Earwigs: AKA The “Pincher Bug”

Matthew D. Terry Ph.D., Entomology

As far as pest species go earwigs are pretty innocuous. There are reports that they may be a minor pest of some food crops, but they don’t carry human diseases and they don’t damage your home or usually even get into your food. However, this may be little consolation to those of us whose flesh crawls at merely the sight of a six-legged roommate. Earwigs are members of the insect Order Dermaptera and range in size from extremely tiny to a couple of inches long. The name earwig seems to have been derived from the old superstition that these insects would crawl into human ears and lay their eggs in the brain. Fortunately this old wives tale is completely unfounded, although these insects do prefer to be in dark, tight spaces. Most species are very easily identified by their elongate shape and hind cerci on the tip of the abdomen, which are enlarged and often pincer shaped. Unlike insects such as butterflies and flies earwigs go through a direct developmental cycle. This means that there is no larval stage (like a caterpillar or maggot) and baby earwigs look pretty much like miniature versions of the adult. Most earwigs have functional hind wings that they keep folded up under their protective forewings; however they are best adapted to a life a crawling through tight spaces and are reluctant fliers, taking to the air only when necessary.

Biology: Earwigs are generalist feeders meaning they eat a wide range of organic material; including plants, fruit and vegetables, other insects, dog or cat food, and even garbage. Female earwigs lay a group of eggs in a humid, concealed space such as underneath rocks or the foundation of buildings. The mother earwig will often guard her eggs to protect them from predators until they hatch, then the young must fend for themselves. Earwigs are most active during the evening and night and can often be found crawling through leaf litter and on trees and plants. If earwigs are entering a house the homeowner may have the unpleasant surprise of seeing them crawl for cover after picking up a book, moving a piece of furniture, or any other article that provides a nice hiding place.

Like many insect pests, earwigs need humid conditions to successfully complete their lifecycle. In Arizona, abundant water delivered through irrigation of farmland and lawn watering, combined with the warm desert temperatures, creates ideal living conditions and has dramatically increased the range and the population sizes for different species of crickets, roaches, earwigs and many other small insects.

Control: Some basic measures can be taken to reduce the population of earwigs and other crawling creatures outside of a home. These include removing piles of debris, regularly sweeping up and disposing of any yard waste such as leaves or grass clippings, and avoiding over-watering of lawns and flowerbeds. Sealing up small cracks around the foundation of your home and blocking any small gaps near windows or doors will not only dramatically decrease the incidence of creepy-crawly visitors in your home, it will also help to cut down on energy bills during our hot Arizona summer. Because of their exploratory nature and physiology earwigs can be controlled when the right products are applied in areas where earwigs nest such as right under a home’s foundation. For most effective control special attention needs to be paid to areas that may harbor resting earwigs and probable sites of entry such as gaps or holes near the foundation, windowsills and around entryways.

About the author: Matthew Terry is the contributing entomologist for Blue Sky Pest Control. He did his post doctoral work at the University of Arizona and currently continues his research and teaches at the University of Texas in Edinburg. Contact Blue Sky Pest Control at 480-635-8492 if you have additional questions or visit the website at www.blueskypest.com.


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