Ask The Entomologist

Control of earwigs

Are earwigs our friends or foes?

That depends on the context.

Earwigs are primarily scavengers of rotting plant material. They aren’t likely to damage your garden plants themselves. As omnivores, they often help control aphids, mites, and various pest insect eggs… and I’m more than willing to put up with them if it means fewer aphids.

However, if your garden plants become damaged by other things (e.g. rot on cabbage leaves along the edges of Pierid caterpillar feeding), earwigs may contribute and make the damage worse. It’s not uncommon to find earwigs when shucking corn, often in the tassels, sometimes feeding on the corn itself. It’s rare for them to damage harder-skinned fruits such as apples (the skin tends to be too hard for them to get past on their own), but they may become a nuisance if fruit damage from birds is present.

If you want your earwigs gone, I’m willing to provide a bit of advice. Try removing their shelters near your home (big rocks alongside the house, piles of old boards, wet mulch, pretty much anything decaying, etc.).

Outside, earwigs can be trapped by burying small tin cans (pet food cans or tuna cans are the perfect size) or disposable cups level with the ground, and filling them with cheap cooking oil (leave at least an inch of space from the top). Earwigs and similar insect scavengers will try to feed and will fall to their oily deaths. Depending on your local wildlife, this may be an unwise tactic.

If they’re inside the house, set up a trap of moist newspaper rolled into tubes, containing a small amount of bait (rolled oats, wheat bran or wheat germ). The main idea is to create a dark daytime shelter that the earwigs will like. Check your trap every two or three days. When opening your earwig traps, either bag and trash the whole setup… Or shake the earwigs into an empty container to give them to chickens as feed (the flock my folks kept loved eating them).

If you want to wage more aggressive warfare against earwigs, consider using diatomaceous earth. This comes from ancient freshwater sediments rich in the sharp glass-like remains of tiny algae called diatoms. It controls insects by damaging their outer waxy layer, causing them to die from dehydration. Diatomaceous earth should be spread in areas earwigs are likely to cross, entrance points to your home and places where they are abundant. If in the garden, ring the bases of plants you are concerned for with it.

If you want to go the chemical warfare route, both permethrin and carbaryl (Sevin) have forms that are safe for use around food plants. I would recommend using a bait rather than a spray poison, as it will kill fewer of your beneficial garden insects like ground beetles and lady beetles. If earwigs are your target, you should be putting down poison in the evenings, as they are primarily nocturnal, and that way you’ll waste less of your bait on non-target insects.

Consider commenting below to let us know how your earwig control efforts are going!
What other insects would you like to hear about?

Next week: Wasps!

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