Earwigs received their name from an European superstition that claims these insects crawl into the ears of people sleeping and burrow into their brains. While this superstition is false, the name stuck. Earwigs make a positive impact on the environment by preying on plant lice, a highly destructive pest. But they are better known for damaging vegetable gardens, flowerbeds and soft fruit.
You can easily identify adult earwigs by the large pincer-like appendages called cerci that protrude from the back of the body. The cerci on male earwigs tend to be more curved than those on female earwigs. Earwigs use these cerci to defend themselves against predators, capture food and sense their environment. The cerci can pinch a human but not break the skin. These reddish-brown insects grow to approximately 3/4-inch in length. Many species of earwigs have wings, but rarely fly. Immature earwigs are smaller than adults and wingless.
Male and female earwigs hibernate in pairs during the winter months by burrowing 2 to 3 inches into the soil. Earwigs in milder climates don’t hibernate and stay active year-round. During the winter or early spring, the female lays approximately 30 eggs in the soil. Unlike many other insects, the female earwig cares for her young by turning, licking and reposition her eggs. When the eggs hatch, small white nymphs emerge. The mother brings them food and protects them from predators. After about two months, the nymphs can forage on their own. Females usually one lay eggs once a year, however, some lay two sets of eggs.
Omnivorous creatures, earwigs eat both other insects, such as aphids, mites and fleas, and plants. They damage vegetable seedling by eating all or part of their leaves and stems. Earwigs chew the edges or irregular holes into the leaves of older plants. They also feast on soft fruits such as apricots and strawberries. Look for holes that burrow deep into the fruit. By feeding on the silks of corn, earwigs prevent pollination, which results in poor kernel development. Earwigs also go after flowers such as zinnias, marigolds and dahlias. While these insects may invade your home when it becomes too arid, hot or cold outside, they pose no health hazard to you and usually die due to lack of food.
Manage your earwig problem several ways. Keep them out of your house by spraying water mixed with essential oils such as citronella oil, cinnamon oil, clove oil or lavender oil around places they might enter the house. Or trap and kill the insects outside your house by using traps made from tuna cans, rolled-up newspaper or bamboo tube. Put a bit of tuna fish oil in the trap to attract the earwigs and place the traps near plants just before dark. In the morning, shake the earwigs out of the trap into a pail of soapy water to kill them. You can also spray your garden with an earwig insecticide.