in appearance to adults. They are white to
olive-green and lack wings. An earwig's forceps are used to defend the nest,
capture prey, probe narrow crevices and fold or unfold wings. Earwigs are
primarily scavengers on dead insects and rotted plant materials. Some species
are predators, feeding on aphids. Only a few of the winged species are good
fliers. They are often transported great distances in plant materials and
occasionally in other freight. Earwigs require moist, cool places and are found
in damp crawl spaces, flower gardens near the home, in mulches, compost piles, under
boards, in wood piles, and trash areas. After entering houses, they feed on
sweet, oily or greasy foods or houseplants. They are attracted to lights.
Earwigs develop from
egg to adult through gradual metamorphosis with four to five nymphal instars or
stages. During the spring or autumn, females lay 20 to 50 smooth, oval-shaped,
pearly-white or cream-colored eggs in a below-ground chamber (upper two to
three inches of soil). The female moves, cleans and provides maternal care by
protecting the eggs and new young until the first molt. Young then leave the
nest, fend for themselves and mature in one season. Most species in this
country have one generation per year, overwintering as eggs or adults in the
soil. Earwigs may dig as deep as six feet below ground to escape the cold
Some feed on living
plants and often become pests in greenhouses and field crops.
For best control
indoors, one must first control earwigs outdoors. Since they are attracted to
lights, reduce lighting around doors, windows and other potential entry sites.
Use good night light discipline and special sodium vapor yellow lights (less
attractive to insects) instead of white, neon or mercury vapor lights. Earwigs
need and are very attracted to moisture. High populations, practically
invisible during the day, may be present around foundations, in landscaped
yards, in mulch, under boards, etc. Be sure to eliminate damp, moist conditions
in crawl spaces under houses, around faucets, around air-conditioning units and
along house foundations.
Rain gutters and spouts should carry water away from
the house foundation. Use caulking compound, putty and weather stripping around
doors, windows, pipes and other entry sites, especially at the ground level.
Change landscaping by creating a clean, dry border immediately around the
foundation wall. Gravel or ornamental stones can make an attractive barrier
against earwigs and other pest invaders. If populations are difficult to
control, or earwig invasion to the home continues, it is always best to contact
a professional pest control company.
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