What is an Earwig?

Earwig close-up

Earwigs are also known as “pincher bugs” for a pretty obvious reason: they have a big pair of pinchers on their butts! A lot of people also know them as “Agh!,” “What is that thing?!,” and “Oh no!” Earwigs are one of the most panic-provoking pests you can encounter in Michigan. Again: they have a big pair of pinchers on their butts!

Earwig’s pinchers, along with their ominous name, have given them quite a reputation. As a consequence, the bugs tend to be much-feared and little-understood. We want to change that. Not for them really, so much as for you and your heart rate. Here’s everything you need to know about the earwigs in your garden, including why they aren’t dangerous.

So: What is an Earwig?

Earwigs are insects of the order Dermaptera. The most common species in Michigan is the European earwig (Forficula auricularia). Adult European earwigs are ⅝” long, with elongated, flattened bodies that are reddish-brown. They have segmented abdomens, medium-length, segmented antennae, and chewing mouthparts. Their antennae, legs, head, pincers may look lighter than the rest of their bodies.

Earwig’s “pinchers” are called cerci. Male’s cerci curve and resemble forceps, while female cerci are straight. Adults also have fully-functional wings, which emerge from beneath short, hard wing covers on their backs. Adults can fly for short distances competently but rarely do.

Where Do Earwigs Come From?

European earwigs were first discovered in the US in Seattle (of all places!) in 1907. Since then, they’ve spread throughout most of the US. Earwigs have been established in Michigan since the 1930s. They’re attracted to wet, shady environments, so it makes sense they’d like Michigan.

Earwigs are nocturnal and spend days nestled in dark, moist environments. They’ll huddle under wet leaves, topsoil, rocks, logs, or other cracks or crevices. At night they’ll come out of these hiding places for forage and/or hunt for food nearby. They’re common in gardens, wooded areas, and compost piles.

What Do Earwigs Want?

European earwigs feed on wet, decaying vegetation, like compost and other decaying plant life. They’re attracted to food that’s near their living environment. Many target the root systems of garden plants, weeds, and flowers, feeding on these plants from under topsoil.

In winter and summer, it might get too cold or hot for the insects to survive. When that happens, they’ll seek out shelter. Ideal shelter keeps the bugs out of freezing temperatures but isn’t so hot that they dry out quickly. In other words, they’re looking for a warm, humid, dark, and hidden place. Which brings us to…

How do earwigs get inside homes?

How Do Earwigs Get Inside Homes?

When earwigs enter buildings, it’s usually by accident. Most enter buildings either in the middle of summer or early fall. Generally, they’re looking for shelter and they accidentally slip through a crack into a building. If earwigs enter your home, then they were probably already living nearby.

Earwigs often burrow under topsoil near your home or garden. They may find cracks and crevices in the foundation or baseboard to work their way into under the soil. Like many pests, they can also squeeze through gaps around window frames. Earwigs frequently find cracks around basement window wells, in particular.

Are Earwigs Dangerous?

No. Contrary to popular belief, earwigs do not burrow into people’s ears to lay eggs. The name actually refers to their wings, which are shaped like ears when unfolded. Earwigs are completely harmless. Even if they pinch you, they won’t be able to break the skin.

Outside, earwigs can inflict damage on garden plants. They’re known to feed on the bulbs, stems, and petals of flowers. In some extreme cases, they can actually substantially damage plants by feeding on them. They may also produce a foul-smelling odor when they’re crushed. The pests may be a nuisance, but they’re not dangerous.

How Do I Keep Earwigs Away?

Re-seal and weatherproof your basement’s window well frames. Look for cracks or gaps around your basement ceiling and seal them up. Check the baseboard and trim, too. Earwigs travel into homes by finding and wiggling through small cracks. You may also be able to find these openings outside.

It’s more difficult to keep the bugs away outside, but there are still a few steps you can take. Take good care of your garden and lawn. Clear up weeds frequently, trim regularly, and remove plants as soon as they die. Be careful not to overwater your plants.

 

Earwigs aren’t dangerous and don’t inflict major damage on homes. Hopefully, this will make them a bit less scary next time you find one. But… we’d understand if it didn’t. They have a big pair of pinchers on their butts!

If you’re…less-than-thrilled to have pests around your home, give Griffin Pest Solutions a call anytime. We’d be more than happy to help rid you of your problem. We can take care of any other pests, while we’re at it.

10 Things You Should Know About Earwigs

Earwigs eat what they can including plants

There are all kinds of frightening common pests, but earwigs might be the scariest of them all. Earwigs frightening appearance, ominous name, and general mysteriousness only contribute further to their fearsome reputation. You’ve probably heard all kinds of creepy things about earwigs, even if you don’t know much about them.

As we’ve said before, we think that lack of knowledge is the biggest reason why earwigs are so feared. When you don’t know much about earwigs, it’s easy to make up all kinds of scary stories about them. We get it–just look at those pincers! To counteract that impulse, here are 10 facts you should know about earwigs. Keep these in mind next time you see an earwig, and they won’t freak you out nearly as much.

10. They aren’t dangerous

Earwigs are not aggressive, and rarely lash out except in self-defense or fear. Even if they do pinch you, they can’t seriously hurt you. The most damage an earwig’s pincer could do is to pinch your skin, which may create a small welt. Earwigs aren’t poisonous, don’t transmit diseases, and can’t inflict significant structural damage. They might be a nuisance, but they’re not dangerous.

9. They don’t crawl in your ears

This is a common myth about earwigs. Despite their name, earwigs do not crawl into and infest people’s ear. They certainly don’t crawl through the ear and lay eggs in the brain, as some of the particularly tall tales suggest. Earwigs like dark, warm, humid places, so it’s technically possible that they may be attracted to a sleeping person’s ear. This would be an extremely unlikely occurrence, however, and the bug wouldn’t stay there long, lay eggs, or burrow. You shouldn’t worry about earwigs burrowing into your ears.

8. They will pinch defensively

Earwigs are not dangerous, but they will use their pincers on humans if they feel threatened or startled. Usually, earwigs will pinch you if you try to pick them up or handle them. These pincers probably aren’t strong enough to break your skin, but the pinching might hurt a little. It could also leave a small bruise or welt. Don’t pick up the earwigs you find with your bare hands.

earwigs love the dirt

7. They love hiding in dirt

The most common place you’ll find earwigs is under thin layers of topsoil in your garden or yard. Earwigs love to burrow through soil to stay hidden, damp, and cool. They’ll also eat subterranean plant life and dig out small nests for their eggs. You may frequently encounter earwigs while digging in your garden.

6. They’re considered invasive pests

Earwigs aren’t native to the US but have been firmly established since at least 1907. The most common earwig in North America, the European Earwig, thrives throughout the US. They might not be native, but it’s normal to find earwigs around your home. Don’t be alarmed if you see one in your garden.

5. They’re attracted to rotting plant material

Earwigs are attracted to rotting plant material because it’s a damp, moist food source they can rely on. In some cases, earwigs may burrow into or near the rotting plant material to hide and continue feeding. They’ll also eat healthy plant material, particularly if it’s nearby.

4. They’re omnivores

Earwigs are omnivorous foragers, which basically means they’re not picky. Though they prefer rotting plants, they’ll eat pretty much anything they can. Earwigs often hunt and feed on smaller insect pests. They use their forceps to catch and hold their prey before eating them. Earwigs will eat whatever they can find in and around your home.

Earwigs aren’t good fliers, but they do have usable wings

3. They have wings and may use them to limited effect

Earwigs aren’t good fliers, but they do have usable wings. The European earwig may use these wings to jump small distances, break falls, or escape danger. Unfolded earwig wings are shaped like human ears, which is where some people think the name actually comes from.

2. They often get inside homes via hitchhiking

Earwigs are attracted to darkness, humidity, moisture, and shelter. When they find ideal locations, they love to dig in (sometimes literally). These factors make them highly-mobile accidental hitchhikers. Like bed bugs, they often make their into different bags or boxes. Then, when you bring those bags or boxes inside, you’re also inadvertently bringing in earwigs. Earwigs are especially likely to infest bags of dirt, fertilizer, or seeds.

1. They love moisture and humidity

Earwigs want to live in humid, moist, and cool environments. They’re attracted to topsoil because it lets them stay cool and sheltered in a dark and humid place. If your home provides an environment they like, they’ll be attracted to it. It’s not uncommon to find earwig infestations in low, humid areas of your home such as your basement. You may have transported them inside, or they may sneak in through gaps near baseboard or window wells.

Hopefully, these ten facts demonstrate that earwigs are far from the fearsome monsters you might see them as. In fact, as far as pest insects go, they’re relatively harmless and mundane.

Just because earwigs are harmless doesn’t mean you should have to tolerate them, however. If you have an earwig problem in your home, give Griffin a call anytime. We can kick out earwigs just like they’re any other pest–because they are.

Earwig Control and Prevention this Spring

Earwigs this spring

You’ll probably never forget the first time you encountered an earwig. Or the first time you learned what they were. Or even the first time you heard the name “earwig”. We don’t blame you. Earwigs are creepy even for bugs. They have big, upsetting butt-pincers. They sneak around just beneath the surface of the soil, like they’re waiting to pop out at you any second. And then there’s the name. Just… very upsetting, all around.

Unfortunately, if you haven’t already encountered an earwig or five this season, you might be overdue. Spring and early summer are prime time for earwigs, and this year looks like no exception. We do have some good news, however: like most pests, earwigs aren’t as scary as they seem. Here’s everything you need to know about how to handle these pesky pests during the warmer months.

What they are

what european earwigs areThe most common earwig in Michigan is the European earwig (Forficula auricularia). Earwigs are elongated, flat insects that are about an inch long fully-grown. Their bodies are reddish brown with lighter yellow-brown antennae and legs.

Earwigs’ most distinctive feature are the forceps-like pincers they have on the end of their abdomens. Earwigs use this forceps to hunt prey and defend themselves. Some European earwigs have two pairs of wings encased in beetle-like shells and are capable of rudimentary flight. The name “earwig” refers to these wings, which uniquely resemble a human ear when unfolded.

Where they came from

Earwigs are a cosmopolitan species of insect. They’re not native to the US, but they’ve been common here since being discovered in Seattle in 1907. Earwigs proliferated through the US primarily by inadvertently hitching rides from the inside of bags, boxes, and planter pots. They naturally find places where they’ll be transported because they love hiding in dark, confined places. Earwigs remain motionless for most of the day and emerge to hunt and forage at night.

Starting in late fall, earwigs mate and establish subterranean nests beneath the frost line. They remain in these nests through the winter, so they can survive freezing temperatures. In spring, male earwigs dig their way back out to forage for food. Earwigs remain active at night through spring and summer. They’re at their most prevalent soon after hatching, when they have to eat constantly to grow and molt.

What they want

What earwigs wantEarwigs are opportunistic hunters and foragers, meaning they feed on just about anything they can find. They usually feed on and tend to be attracted to decaying plant material. They’ll also eat healthy plants, moss, algae, pollen, other arthropods, and pantry foods.

Earwigs need to live in damp, cool, sheltered places, preferably near a reliable food source. They particularly like sources of cover and darkness where they can hide during the day. Since earwigs dig subterranean nests to lay eggs, they’re particularly interested in finding damp, loose topsoil. The ideal earwig environment combines all of these interests. Outside, they’re often found under mulch, damp leaves, rotting logs, or decaying plants.

Are they dangerous?

No. The pervasive myth that earwigs like to crawl into people’s ears at night is just that: a myth. In fact, earwigs want very little to do with people. When encountered, earwigs usually attempt to scuttle away from people and under cover. They may nip with their pincers if you attempt to pick them up or they feel threatened. Fortunately, this isn’t a major problem, because earwigs don’t have enough strength to break your skin.

Other than a slight pinch, earwigs can’t really endanger you or your family in any way. They don’t damage property, transmit diseases, or sting. Unless they’re present in large numbers, earwigs don’t even necessarily inflict significant damage to plants or trees. Earwigs are the quintessential “nuisance” pest – they’re not dangerous, just annoying.

What to do about them

What to do about earwigsThe best way to prevent earwig infestations is to practice moisture control. Earwigs require damp or humid environments to stay active. If you can limit their access to places like these, they won’t be able to stay in your home. Keep an especially close eye on crawl spaces, basements, and first floor or basement bathrooms. Clear away sources of cover earwigs could use, patch up pipe and fixture leaks, and find and fix drafts.

When earwigs enter structures, it’s usually an accident. They crawl into topsoil, mulch, or fertilizer and find their way in through cracks or gaps in the perimeter of a home. Earwigs are attracted to places by wet, dark places like damp soil, compost, wood piles, or mulch. They feel comfortable getting closer to homes when they have cover like fallen branches, piles of leaves, or other lawn debris. If you can make your propertyless attractive to earwigs, fewer will end up in your home. Then, if you restrict their access, you’ll be able to prevent them entirely.

Hopefully, our earwig info has de-mythologized the (admittedly) freaky pest for you a little. They’re really not nearly as terrifying as they seem, and they’re not dangerous at all. That being said, we can’t blame you for not wanting them around.

If you have an earwig problem in your home, or any other pest problem for that matter, give Griffin a call anytime. Our experts know just how to throw unwelcome arthropods out and keep them from coming back. Have a great and earwig-free spring!