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European Earwigs

Regardless of how fearsome an earwig looks, this little fellow really can't hurt you. Sure, they'll use those forceps they have. They're called "caudal forceps" or cerci, (pinchers) for short, and they're used for grasping food, defense, probing crevices, and folding and unfolding their wings. There is no evidence they use them for mating, as some have said.
European earwig
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All types of earwigs have biting mouthparts, and the one everyone sees around here most, the European Earwig, (that's Forficula auricularia L. to you) eats dead, dying and live vegetation, and dead and live insects.  They prefer plants such as mosses, lichens, and algae as food, but they are omnivorous.  They're occasionally damaging to flowers and some vegetables, but they are seldom more than slightly destructive.  In the United States there are several other earwigs:

   Striped Earwig, Labidura riparia (tropical and subtropical)
   Ringlegged Earwig, Euborellia annulipes (widely distributed in the USA)
   African Earwig, Euborellia cincticollis (Texas, Arizona, Nevada and California)

Earwigs might be an inch or longer, the larger ones are usually males.  They go through gradual metamorphosis, through four or five instars, until they reach adult size.  Shiny brown to black, and flattened, they are strictly nocturnal and seek out a crack or crevice to hide in during the day.

Female earwig defending her eggs
The female earwig is one of the few insects that guards her eggs and will use her forceps to defend both her young and the pearl-white eggs that she lays in a burrow she constructs in the ground.  She cares for the eggs, licking and positioning them, carefully maintaining the moisture balance.  After her eggs hatch, she forages for food and brings it back to her hidden brood.

European Earwigs weren't known here in the United States until the early 1900's. What our European earwigs are known for, however, is invading homes in large numbers, at certain times of the year.  Earwigs come in cycles, some years are worse than others. Wet springs virtually guarantee high numbers of earwigs.  When the population gets so high on the outside, you're bound to get some of the overflow.

The name "earwig," came from an old superstition that earwigs got into your ears, boring into the brain and "demonizing" the brain.  Not many people believe this anymore, it's pure superstition.  Earwigs are harmless to humans.  Before anyone writes in to tell me that they have been "bitten," or they know someone that was, I didn't say it was impossible. After all, they do use it for defense, so you might expect something like this if you handle them with your bare skin.  What I will say, is that I handle them and have never actually felt their "bite."  Anyway, this is not something you have to worry about.  Only uncomfortable, at the worst.  Neither are they dirty or vectors or carriers of any disease. They won't lay eggs or reproduce inside your house or furniture.  They are simply a nuisance and that's all.  

Earwigs have gland openings they can exude small amounts of liquid if the insect is disturbed.  This liquid is not poisonous in any way, but it is responsible for their own particular odor.

Earwigs like to hide under cloth.  So laundry, hung out to dry, will be an attractant. Shake it out before you bring things inside.  People with pools are especially prone to earwigs. If you leave your towels out to dry, by the pool, say, the earwigs will certainly like that. They like cool, moist hiding places. If you're not careful, they'll ride right on inside.

Kind of depends on how many you have, where they are, and how much of any kind of chemical you want to use.  Treatment outside is usually required, in direct relationship to the problem.  Some kinds of earwigs are resistant to certain insecticides, so it's important to know your target.  

As far as I'm concerned, for the earwigs inside, unless you're seeing hundreds, your best defense is the vacuum.  And if you are seeing hundreds, or want to know how to spray the inside, get back to me and I'll tell you how to do it.  On the outside, if you're getting lots on the inside, the best attack will be dealt with by evening applications of insecticides to the areas they inhabit.  Again, certain insecticides may be ineffective, so be careful of your target.  The common European earwig can be controlled with a granular insecticide applied around the outside of the structure. Severe infestations may require further applications of different insecticides.  Dusts are not effective, as earwigs, which require moisture, are repelled by dusts of any type.
And if you're using any kind of insecticide,
follow these directions.

Naturally, long before there were insecticides, there were earwigs.  In Jamaica, they have been eliminating their earwigs without spraying their crops with insecticides.  You can learn how they do it right here.  You could also try an old gardener's trick.  Fill some cat food cans with a quarter inch of vegetable oil and place them around the garden. Empty the cans each day, keep doing this until you stop catching earwigs. They are especially attracted to fish oil.

And lastly, don't think that just because you do everything I say to do, and you also do some things I said you shouldn't do, that you're not going to have an earwig problem when the cycle is right.  There is no such thing as "zero" (when we're talking bugs) no matter what the man on TV says.

Earwig Links

The University of California has a nice picture of an earwig sitting on a strawberry....
The Texas A&M University System always has some of the best advice....
And Our Saviour, Purdue, has the question posed to them, in their "Ask the Expert"
The Canadian Department of Agriculture weighs in with their excellent page
The Environmental Protection Agency also has quite an extensive website, and a special section set up, just for pesticide issues.

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