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
The 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
Earwigs 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
The 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!