Garden Fundamentals - Learn about plants and gardening

Earwigs – Getting Rid of the Pincher Bug

Earwigs (Forficula auricularia) are common garden insects that do very little damage to plants provided the numbers stay low. As the numbers increase, they can become a serious pest in the garden. When that happens it is time to get rid of the earwig bug or at least try to reduce their numbers to an acceptable level.

Female earwig nest, with baby pincher bugs

Female earwig nest, with baby pincher bugs. It is one of only a few insects that care for their young.

Understanding Earwigs

Earwigs have an image problem. People hate them. This is one bug that needs a better publicist to change its image in the eyes of gardeners.

The Earwig bug is also called the pincher bug because of the pinchers located at the back of it’s abdomen. It looks like a scary creature in a horror movie. But they are not scary. Although they might pinch some small predators, they do not normally pinch people. If they are trapped in your clothing or if you sit on them, you might get a bite, but that is no reason to fear them.

A common myth is that they crawl into your ear at night and lay eggs. Earwigs do like dark places, but it is very rare to find one in an ear, and they never lay eggs there.

Although earwigs may cause some damage in gardens, especially to seedlings, they do much more good than harm. They are an excellent predator that eats a lot of other harmful bugs like aphids, mites and slugs. Being omnivores, they also eat plant material but prefer the organic litter laying on the soil. If they can’t find other insects or enough organic matter they will start to eat your plants. People notice this most on seedlings which are easy pray, or on flowers where they can do some obvious damage.

Watch an earwig kill a spider.

There are over 20 species of earwig in North America but the one most people see in their garden is the European Earwig (Forficula auricularia), also called the common earwig  (ref 1).

Pincher Bug Attacks at Night

Earwigs are nocturnal creatures. They sleep in dark damp places during the day and hunt at night. Because of this you may have more earwigs than you think. It also means that the best way to trap them is to set up the traps for this nocturnal behavior.

Earwigs Can Damage Plants

Earwigs can cause substantial damage to seedlings. Parts of leaves or stems may be eaten, or the complete seedling might be gone.

On mature plants, earwig evidence is shown by irregular holes in leaves or on flowers. On flowers they tend to nibble on the edge of petals and they seem to prefer flowers like zinnias, marigolds, and dahlias.

The damage can look a lot like the damage of slugs and snails, but earwigs do not leave a slime trail. To confirm an earwig problem, go out at night and look for them with a flashlight.

Earwig damage on hosta

Possible earwig damage on a hosta. It is also possible that slugs did the damage and rain has washed the slug trail away.

 

Damage by japanese beetle

This damage looks similar to earwig damage but this was caused by Japanese beetles.

Should You get Rid of Earwigs?

As discussed above, earwigs are beneficial to the garden. In most cases they do very little harm and should be left alone. Getting rid of them just means that other pests will have an easier time to survive.

If you are determined to get rid of them there are several easy ways to reduce their numbers. Consider one or more of the methods below.

Control Earwig Bugs with Windex

The video below shows how effective Windex is at killing earwigs. There is no doubt that this works. The problem with this method is that you need to find them in order to spray them. Since they are nocturnal, you would need to crawl around the garden at night looking for them. Also keep in mind that Windex can be harmful to plants.

Although this method works, I don’t recommend it.

If the above link does not work try this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SB82e_WRQo

Trapping Earwigs in Oil

This method works quite well for trapping earwig bugs and you can sleep while it does its job.

Take any small container like a fish can or cat food can, and set it in the garden so the lip is at soil level. Add 1/2 inch of vegetable oil to the can. You can also add some fish juice, bacon grease or other smelly food, but this is not required to make the trap work.

The earwigs will be attracted to the oil and drown in it.

Every few days, when you have a good load of earwigs in the trap, dump them out and refill with fresh oil. The oil can be dumped in a compost bin, or right in the garden. It will decompose.

This video shows how effective the trap can be.

If the above link does not work, try this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2DtEIrrFDU

Catching the Pincher Bug in a Garden Hose

Lay 1 foot lengths of garden hose on the ground. Earwigs will crawl into the hose for their daily sleep. In the morning, lift the hose up and dump the bugs into a pail of soapy water.

You can also use rolled up newspaper in the same way, but the garden hose is easier to use.

Feed the Earwigs

Instead of killing the earwigs you can also feed them so that they leave your plants alone. A good way to do this is to mulch with compost. This has many benefits for the garden, but it also provides earwigs with a soil layer that hosts a lot of bugs which become their food source. They will also dine on the decomposing organic matter instead of your flowers.

Eliminate Their Homes

The pincher bug can be found in large numbers under boards, in tree holes, in rotting bark and anywhere they can find a moist dark place. Even compost piles, piles of rotting leaves and old pipes will attract them.

Remove such earwig homes from your property or at least keep them as far as possible away from your home. This will reduce populations in the garden, and reduce the chance of finding them in your house.

Learn To Love Nature

Most people do not have an earwig problem that needs to be dealt with. Just because you think the bug ugly or scary is no reason to kill it. Instead, learn to accept them, even if you can’t learn to love them.

They are part of nature.

 

References:

  1. European Earwigs; http://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/earwigs
  2. Learning to Live With Earwigs; https://laidbackgardener.wordpress.com/2016/06/28/learning-to-live-with-earwigs/
  3. Main photo source; Photo by Tom Oates, 2010

 

If you like this post, please share .......
Robert Pavlis
Editor of GardenFundamentals.com
I live in southern Ontario, Canada, zone 5 and have been gardening a long time. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

I hope you find Garden Fundamentals an educational site that helps you understand your garden better.

3 Responses to 'Earwigs – Getting Rid of the Pincher Bug'

  1. I’ve noticed that in very dry years they are more abundant – but I may be wrong. They don’t look ‘cute’ at all, and I think that’s why many people want to get rid of them, not because they may damage the plants.

  2. We dont have an earwig problem here at our place as the chickens seem to take care of that problem 🙂 We do have a major Japanese beetle problem here on the farm , they are into all my gardens and especially our apple trees and my roses 🙁 Any ideas on how to kill these beetles off ??? Thanks

    • Japanese beetles are not easy to control.

      If you have a larger property you can try traps – but some people feel they attract as many as they trap. On a larger property you might be able to attract them to an area that you don’t care about. They are not suitable for standard home gardens.

      It is easy to manually knock them into a container of water with a bit of soap added. They drown easily.

Please let me know what you think - Leave a Reply