Most people cringe when they hear the word "earwigs". It's not just because of the gross factor that accompanies most insects, but it's mainly due to their bad reputation as bugs that actually crawl into the ears of humans! Some say they can go as far as wiggling their way into our brains!
So is it true? Or is it just an ancient myth? And if so, then what's an earwig? Is it dangerous? Is there a way to get rid of earwigs? Read on to find out all there is to know about the earwig.
This Pest Strategies guide will cover the following:
- What an earwig is
- How to identify it
- Whether or not earwigs are dangerous
- How to get rid of earwigs
And if you're short on time, you can click here to jump to our recommendations for getting rid of earwigs.
What is an Earwig?
An earwig is a tiny, thin insect with a reddish-brown or dark brown color. It's a fairly well-known bug that you've probably heard of from folklore stories or had a real-life encounter with one.
Earwigs get their name from a superstition that originated in Europe, where it's believed that the insect "wiggles" into the ears of people while they sleep, on purpose might I add. The reason for such an action is so they can make their way into the brain to lay eggs.
Don't worry, this is just a myth! There's no solid evidence or scientific research that supports the tale. It's not like earwigs actually want to reside inside our ear canals or keep their eggs in our brains.
However, they may end up there by accident due to the moisture, not for the purpose of feeding or reproduction. Other insects that may wander into our ears unintentionally include moths, ants, flies, cockroaches, and beetles.
Earwigs are somewhat common in the United States, with more than 20 different species occurring across the country. The good news is that you'd rarely notice earwigs throughout the year, except after prolonged periods of dry weather or in more humid conditions. This means that earwigs are a potential problem only during the summer.
Like many other insects, an earwig is most active at night, but hides during the day in dark, damp, and confined spots. Earwigs can indeed enter homes (as well as other buildings) through basements or cracks in walls, causing infestations when in large numbers.
What Other Names Are Earwigs Referred To As?
As we mentioned above, earwigs get their name from a creepy old myth that involves crawling the ear canals of humans and laying eggs in their brains. With such a freaky reputation originating from Europe, the following names shouldn't really come as a surprise to you.
- In France, folks refer to earwigs as perce-Oreille or ear piercer.
- In Russia, people call them ukhovertka or ear turner.
- In Germany, people call them Ohrwurm, which translates into 'ear-worm' (yikes!).
Check out the video below for more information on earwigs!
Are Earwigs Poisonous or Dangerous?
Well, let's start by saying that earwigs won't cause any damage to your body, be it ears or brain. They're, first and foremost, outdoor insects that turn into invaders only by accident or when seeking shelter in extreme conditions.
In addition to not harming people, earwigs also don't damage property or food. They also don't reproduce indoors, which makes their presence just a nuisance.
While it's true that earwigs have distinct pincers (more on this later) that look rather dangerous, those little insects use them mainly for reproduction, hunting food, and defense against predators. They don't actively use them for attacking humans.
However, an earwig can bite a person if they picked up and provoked the insect. In such a case, the bite is simply a means of self-defense since earwigs don't feed on blood. So unless you get too close to an earwig, you're safe from pinches or bites.
That being said, even if you do get bitten by an earwig, you shouldn't panic because no venom is actually transferred from the bite. The pincers also don't spread disease.
Moreover, the pinch can rarely break the skin because the pincers are only strong enough to grab onto objects – they can't squeeze too hard.
An earwig bite leaves behind two red marks that are very close to each other. When you inspect the site of the bite, you shouldn't be able to see any puncture wounds. The area may become red and swollen, but thankfully, the discomfort is minimal and takes very little time to pass.
Earwigs may also release a certain liquid from their abdomen with a foul-smelling odor, serving as another self-defense mechanism against threats.
The real danger of earwigs isn't related to people or household properties, instead, the greater threat is to garden plants.
We'll talk about the diet of earwigs in further detail in a few minutes, but for now, you should know that they feed on a wide variety of leaves, flowers, and vegetables. Earwigs are primarily active from late June to October, and their harmful work as garden pests includes:
- Chewing uneven holes in leaves and flower blossoms of plants such as marigolds, hostas, dahlias, and butterfly bush.
- Possibly attacking corn silk and seedlings.
- If done by a large number, earwigs can damage or kill seedlings and flowering plants.
- Earwig feeding and damage can be often confused with cutworm or even rabbit feeding.
- Earwig feeding may also look like slug feeding. You can tell the difference by observing the presence of a slime trail for slugs, and its absence for earwigs.
If you're particularly invested in your garden, an earwig infestation isn't something you should take lightly.
What Do Earwigs Look Like & How To Identity Earwigs?
Earwigs are tiny insects that range in size from ¼ inch up to 1 inch long. Their bodies are flat and elongated, with colors varying in shades from pale, light brown with dark marks all the way to reddish-brown or even black.
They have six legs, chewing mouthparts, as well as thread-like antennae of medium length that's about half of their body length. However, the most unique feature of earwigs is the pair of pincers they got protruding from the back of their abdomen.
The shape of the pincers can give you clues as to what gender a certain earwig is. Male earwigs, in general, possess thick and strongly curved pincers with a wide distance separating them at the base. On the other hand, female earwigs have thin and straight pincers that are close together.
Additionally, earwigs have two pairs of very short wings, where the hind pair is usually tucked under the front wings. Most earwig species are equipped with wings, but not all of them fly. Even the ones that do fly aren't exactly agile fliers, so they usually do it in short bursts.
As for immature earwigs, also known as nymphs, they look similar to adults but smaller in size and lighter in color. They have slender, straight pincers.
In the United States, there are more than 20 species of earwigs to be found. Here are some pointers to help you identify the 3 most common types of earwigs:
As you can probably tell by its name, the European earwig species (also known as Forficula auricularia) originates from Europe.
Although it's not native to the United States, the European earwig is the most common type of earwigs that people find in their homes across the country. The main attributes of this species include:
- Male earwigs have short, highly curved pincers.
- Female earwigs have longer pincers that are much longer.
- European earwigs have two antennae, each with 14 to 15 segments containing multiple critical sensory organs.
- They're equipped with wings, yet they rarely fly.
- They enter buildings or households in large numbers which can be very scary despite the absence of real danger.
- The nymphs of European earwigs develop through four stages, and they leave their nests after their first molting.
- The average lifespan of a normal European earwig extends up to 1 year.
Also not native to the United States, Ring-Legged earwigs (Euborellia annulipes) are widely common to see in southern states and Hawaii. This is actually the most widespread earwig species in Florida. The main attributes of the Ring-Legged species include:
- A long, segmented, and armored body that ranges anywhere between 0.4 inches to 1 inch.
- Their bodies are brown or black along with a bit of brown on their yellow legs.
- Ring-Legged earwigs don't have wings on their bodies like some of the other species.
- They lay their eggs in the fall to eventually hatch in the spring.
- The nymphs of Ring-Legged earwigs grow faster in warm weather.
- Similar to European earwigs, the Ring-Legged species also enter buildings or households in large numbers.
Otherwise known as Labidura Riparia, striped earwigs are largely found in the southern region of the United States. This species is characterized by their light tan color and modified pincers that look like forceps.
However, the most unique attribute of striped earwigs is the presence of two longitudinal stripes running across their body length with a darker color. Males of the striped species have two penises that they can use interchangeably.
What Are Earwigs Commonly Mistaken For?
It's pretty common for normal people to confuse one insect with another, and earwigs are no exception. Among the most common types of insects that earwigs usually get mistaken for are silverfish, cockroaches, and firebrats. Here's a breakdown of similarities and differences between earwigs and each of these insects.
Earwigs Vs Silverfish
Earwigs are frequently confused with or compared to another tiny insect called silverfish. Both earwigs and silverfish belong to the taxonomic class Insecta, but earwigs are placed in the order Dermaptera while silverfish are placed in the order Thysanura.
Similarities between the two insects include their inclination to exist in a moist environment, as well as being fast and nocturnal. For the most part, both insects aren't predators, except for some species that feed on small insects.
On the other hand, there are quite a number of differences between earwigs and silverfish to help distinguish between the two insects. These include:
- Earwigs have two thick appendages (pincers) protruding from the tip of the abdomen, opposite to the antennae. However, silverfish have three protruding appendages that are thinner, softer, and hair-like.
- The body of an earwig is hard since it's made up of chitin, while silverfish have softer bodies with an additional layer of grey scales. If you rub a silverfish on paper, these scales will leave a mark.
- Some species of earwigs are equipped with wings, which means that some earwigs are able to fly (even if they're not the best at it). However, no species of silverfish has wings, so no silverfish can possibly fly.
Read More: How to Keep Silverfish Away
Earwigs Vs Cockroaches
The confusion between earwigs and cockroaches is not really due to a significant resemblance in their appearance or behavior, but it's more because of the fact that both organisms are insects.
To the majority of people, when they see just about any insect inside a house that doesn't look like an ant, they assume it's a cockroach. This is the reason why people often mistake earwigs for cockroaches, judging an earwig to be a fast-moving weird roach.
Both insects are part of the phylum Arthropoda owing to their hard shells. They're also classified under the same class; Insecta, which means that both earwigs and roaches have six legs only. Additionally, we should mention that some cockroach species have wings and are able to fly (just like earwigs, they aren't good at it).
However, they don't belong to the same order. Earwigs belong to the order Dermaptera, but cockroaches are part of the order Blattodea. Some of the more evident differences between earwigs and cockroaches include:
- Earwigs have two elongated cerci (pincers) protruding from the tip of the abdomen, opposite to the antennae, that they use for defense, reproduction, or hunting (rare). However, cockroaches have cerci that are shorter and serve as sensory receptors.
- Cockroaches spread diseases while earwigs don't.
- Earwigs lay their eggs directly into the soil, while roaches lay eggs in special casings.
Read More: When to Call an Exterminator for Cockroaches
Earwigs Vs Firebrats
The comparison between earwigs and firebrats is quite similar to the one between earwigs and silverfish. That's because firebrats and silverfish are closely related, although they're two different insects.
Similarities between earwigs and firebrats include preferring to thrive in a moist environment, as well as being fast and nocturnal. Both insects like warm areas, and for the most part, both insects aren't predators (except for some species that feed on small bugs).
As for the differences, here are some key aspects to help distinguish between earwigs and firebrats:
- Earwigs have two thick appendages (pincers) protruding from the tip of the abdomen, opposite to the antennae. But firebrats have three protruding appendages that are long, soft, and thread-like.
- The body of an earwig is hard since it's made up of chitin, whereas firebrats have softer bodies with an additional layer of grey mottled scales.
- Some species of earwigs are equipped with wings, which means that some earwigs are able to fly (even if they're not very agile at it). However, no species of firebrats have wings, so no firebrat can possibly fly.
What Do Earwigs Eat?
Earwigs, in their typical behavior, are nocturnal insects. This means they tend to hide during the day and strive at night. And so, you can find earwigs feeding at night on leaves, fruits, flowers, or mold.
Earwigs prefer to feed on decaying vegetation, which includes decomposing leaves and plant items found underneath mulch or wet leaves. As we mentioned before, these insects like dark and wet areas so it makes sense for them to feed, reproduce, and lay eggs in such spots.
Some species of earwigs will attack seedlings since they're tender and packed with nutrients. However, this damage may get so severe that it injures crops and garden plants to the point where they become unproductive.
Due to the relatively big size and viscous appearance of their pincers, many people assume that earwigs are predator insects that capture and kill large bugs such as cockroaches.
While it's true that these forceps are well-developed to be used as lethal weapons for hunting prey, this is rarely the case. In fact, earwigs mainly use their pincers as a defense mechanism or to aid in reproduction (particularly males).
Several species of earwigs do eat soft-bodied insects and smaller bugs. But these are far less common than earwigs that feed on vegetation.
How to Handle Your Earwig Problem?
If you start to notice earwigs in your home or garden, it's important that you take some steps to reduce earwig numbers before you end up with a full-blown infestation. Here's what you can do to handle your earwig problem:
- Make sure your home and garden are clean – this means clearing up any debris that may serve as hiding spots for earwigs, such as leaves, plant materials, piles of lumber, and bricks. Don't forget to remove or at least thin out mulch, it's a favorable area for these insects.
- Keep moisture in check – since more moisture attracts more earwigs, you need to minimize excess moisture using good drainage and efficient irrigation systems. Additionally, make sure you water plants thoroughly and deeply but not very often. This way, the surface of the soil remains drier.
- Seal entry points – as we mentioned before, earwigs can enter your household through cracks and holes. And so, you should caulk and close off any crevices or gaps surrounding your home at ground level. Pay extra attention to areas around water faucets, vents, doors, windows, and the meeting point of the siding and the foundation.
- Set up earwig traps – another way to cut down the numbers of earwigs around your household is by trapping the insects using rolled-up newspapers or an old tuna can, baited with vegetable oil or fish oil. Set the trap out throughout the night in areas where you've seen earwigs. The next morning, shake the traps above a bucket of soapy water to eliminate the insects.
- Try water and dish soap – add some dish soap to water and make a soapy mixture that you can spray on your plants as well as in damp areas inside your home. Such a mixture can help kill earwigs, so be sure to spray it every time you notice an earwig crawling around.
How to Get Rid of Earwigs
If you feel that the measures we explained above aren't quite enough to control your earwig problem, you can kick things up a notch by adding an insecticide/pesticide treatment to the equation.
In the garden using pesticides
The main goal here is to protect the plants in your garden. Apply a pesticide to the surrounding mulch where earwigs are most probably hiding. If you notice damage already done to a certain plant, you can protect individual plants using permethrin, acetamiprid, or carbaryl.
Inside the house using insecticides
If the problem has made its way into your home, pesticides won't help you very much. You'll need to use a residual insecticide around the foundation of the house, a spray containing permethrin or cyfluthrin should do the trick.
If you still can't get rid of earwigs inside your home or in your garden, chances are you're dealing with a serious infestation that requires a professional exterminator.
Best Spray to Repel and Kill Earwigs
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Other Earwig Guides
Curious about other earwig-related articles? Check out our other detailed guides to help you deal with your pest problems.