Earwigs: Separating Fact From Fiction
What are earwigs? These insects range from 5 to 25 mm in length, depending on the species. They have 2 antennae, 6 legs, 3 body parts, and a formidable set of pincers on the end of the abdomen. For the most part, these insects are considered harmless to humans, however, they can become frustrating pests when they get into gardens and flower beds in large numbers--and are certainly disturbing when they get into homes.
These are moisture-loving pests which are often found underneath wet leaves, mulch, or surprising places such as underneath the wet seat of a patio chair. Inside they may be found in crawl spaces, basement areas, or high humidity places such as kitchens, bathrooms and laundry rooms. Some species of earwigs mostly feed on insects, while others are vegetarians that only feed on plants. Most species are omnivores and will feed on anything.
Some "False" Myths About Earwigs
Earwigs crawl into people's ears and lay eggs: The story goes that earwigs will crawl inside a person's ear, burrow into the brain, and lay eggs there. Another version is that they will burrow into a brain, become attached, and eventually drive their host to madness and/or death. These stories are simply not true. While it is certainly possible for an earwig (or many other types of small insects) to crawl inside the ear of a person, that would be the extent of the horror.
Earwigs bite humans: While earwigs certainly can bite, they do not bite humans. They can, however, give a pinch. While these pinches may be startling and painful for a moment, they do not usually break the skin and are typically not serious in any way.
Earwigs eat wood: While these insects certainly look similar to other insects that are in the wood-chewing category, earwigs do not eat wood. The reason for this myth may be that they like hanging out underneath moist wood or in moist soil in the shade, which may make it look like they are wood-destroying insects. Earwigs eat plants and other insects, not wood.
Some "True" Myths About Earwigs
Earwigs can fly: Earwigs have wings that usually go unnoticed because they are hidden beneath hard wing covers and they are able to use these wings to fly--though they rarely do. They prefer to hitch a ride on flowers, luggage, newspapers, fruits, and vegetables.
Earwigs can be harmful to plants: European earwigs can cause severe damage to seedling plants and soft fruit as well as sweet corn. Leaves on older plants will have irregular holes chewed around the edges. These insects may also attack soft fruits but don't harm fruit such as apples. They are known to disturb strawberry crops. On corn, earwigs feed on silks and also prevent pollination, causing poor kernel development. They also may do serious damage to flowers, including zinnias, marigolds, and dahlias.
Earwigs smell bad: When earwigs enter houses, either by accident or when seeking shelter, they do not cause any harm or destruction. But they can be a real annoyance, especially if they are in large numbers, and they can produce a noticeable foul odor.
Earwig Prevention Guide
Earwigs, like so many other household pests, make their way into homes through tiny gaps or cracks in foundations and outer walls. Since earwigs are moisture pests, there is a good chance, if you are seeing them in your home, you have moisture issues surrounding your home which are drawing them in close. In order to keep earwigs at bay, consider repairing any conditions that may be making your home inviting. Fix leaky spigots, unclog gutters, or repair them if they are broken. These can both cause wood rot, which is a magnet for moisture pests. Other steps, such as trimming vegetation away from your perimeter and replacing moist mulch with a dry material such as crushed rock are also helpful.
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