Get rid of earwigs

How to Get Rid of Earwigs in Your Garden

These pests are nocturnal, feeding at night and hiding out during the day. Earwigs love damp, sheltered places such as mulched garden beds and under potted plants. They will eat just everything in the garden, but they seem to have a big appetite for hollyhock, dahlias, marigolds, roses and zinnias.

That being said, earwigs are generally harmless; a few earwigs can be beneficial to your garden, as they prey on other garden pests, like aphids, snails and slugs. But when they eat everything in sight, that’s a problem!

When earwigs become a pest, here are some solutions to get rid of them from your garden:

  • Start by clearing out the mulch from the affected area to let the soil dry out a bit. You only have to do this temporarily until the earwigs move on.
  • Throw out damp newspapers and wet leaves left on your garden, especially after a rainy day.
  • Make a newspaper trap; roll up a newspaper and secure with rubber band or tape, get the newspaper wet, but not soggy. Leave overnight to trap the earwigs.
  • Place shallow tin cans filled with vegetable oil around your yard to attract earwigs and drown them.
  • Attract natural earwig predators like birds to your yard; install birdhouses and birdbaths to draw birds into your garden.
  • If you absolutely must, use an insecticide labelled for crawling insects. Apply in the evening.

If you have a problem with earwigs, hopefully one of these solutions will work for you.

  • How to Get Rid of Garden Slugs (


Facts, Identification & Control

Latin Name

Order Dermaptera


What do they look like?

Earwigs are odd looking insects which have pincers or forceps protruding from the abdomen. These are somewhat intimidating looking but they are not poisonous, and they do not spread disease.


Depending on the species, adults range in size from 5-25 mm.


They are slender insects with two pair of wings. Dermaptera means “skin wing” due to the leathery appearance of the wings. The hind wings typically fold under the front wings. Do earwigs fly?


What is an Earwig?

There are more than twenty species of earwigs in the United States. Some species produce a foul smelling liquid that they use for defense. Earwigs also produce a pheromone (scent). Scientists believe that this pheromone is the reason that earwigs cluster together in large numbers.

There is a superstition that earwigs burrow into the ears of people while they sleep. This is a myth and without any scientific basis. Earwigs frighten many people because of the pincers on the back of their abdomens. Earwigs use these pincers for defense and for sparing with rival earwigs.

Where do they live?

As with any other type of insect with multiple species, biology and habits vary. Most types of earwigs generally prefer wet areas which are cooler and undisturbed. Earwigs can be a serious garden pest if conditions are right. If there is adequate ground cover, wet soil, and food, the earwigs will do well.


Earwigs typically feed on live sprouts or decaying vegetation and, in rare cases, some species are predators. Read more about what earwigs eat.

Move quickly

Earwigs are relatively fast moving. They run away quickly when the ground litter is moved, uncovering them.


Earwigs are active at night. During the day they hide in cracks in damp areas. They live under rocks and logs and in mulch in flowerbeds. Earwigs eat plants and insects.

Attracted to lighting

Earwigs are attracted to lights. They can become a nuisance on porches and patios on summer evenings. In the morning they will be gathered under things like cushions that were left outside overnight.

How Did I Get Earwigs?

Earwigs move into homes to find food or because of a change in weather.They usually wind up indoors while seeking shelter or just happen to wander inside through open doors. Earwigs prefer cool, damp areas and may enter homes during extended dry periods.

How Can I Get Rid of Earwigs?

What Orkin Does

The Orkin Man™ is trained to help manage earwigs and similar pests that invade homes. Since every yard or home is unique, the Orkin technician will design a special solution for your situation.

Keeping pests out of your home is an ongoing process, not a one-time treatment. Orkin’s exclusive A.I.M. solution is a continuing cycle of three critical steps — Assess, Implement and Monitor.

The Orkin Man™ can provide the right solution to keep earwigs, and other pests, in their place…out of your home.

Earwigs Signs

Homeowners often find them in areas where there is water – kitchens, bathrooms, and laundries. Earwigs can also find their way into bedrooms and family rooms. They turn up in almost every part of the house, but infestations are rare.


Females typically lay between 30 and 50 but actual numbers depend on species. After hatching, the nymphs undergo four to five molts until they become adults. Immature earwigs (nymphs) resemble the adults except they do not have wings. Read about the earwigs life cycle.

  • What do earwigs eggs look like?
  • Earwig larvae

Prevention Tips

The most important part of controlling earwigs is eliminating their hiding places. If the earwig harborages are not addressed, insecticide application will probably not control earwigs very well. There are a variety of things that can be done.


  • Clean Up – Move landscape timbers, logs, decorative stones, and firewood piles away from the foundation.
  • Eliminate Moist Soil – Create a zone next to the foundation that is free of mulch, dead leaves, and other organic material. The “dry zone” should be 6” to 12” wide so that earwigs will avoid it.
  • Trim Overhanging Branches – Trim trees and shrubs that cause damp, shady areas near the house.

Around the Home

  • Proper Drainage is Key – Examine gutters and downspouts to make sure they drain away from the foundation. Set irrigation systems so that they water in the morning and allow the landscape to dry during the day.
  • Switch Up Exterior Lighting – Adjust outdoor lights to shine from the yard onto the house – insects will be attracted away from the house. If moving outside light fixtures is not practical, consider changing light bulbs to yellow bulbs since white lights are more attractive to insects.
  • Secure Possible Entry Points – Repair screens on crawl space vents and make sure the vents are not blocked.
  • Dry Out Moisture-Prone Areas – A dehumidifier might help in a damp basement.

Call for Professional Assistance With Earwig Removal

The best way to prevent earwigs is to utilize Integrated Pest Management, or IPM. IPM is a holistic approach to pest control. The basic steps of IPM include Inspection, Identification and Control.

Earwigs can infest many different areas in a home. Because of that, it may be necessary to use several insecticide products to control them effectively. A pest control professional will have the products and equipment to control earwigs effectively.

More Information

Earwigs vs Other Bugs

  • Difference Between Earwig and Cockroach
  • Difference Between between Earwigs and Silverfish
  • Difference Between between Earwigs and Spiders
  • Difference Between between Earwigs and Termites

In the Home

  • How do I keep earwigs out of my house?
  • Why do I have earwigs in my apartment or home?
  • Infestation
  • Earwigs in house plants


  • Are earwigs dangerous or poisonous to humans?
  • Do earwigs bite people?
  • What do earwigs eat?


  • What do earwigs eggs look like?
  • Earwig larvae
  • Do earwigs have wings and do they fly?
  • Pincers

Get Rid Of Earwigs


Earwigs are easily recognizable by their pincers (forceps harmless to humans) at the ends of their abdomen. They are dark reddish-brown, with light brown legs, and are about 5/8 inch long.

Earwig Biology

In a season, females reproduce up to 20-60 eggs laid in burrows (called chambers), 2 to 3 inches beneath the soil. Most species have one generation a year, over-wintering in the soil. Both adults and the young require moisture to live.


  • Earwigs are primarily nocturnal, feeding at night. They are scavengers, eating primarily dead insects and decomposing plant materials.
  • Some earwig species are attracted to lights.
  • During the day, earwigs will seek shelter under organic matter such as mulch, pine straw, leaf litter, and other debris. Earwigs prefer dark and damp areas like under sidewalks, and stones.
  • Earwigs eat live plants and can do damage to field crops.
  • Earwigs are found in homes and can get in through entry points like doors and windows, and by going up the foundation.
  • Their populations build up around foundations. Earwigs produce large populations rather quickly and are often a major problem in new subdivisions.
  • Earwigs live in habitats that also harbor centipedes, sow bugs (roly-poly), and millipedes.


  • Because earwigs are attracted to moisture it is important to eliminate high moisture areas. Earwigs may be present, althugh invisible during the day around foundations, in mulch, under stones, boards, etc.
  • Look for ways to eliminate damp moist conditions particulary around crawl spaces, faucets, and along the foundations.
  • Rain gutters and spouts should direct water away from the house foundation.
  • Caulk or use weather stripping at all possible entry points such as doors, windows, pipes and other entry points 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.

Earwig Control and Recommendations

Removing earwig habitats is very important to the control of all insects, including earwigs.

As they are attracted to lights, it might help to reduce some of the lighting outside at night.

Most insecticide treatment should be done outside with application around the building foundation, flower beds, mulch areas and turf within a couple of yards of the building, as well as in the crawl space areas of the home. Treat in a three to six foot band around the building adjacent to the foundation (perimeter treatment) to stop or limit earwigs from getting indoors. Spring and Summer are the best times to apply insecticides.

Recommended products and treatment are:

  • LambdaStar UltraCap 9.7 (Top Recommendation)
  • Cyper WSP
  • Bifen It
  • All these products are odorless and will provide excellent results.

    Bifen IT may be used outside only(limited inside usage) and is a recommended insecticide for mosquito and tick control.

    Cyper WSP has been a very popular product but has a slight visible film that can be seen against darker surfaces.

    LambdaStar ULtraCap 9.7 is odorless, long lasting and may be used in or outside with no visible residue.

    If earwigs are coming indoors, use a supplemental treatment such as a crack and crevice aerosol, spraying along the baseboards, beneath cabinets, and other hiding places on the ground level.

    A recommended aerosol would be : Crack and Crevice Invader. It comes with crack and crevice tools to spay with a fine stream.

3 Ways to Kill Earwigs in Your Home

Earwigs are crawling insects that are related to the cockroach. They are not harmful or dangerous to humans; in fact, they provide some benefit as they eat slugs and other common garden pests. They will invade your home if they are looking for food and live inside by hiding in the crevices and cracks of a damp foundation. If earwigs have come into your home, there are various ways you can kill them, the most popular of which are listed below.

1. Use a Soap and Water Solution

The most common way to eliminate earwigs is to mix a soapy water solution and spray where you see earwigs, especially around the damp and musty foundation of your home.

2. Make an Earwig Trap

You can also kill earwigs by making an earwig trap at home from newspapers. Roll a newspaper, wet it well, and tie it securely with string, leaving it in a place where you know earwigs are concentrated. Earwigs love wet and damp environments so they will crawl into the rolled newspaper, getting stuck there. In the morning put the rolled newspaper in a plastic bag and throw way.

3. Use Honey to Attract Earwigs

Another way you can kill earwig is to take an empty can of food, fill with half an inch of vegetable oil, add a dash of honey and place where you suspect earwigs live. They will be attracted to the smell of honey and crawl into the can from where they will drown in the oil. Put the can in a plastic bag and throw it away.

4 Natural Remedies to Get Rid of Earwigs in the Garden

Is your garden overrun with earwigs? Try these four natural remedies to get rid of them quickly.

How to Get Rid of Earwigs

1. Sprinkle Diatomaceous Earth Powder
Get food-grade diatomaceous earth and sprinkle the white powder along the perimeter of the garden or around the base of the infested plants. Diatomaceous earth can kill earwigs by causing tiny cuts on their exoskeleton.

Diatomaceous earth will lose its effectiveness in wet conditions so don’t forget to re-apply after it rains. The food-grade version is also non-toxic to pets, and will work well against other common household pests including roaches and bed bugs.

2. Set a Damp Newspaper Trap
Leave some lightly-rolled damp newspaper around your garden for two or three days. Once the earwigs have moved in, discard the rolled newspaper into a bucket of soapy water to kill them. You can also use corrugated cardboard instead of newspaper.

3. Use a Tuna Can Trap
Embed an empty tuna can next to the earwig-infested plants then fill the tuna can with some vegetable oil. The earwigs will crawl in and drown.

4. Attract Natural Predators
If you want to think long-term then consider making your garden a more attractive home for natural predators like birds and lizards. For example, installing rock piles in your garden can be a good way to attract lizards as it provides cover for them.

Keeping backyard chickens is also a great way to control common household pests like earwigs, ticks, and fleas. You can catch the earwigs by using the damp newspaper trap then hand the newspaper over to the chickens for them to feast.

Sam Choan is the Founder of Organic Lesson. He started this site to share tips on using natural remedies at home when such options are available.

Primarily night feeders, the common earwig (Forficula auricularia) is considered to be an insect pest when it feeds on soft plant shoots, such as corn silks, and eats small holes in foliage and flowers. Sometimes ripened fruits are infested, but damage is usually tolerable. It can be particularly damaging to seedlings. Earwigs also play a beneficial role in the garden, acting as scavengers on decaying organic matter and predators of insect larvae, snails, aphids and other slow moving bugs. They are often carried great distances in produce shipments and other freight.


These slender red-brown insects (3/4 inch long) with elongated, flattened bodies are distinguished by a pair of sharp pincers at the tail end, which they use for capturing prey and mating. A few species have wings, although it is not a strong flier, and usually crawls in search of food. Earwigs get their name from an old superstition that they crawl into the ears of a sleeping person and bore into the brain. While menacing in appearance, they are harmless to man.

Note: Earwigs will occasionally enter your house. However, their presence is accidental and they will not establish themselves or reproduce indoors.

Life Cycle

Adults overwinter in the soil. Females lay 20-50 cream-colored eggs in underground nests during January and February, and the newly hatched young (nymphs) first appear in April. Nymphs are protected in the nest and do not leave until after the first molt, when they must fend for themselves. Young earwigs develop gradually, passing through 4-5 nymphal instars before becoming adults. They are similar in appearance to adults, but lack wings and the large sized pincers. Most species in this country have one generation per year.

Earwig Control

  1. Remove garden debris and excessive mulch where earwigs are living and breeding.
  2. Since earwigs seldom fly, a sticky band of Tanglefoot Pest Barrier around the trunks of trees, shrubs, and woody plants will prevent them from reaching the leaves and fruits on which they feed.
  3. Broadcast Insect Killer Granules around foundations, lawns and landscapes to eliminate or repel all kinds of troublesome pests.
  4. Apply Diatomaceous Earth for long-lasting protection. Made up of tiny fossilized aquatic organisms, that look like broken glass under the microscope, DE kills by scoring an insect’s outer layer as it crawls over the fine powder. Contains NO toxic poisons!
  5. If you’re looking for a quick-and-simple solution, scatter TERRO Ant Bait evenly around the perimeter of your home, or wherever pests are found. Best of all, the easy-to-apply granules withstand rain and heat to kill insects quickly.
  6. Least-toxic botanical insecticides should be used as a last resort. Derived from plants which have insecticidal properties, these natural pesticides have fewer harmful side effects than synthetic chemicals and break down more quickly in the environment.

Tip: Trap earwigs by placing rolls of damp newspaper or burlap bags in areas where they are found. Collect and dispose of pests the following day.

How to Manage Pests

Pests in Gardens and Landscapes


Published 10/12

In this Guideline:

  • Identification
  • Life cycle
  • Damage
  • Management
  • About Pest Notes
  • Publication
  • Glossary

Related videos

  • How to Trap Earwigs

European earwig.

How to Trap Earwigs (2:25)

Crop damaged by European earwig.

Adult earwig.

Earwig feeding damage on apricot.

A low-sided can sunk into the ground and filled with vegetable oil and a drop of fish oil makes a good earwig trap.

Earwigs are among the most readily recognized insect pests in home gardens. Although earwigs can devastate seedling vegetables or annual flowers and often seriously damage maturing soft fruit or corn silks, they also have a beneficial role in the landscape and have been shown to be important predators of aphids.

Although several species occur, the most common in California gardens is the European earwig, Forficula auricularia, which was accidentally introduced into North America from Europe in the early 1900s. The striped earwig, Labidura riparia, occurs in Southern California and can annoy residents when it is attracted to lights. It has a very disagreeable odor when crushed. However, the striped earwig doesn’t damage plants.


The adult earwig is readily identified by a pair of prominent appendages that resemble forceps at the tail end of its body. Used for defense, the forceps are somewhat curved in the male but straighter in the female. The adult body is about 3/4 inch long and reddish brown. Most species have wings under short, hard wing covers, but they seldom fly. Immature earwigs look like adults except they are smaller and lack wings.

Contrary to popular myth and despite their ferocious appearance, earwigs generally don’t attack humans, although they are capable of biting if trapped in clothing or sat upon.


Earwigs feed most actively at night and seek out dark, cool, moist places to hide during the day. Common hiding places are under loose clods of soil, boards, or dense growth of vines or weeds or even within fruit damaged by other pests such as snails, birds, or cutworms.

Female earwigs dig cells in the ground in the fall and winter where they lay masses of 30 or more eggs. Eggs hatch into small, light brown nymphs and remain in the cell protected and fed by their mother until their first molt. Second-instar nymphs may forage at night but still return to the nest during the day. Third- and fourth-instar nymphs are darker and forage on their own. Generally there is one generation a year, but females produce two broods.

Part of the earwig population hibernates during the winter as pairs buried in cells in the soil. In the hotter parts of California, earwigs may be relatively inactive during the summer. In milder California climates, some remain active all year.


European earwigs feed on a variety of dead and living organisms, including insects, mites, and growing shoots of plants. They are voracious feeders on soft-bodied insects such as aphids and insect eggs and can exert significant biological control under some circumstances. In yards that are planted to turf and contain mature ornamental plants, damage by earwigs is unlikely to be of concern.

European earwigs can cause substantial damage to seedling plants and soft fruit as well as to sweet corn. Damaged seedlings may be missing all or parts of their leaves and stem. Leaves on older plants, including fruit trees, have numerous irregular holes or are chewed around the edges. This damage may resemble that caused by caterpillars. Look for webbing, frass (excrement), or pupae that would indicate the presence of caterpillars.

Earwigs may attack soft fruit such as apricots, strawberries, raspberries, or blackberries but don’t harm hard fruit such as apples. On stone fruit, look for shallow gouges or holes that extend deeply into the fruit. On strawberries, distinguish earwig damage from that of snails and slugs by checking for the slime trails snails and slugs leave behind. On corn, earwigs feed on silks and prevent pollination, causing poor kernel development. Earwigs may also seriously damage flowers including zinnias, marigolds, and dahlias. To confirm that earwigs are causing the damage, go out at night with a flashlight to observe the pests in action.

Earwigs may seek refuge indoors when conditions outside are too dry, hot, or cold. Large accumulations of earwigs can be annoying but present no health hazards. Sweep or vacuum them up and seal entry points. Earwigs eventually die indoors because there is little for them to eat.


Management of earwigs requires an integrated program that takes advantage of their habitat preferences. As moisture-loving insects, earwigs wouldn’t normally thrive in California’s arid climate without the moisture and shade provided by irrigated gardens. Where earwigs are a problem, consider reducing hiding places and surface moisture levels. Initiate a regular trapping program. If these measures are followed, insecticide treatments shouldn’t be necessary. Baits are available for earwigs but often aren’t very effective. Keep in mind that earwigs are omnivores and are beneficial in some situations, such as when they feed on aphids, and don’t need to be managed in many situations.


A key element of an earwig management program is trapping. Place numerous traps throughout the yard, hiding the traps near shrubbery and ground cover plantings or against fences. A low-sided can, such as a cat food or tuna fish can, with 1/2 inch of oil in the bottom makes an excellent trap. Fish oil such as tuna fish oil is very attractive to earwigs, or vegetable oil with a drop of bacon grease can be used. These traps are most effective if sunk into the ground so the top of the can is at soil level. Dump captured earwigs and refill cans with oil.

Other common types of traps are a rolled-up newspaper, corrugated cardboard, bamboo tubes, or a short piece of hose. Place these traps on the soil near plants just before dark and shake accumulated earwigs out into a pail of soapy water in the morning. Earwigs can also be dropped into a sturdy plastic bag and crushed. Continue these procedures every day until you are no longer catching earwigs.

Sanitation and Other Controls

Complement the trapping program by removing refuge sites for earwigs, such as ivy, weeds, piles of rubbish, and leaves. Never allow heavy ground cover such as ivy to grow near vegetable gardens. Watch out for mulches; they often harbor earwigs. Natural enemies including toads, birds, and other predators may play an important role in some gardens. Chickens and ducks will consume many earwigs.

For fruit trees keep weeds, brush, and suckers away from the base of the trunk throughout the year, as this overgrowth provides refuge for earwigs. Monitor populations with folded newspapers or burlap bags placed at the base of trees. On the lower trunks of older fruit trees, carefully scrape off all loose bark. Trunks can be treated with Tanglefoot, a sticky substance that prevents earwigs from climbing up the trunks to reach ripening stone fruit. Also, keeping fruit trees properly pruned, thinning heavy crops, and picking fruit as soon as it ripens will help keep earwigs from becoming pests. Remember that earwigs can be beneficial in trees when they are feeding on aphids, so keeping them out isn’t always recommended unless the tree produces soft fruit.

Chemical Control

Where insecticides are desired, those containing spinosad (e.g., SluggoPlus baits or spinosad sprays) are the most effective, environmentally sound products. However, baits often aren’t very effective where there are other attractive food sources. Sprinkle baits around susceptible plants before they become infested or around the foundation of the house where earwigs may be entering. Dampening the bait after application may soften it and make it more attractive. Once earwigs are in susceptible plants or in fruit trees with ripening fruit, baits are unlikely to control the problem. Other more toxic insecticides are available, including carbaryl, but aren’t usually needed if the cultural practices above are followed.

For best effect and to protect bees, apply at night and before the infestation is severe, following all label directions and making sure the product is labeled for use around any plants that may be treated. Combine the use of insecticides with the trapping and sanitation procedures described above.

Inside the Home

Indoors, earwigs can be swept or vacuumed up; be sure to kill and dispose of them promptly so they won’t reinvade. If earwigs are a regular problem in a building, inspect the area to see how they are getting into the house and seal up cracks and entry points. Remove materials outside the perimeter of the building that could provide harborage, such as ivy growing up walls, ground cover, bark mulches, debris (especially leaves in gutters), wood piles, leaf litter, piles of newspapers, or other organic matter.

Also, keep water and moisture away from the structure by repairing drain spouts, grading the area so water drains away from the structure, and ventilating crawl spaces to minimize moisture. Insecticide treatments indoors aren’t recommended, since they will do little to prevent invasions. If earwigs are attracted to outdoor lighting, use yellow or sodium vapor lightbulbs, which are less attractive to these insects.


Flint, M. L. 1998. Pests of the Garden and Small Farm. 2nd ed. Oakland: Univ. Calif. Agric. Nat. Res. Publ. 3332.

Moore, W. S., C. S. Koehler, and P. Svihra. Aug. 1994. HortScript #7. Earwigs and Their Control. Univ. Calif. Coop. Ext. Marin County.


Pest Notes: Earwigs

UC ANR Publication 74102

Author: M. L. Flint

Produced by UC Statewide IPM Program, University of California, Davis, CA 95616

Produced by University of California Statewide IPM Program

PDF: To display a PDF document, you may need to use a PDF reader.

Top of page

Earwigs can be a pest — and not just because of that scary old wives’ tale that they will crawl into your ear and lay eggs (they won’t!).

Earwigs are actually quite contradictory in that they can be both a garden pest and helper at the same time. They’re beneficial in compost piles and as predators because they eat nuisances like aphids, mites, and undesirable nematodes, as well as other insect larvae. Earwigs are actually omnivorous, and primarily feed on decaying organic matter as well as those pest insects.

Related Story

However, earwigs also unfortunately eat ornamental and vegetable plants, particularly dahlias, zinnias, butterfly bush, hollyhocks, lettuce, strawberries, potatoes, roses, and seedling beans and beets, as well as the silk of sweet corn. In gardens and greenhouses, they chew irregularly shaped holes in plant leaves and flower petals, tunnel into flower buds, and also consume seedlings.

Earwigs can also wreak havoc outside of the garden because they’re attracted to moist areas around and inside homes. They can become serious pests when they come indoors, and also when outdoor populations get out of control and do major damage on your garden.

Found throughout North America, these glossy, flattened insects are brown to black in color and measure ½ to 1 inch long. You can identify earwigs by their pair of curved pincers or forceps emerging from the tip of the abdomen. But don’t worry — they rarely pinch.

Adult earwigs may or may not have wings, but they rarely fly. Larvae resemble adults. The European earwig (Forficula auricularia) is most problematic in northern areas; the ringlegged earwig (Euborellia annulipes) is predominant in the South.

Get some tips below on where to find earwigs, and how best to control their population size.

Where Earwigs Hide

Ian_ReddingGetty Images

Earwigs are nocturnal; they hide in cool, moist places during the day and feed at night. Earwig damage mimics damage from caterpillars and slugs, so be sure you’ve identified the real culprits by checking for feeding earwigs on your plants after dark.

Earwigs are unusual among insects in that the female fusses over her eggs and nymphs, and uses her pincers to protect them. Overwintering adult earwigs lay clusters of round, white eggs in the soil in late winter; larvae, which resemble adult earwigs, hatch in spring. Adults overwinter under garden debris, stones, and boards as well as in soil.

How to Trap Earwigs

Darlyne A. Murawski/Getty

To trap earwigs, you can fill cat food cans (or other similar cans) with ¼ inch of oil (preferably fish oil) and sink them into the ground near plants. Empty them every day.

You can also set out some crumpled, damp newspaper, lengths of old hose, cardboard filled with straw and taped shut at one end, or boxes with small holes cut in the sides and baited with oatmeal. Place these earwig “traps” near plants and dump the contents into a bucket of soapy water in the morning.

Another option is to simply place a light-colored cloth beneath an infested plant and shake or tap the branches. The earwigs should fall onto the cloth and can then be disposed of.

How to Control Earwig Overpopulation

Posonskyi Andrey/

If you are seeing a lot of earwigs, or have had a problem with them in your garden before, you can simply sprinkle a 2-inch-wide circle of diatomaceous earth around beds or the base of plants where earwigs commonly travel; reapply after it rains.

You can also apply the beneficial nematode Steinernema carpocapsae, which is an alternative to chemical pesticides.

Clean up any garden debris and mulches, especially around the foundations of your home, since moist areas serve as daytime hiding spots for the nocturnal earwigs and can lead to them invading your home. You can spread dry gravel as mulch around your home instead.

Earwigs are also attracted to lights, so eliminate or reduce lighting around the foundation.

How to Call in an Earwig Predator

AbiWarnerGetty Images

The earwig’s only insect predator in North America is the tachinid fly. You can attract and encourage this fly in your garden by planting alyssum, calendula, dill, and fennel.

Don’t Wig Out Over Earwigs

By Laura Jesse
Plant and Insect Diagnostic Clinic
Iowa State University Extension

Earwigs are easy to recognize by the prominent pincers or forceps on the end of the abdomen. Adults are about 5/8 inch long and dark brown with a reddish head and pale yellow-brown legs.

If samples and questions to the ISU Plant and Insect Diagnostic Clinic are a measure of how well an insect is doing, I would guess that earwigs are doing very well. They seem to have gone from an insect seldom seen to one that many people encounter regularly in their yards and sometimes houses.

For some reason people are not too fond of earwigs, possibly because earwigs are the insect reputed in superstition to purposefully crawl into the ears of sleeping persons for the purpose of burrowing into the brain to lay eggs. Of course, there is no truth to these tales, though earwigs, like moths, beetles, cockroaches, ants and flies may wander into our ear canals by accident.

You should know though that earwigs are unique in that they provide some parental care of their young. Earwig nests are a short tunnel in the soil, usually next to a rock or other object. The female earwig lays her eggs and then spends all her time with them to prevent mold from killing them. She eats the mold off of her eggs to keep them clean. Somehow this makes me feel like all those months changing dirty diapers were not that bad.

Earwigs live outdoors and hide during the day in damp areas such as under mulch, dead leaves, logs, and piles of firewood, boards, stones and other debris or in rotted wood. I also see them a lot hiding in flowers and in plants that provide some protection, little the top of milkweed plants were the leaves are folded together. Earwigs are active at night and wander in search of food and moisture. Earwigs feed on a wide variety of materials including decaying organic matter, other insects, and plants such as vegetables, flowers and ornamental plants.

Like boxelder bugs, crickets and lady beetles, the earwig is a household pest as an accidental invader. They enter houses either by accident or when seeking shelter, especially in the fall or during periods of prolonged dry weather. Earwigs inside the house do not cause any harm or destruction. They are an annoyance or nuisance because of their presence. If disturbed, earwigs may produce a noticeable foul odor.

Earwigs found inside the house can be swept or picked up and discarded. Indoor treatment with household residual insecticides such as for cockroaches could be used in cracks and crevices that serve as points of entry, and along baseboards, window sills and door thresholds. Such treatments may provide limited benefit as more earwigs may wander in from outdoors. In addition eliminate damp, moist conditions near the house as much as possible. Repair dripping faucets and air-conditioning units and channel water from rain gutters and spouts away from the house foundation. Remove landscape mulch and debris (wood chips, gravel, old boards and bricks, etc.) from against the house and in areas of high numbers.

Outdoors earwigs can cause damage to plants and it is particularly annoying when they feed on the flowers. Management of earwigs is not easy and there is probably no way to completely eliminate them from your yard.

Consider trapping and physically destroying earwigs. Place burlap bags, boards, newspapers or other materials on the ground, then daily collect individuals that congregate under the cover and discard.

As a last resort insecticides can be sprayed on plants to reduce damage. Select a home garden labeled for this purpose and apply according to label directions. Avoid applying insecticides to flowers because you will harm beneficial pollinating insects. Applications in late afternoon are preferred since earwigs feed at night.

Just remember each earwig has a mom out there somewhere who ate mold off them when they were little eggs.

Laura Jesse, Plant and Insect Diagnostic Clinic, (515) 294-5374, [email protected]
Two high resolution photos are available for use with this column.
MaleEarwig.jpg is a closeup of an adult male earwig.
earwigondaylily.jpg is a closeup of a daylily flower that has been damaged by an earwig.

Garden Fundamentals – become a better gardener

Earwigs (Forficula auricularia) are common garden insects that do very little damage to plants provided the numbers stay low. As the numbers increase, they can become a serious pest in the garden. When that happens it is time to get rid of the earwig bug or at least try to reduce their numbers to an acceptable level.

Female earwig nest, with baby pincher bugs. It is one of only a few insects that care for their young.

Understanding Earwigs

Earwigs have an image problem. People hate them. This is one bug that needs a better publicist to change its image in the eyes of gardeners.

The Earwig bug is also called the pincher bug because of the pinchers located at the back of it’s abdomen. It looks like a scary creature in a horror movie. But they are not scary. Although they might pinch some small predators, they do not normally pinch people. If they are trapped in your clothing or if you sit on them, you might get a bite, but that is no reason to fear them.

A common myth is that they crawl into your ear at night and lay eggs. Earwigs do like dark places, but it is very rare to find one in an ear, and they never lay eggs there.

Although earwigs may cause some damage in gardens, especially to seedlings, they do much more good than harm. They are an excellent predator that eats a lot of other harmful bugs like aphids, mites and slugs. Being omnivores, they also eat plant material but prefer the organic litter laying on the soil. If they can’t find other insects or enough organic matter they will start to eat your plants. People notice this most on seedlings which are easy pray, or on flowers where they can do some obvious damage.

Watch an earwig kill a spider.

There are over 20 species of earwig in North America but the one most people see in their garden is the European Earwig (Forficula auricularia), also called the common earwig (ref 1).

Pincher Bug Attacks at Night

Earwigs are nocturnal creatures. They sleep in dark damp places during the day and hunt at night. Because of this you may have more earwigs than you think. It also means that the best way to trap them is to set up the traps for this nocturnal behavior.

Earwigs Can Damage Plants

Earwigs can cause substantial damage to seedlings. Parts of leaves or stems may be eaten, or the complete seedling might be gone.

On mature plants, earwig evidence is shown by irregular holes in leaves or on flowers. On flowers they tend to nibble on the edge of petals and they seem to prefer flowers like zinnias, marigolds, and dahlias.

The damage can look a lot like the damage of slugs and snails, but earwigs do not leave a slime trail. To confirm an earwig problem, go out at night and look for them with a flashlight.

Possible earwig damage on a hosta. It is also possible that slugs did the damage and rain has washed the slug trail away.

This damage looks similar to earwig damage but this was caused by Japanese beetles.

Should You get Rid of Earwigs?

As discussed above, earwigs are beneficial to the garden. In most cases they do very little harm and should be left alone. Getting rid of them just means that other pests will have an easier time to survive.

If you are determined to get rid of them there are several easy ways to reduce their numbers. Consider one or more of the methods below.

Control Earwig Bugs with Windex

The video below shows how effective Windex is at killing earwigs. There is no doubt that this works. The problem with this method is that you need to find them in order to spray them. Since they are nocturnal, you would need to crawl around the garden at night looking for them. Also keep in mind that Windex can be harmful to plants.

Although this method works, I don’t recommend it.

If the above link does not work try this:

Trapping Earwigs in Oil

This method works quite well for trapping earwig bugs and you can sleep while it does its job.

Take any small container like a fish can or cat food can, and set it in the garden so the lip is at soil level. Add 1/2 inch of vegetable oil to the can. You can also add some fish juice, bacon grease or other smelly food, but this is not required to make the trap work.

The earwigs will be attracted to the oil and drown in it.

Every few days, when you have a good load of earwigs in the trap, dump them out and refill with fresh oil. The oil can be dumped in a compost bin, or right in the garden. It will decompose.

This video shows how effective the trap can be.

If the above link does not work, try this:

Catching the Pincher Bug in a Garden Hose

Lay 1 foot lengths of garden hose on the ground. Earwigs will crawl into the hose for their daily sleep. In the morning, lift the hose up and dump the bugs into a pail of soapy water.

You can also use rolled up newspaper in the same way, but the garden hose is easier to use.

Feed the Earwigs

Instead of killing the earwigs you can also feed them so that they leave your plants alone. A good way to do this is to mulch with compost. This has many benefits for the garden, but it also provides earwigs with a soil layer that hosts a lot of bugs which become their food source. They will also dine on the decomposing organic matter instead of your flowers.

Eliminate Their Homes

The pincher bug can be found in large numbers under boards, in tree holes, in rotting bark and anywhere they can find a moist dark place. Even compost piles, piles of rotting leaves and old pipes will attract them.

Remove such earwig homes from your property or at least keep them as far as possible away from your home. This will reduce populations in the garden, and reduce the chance of finding them in your house.

Learn To Love Nature

Most people do not have an earwig problem that needs to be dealt with. Just because you think the bug ugly or scary is no reason to kill it. Instead, learn to accept them, even if you can’t learn to love them.

They are part of nature.

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