Earwigs are one of the easiest to recognize and creepiest looking bugs to live in our gardens and orchards. Their fast-moving bodies and sharp pincers are enough to fit right into a horror movie! But earwigs are far from being evil aliens!
Earwigs are quite beneficial insects to have in your garden, though not nearly as cute as a bumbling bumblebee or a fluttering butterfly. They are omnivorous, meaning they like to eat other bugs as well as plants. It can be frustrating to discover chewed leaves from earwigs, but like other omnivorous insects, they prefer eating many things that are worse for your garden: bugs like mites, codling moth eggs, and especially aphids! Orchards that do not spray for earwigs have significantly less aphid damage than those that do spray for them. Earwigs, in particular, love to devour woolly aphids, which can be very harmful to fruit trees because they swarm the trees, sucking them dry. Insecticides have little to no effect on woolly aphids, so introducing earwigs can be an excellent form of control. (Truscott)
Be sure when you see an earwig and insect damage that you’re not automatically assuming they are the culprit. They may have just eaten the culprit! Earwigs are often found munching in splits on the tops of apples too. Usually, the apple is damaged first from overwatering, birds, or frost. It’s only then that the earwigs move in to eat an easy meal. If earwigs are caught in the act of eating your vegetables and flowers, there are many ways to control them.
Tricks To Keep Earwigs Under Control
Earwigs are nocturnal creatures and come out at night to eat, but they search out places to hide from the sun once the day comes.
- Stack two or three small pieces of corrugated cardboard, one on top of the other, and secure them with string or a couple of dabs of glue. You’ll want the cardboard to be small enough to be able to quickly pop it into a plastic bag to transport them to an aphid-infested tree or plant or out of your garden altogether! Place your cardboard trap in the garden, either on the ground near infested plants or tucked in branches of trees. The earwigs will crawl into the crevices of the cardboard once the sun is up. Newspapers rolled up and secured lightly with a rubber band will also work. If the cardboard or newspaper becomes damp with sprinklers, it makes this trap more appealing to the insects. Early spring is an excellent time to use this trick, as the mama earwigs care for their babies, so that a single trap can catch mama and her 100 babies!
- Neem oil applied as a two-inch barrier around the base of dahlia flower stems and corn stalks will prevent earwigs from climbing up the plant. (Reapply after heavy rainstorms.)
- Use a small plastic refrigerator storage container with a lid as a trap. First, punch several holes through the lid using a nail. Then fill the bottom with an inch of vegetable oil and pour in a bit of soy sauce for fragrance. Finally, secure the lid and bury the container with the top, even with the soil. Earwigs will climb in and drown.
- Try Spinosad which is a chemical that comes from inside a sugar cane-eating bacteria! This 1985 discovery has made a very effective insecticide for many pests, including earwigs, stink bugs, thrips, gypsy moths, and borers!
Earwigs can be good garden helpers. Don’t shoo them all out. Put them to work! Good luck and happy gardening!
- Truscott, Seth. “WSU scientists unmask the humble earwig as an apple-protecting predator.” Washington State University, 5 June 2019, https://news.wsu.edu/2019/06/05/wsu-scientists-unmask-humble-earwig-apple-protecting-predator/. Accessed June 2021.
Photo By Tom Oates
Photo Caption: Female earwig in its nest with newly-hatched young.