At some point in time, you may have heard about earwigs and the superstitious nature of their names. They have been demonized as insects that will enter people's ears to eat their brains, but this is no more than an urban legend and has no scientific basis. These odd insects are of great benefit to their natural environments.

Earwigs help in the natural process of decomposition by eating decaying plant matter. It's when earwigs find their way into your home, garden, or greenhouse that they become a force to be reckoned with. Learning how earwigs survive will allow you to effectively prevent them from causing havoc on your property or in your home.

What Is an Earwig?

An earwig is an unsightly insect that is misunderstood more often than not. Human brains aren't on the menu, but this doesn't mean that they should be left to run amuck. Earwigs are mainly nocturnal and will hide out in secluded areas in wait for nightfall. Lighting, such as porch or patio lights, can draw them in, and they may gather under outdoor seat cushions.

An earwig's diet consists of decaying animal matter, other insects, and dead or live plant matter when in its natural habitat. When found inside of your home, their diets can be adapted to eat oily or greasy foods, indoor plants, and sweet foods.

Earwigs excrete a yellowish-brown, foul-smelling liquid from their scent glands as a defense mechanism. This liquid isn't necessarily dangerous but can be irritating. They also have pinchers on the back of their abdomens that can be used to inflict a "bite" when threatened.

When reproducing, the female earwig will lay between 20 to 50 eggs that are oval-shaped, smooth, and white in color. Unlike other insects, female earwigs tend to their young and show an incredible motherly instinct. Before they lay eggs, they will run the male earwig out of the nest and clean the nest. After the mother lays the eggs, she guards them. To prevent mold growing on the eggs, she will periodically move the eggs around in the nest to keep them clean.

Once the eggs have hatched, the female earwig will feed and care for her young until they have grown and developed enough to defend and provide for themselves. This includes protecting them against other insects and other earwigs. This motherly instinct is rare among insects.

What Do Earwigs Look Like?

Image via Flickr by tom_bullock

Earwigs are rather frightening at first sight with the large pinchers that are positioned on their abdomens. They are commonly black or brownish in color and have two sets of wings, with their back wings folded underneath their front wings. They use their pinchers to fold or unfold their back wings, capture prey insects, defend their nest, or probe narrow crevices.

Though most species of earwigs have wings, not all of them fly. The ones that can fly don't do it that often. When their habitat is ideal, earwigs have little to no reason to fly. If they do decide to fly, they are rather clumsy in the air and will typically only fly in short bursts. 

Where Do Earwigs Live?

With more than 20 species of earwigs living in the United States, you are sure to have seen them on your property, especially if you have a garden or greenhouse. When conditions are right, earwigs will thrive. They prefer cool, undisturbed, and wet areas. Their natural habitats are usually in a well-sheltered area that has adequate, easy-to-access food sources . 

Due to a pheromone that earwigs give off, they are found to live together in large quantities. Areas that earwigs frequent as nests when outside are under landscape mulch, in tree holes, exterior building cracks, and under other ground covering objects. When inside, they will seek out damp areas to camp out and will travel throughout your home along the baseboards. 

They are agile on their feet and can often evade you with ease. As long as your home doesn't have humidity issues, earwigs won't be able to survive for more than a few days in the typically drier air that most homes have. If you have a large population of earwigs living on your property, in a garden, or a greenhouse, you may see these pests regularly inside your home.

Problems With Earwigs

Earwigs aren't known to cause any significant damage to the interior, exterior, or structural areas of your home, but they can wreak havoc on a garden or inside of a greenhouse. They will eat live vegetation, and a well-kept garden or greenhouse is a paradise for earwigs due to the moisture and abundant food sources they provide. They do eat dead or decaying plant matter and can benefit the forest floor, but when exposed to your indoor plants, greenhouse, or garden plants, they can cause remarkable damage to seedlings and mature plants alike.

Though earwigs aren't a direct threat to humans, they do excrete foul-smelling liquids from scent glands that can irritate your senses. They can also use their formidable pinchers to inflict the semblance of a bite to protect themselves, but these pinchers don't spread disease and aren't poisonous. These two defenses are also used against other earwigs when defending their eggs and young.

Earwig Control Solutions

Prevention is the best play when it comes to controlling earwigs. Outdoors, you will want to reduce moist soil by keeping any landscaping cover — such as mulch or natural debris like dead leaves — away from your home's foundation. Creating a dry area that extends between 6 to 12 inches away from the foundation will deter earwigs from entering your house.

Another preventative measure is to remove any large debris that covers the ground and can provide shelter for earwigs. This can be logs, landscape timbers, firewood piles, and decorative stones. You can also help eliminate earwigs and other pests by trimming any shrubs or tree limbs that are touching the side of your home. Doing so will prevent them from creating overly shady and damp areas where pests can gather.

In extreme instances where you feel that you are overwhelmed by the number of earwigs you are dealing with, a professional pest control agency can provide you with the help you need. Having peace of mind makes it well worth reaching out for some expert advice.

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