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Earwigs: The Stuff Nightmares Are Made Of

Common earwig or European earwig, Forficula auricularia against white backgroundEarwigs are insects that are frightening in appearance and have horrifying myths surrounding them. Earwigs have pinchers and squirt a yellow-brown liquid when startled, so they are not generally welcomed when found in or around the home. However, the myth that earned earwigs their name—that earwigs crawl into people’s ears to lay eggs—is thankfully untrue. While earwigs can crawl into people’s ears, this behavior is found to be no more common in earwigs than in other insects that prefer dark, moist spaces.

Identifying Earwigs

Earwigs are slender and dark brown with bodies that are generally between ½ inch and 2 inches long. Earwigs have six legs and antennae in addition to pinchers, so they are very distinctive and easily identifiable. Some species of earwigs have wings. Homeowners attempting to identify an earwig infestation should look in crevices and crawlspaces, as earwigs typically stay hidden as much as possible.

Earwig Habits and Habitat

Earwigs are nocturnal omnivorous scavengers. Earwigs generally feed on live plants, but will also feed on decaying animal matter, other insects, and plant lice. Earwigs are cannibalistic and will eat earwig eggs and larvae in addition to grown earwigs. Earwigs prefer dark and damp spaces, so they are most commonly found in areas around drains, in trash cans, under lawn furniture, in mulch piles, and in other similar places. If earwigs are disturbed, they will usually run for shelter quickly.

Earwig Dangers

Earwigs usually do not present a threat to humans, as their feeding habits do not include human food, animals, or people. Earwigs generally don’t bite humans, but will bite to defend eggs or when provoked. Mass earwig infestations may cause significant damage to gardens or crops.

Preventing Earwig Infestations

Since earwigs are attracted to damp spaces, effectively controlling moisture in basements, garages, crawlspaces and bathrooms may help to deter earwigs from entering homes. Earwigs are attracted to light, so minimizing outdoor lights or switching to yellow sodium vapor lights can help to prevent infestations. Sealing up small openings and placing weather stripping around doors and windows can also make it more difficult for earwigs to find a way into homes.

Eliminating Earwig Infestations

When earwigs begin to infest a home or yard, it is possible to trap the earwigs for removal to a better area, as these insects can be helpful in keeping other insect populations under control. Earwigs can be baited by placing bran, oatmeal, molasses, or other types of sweet foods in traps. If an earwig infestation is severe, pest control professionals can help eliminate the infestation.

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