What are Earwigs?

Earwigs (order Dermaptera) are insects which are feared for their grotesque appearance, and the old European folklore. In fact, the name ‘earwig’ originated from this folklore, as early European’s believed that these insects (also called “ear worm” or “ear wiggler”) would intentionally crawl into the ears of sleeping humans to lay their eggs in the ear canal or bore into their brain. The helpless victim would be driven insane and often death would follow.

None of this folklore is true. Unfortunately, it has followed earwigs through time, giving them a horrific reputation, and false reason to be feared. Therefore, an encounter with a single earwig can invoke panic and why they are blamed for all things that go bump in the night.

Despite this bad reputation, earwigs are often beneficial, as they are scavengers of decaying organic matter and prey on unwanted garden pests like insect larvae and slug eggs.

There are around 1,350 species of earwigs in the world, and many reside in humid tropical locations.  Very important to their survival (and a key factor that determines population sizes) is moisture. Earwigs cannot tolerate dry and sunny conditions for long periods. With the right conditions, consisting of wet soil, sufficient ground cover and an abundance of food, they can become a serious garden pest, and grow rapidly in population. The larger the numbers they are around your home or business, the higher the chances they may find their way indoors seeking moisture, especially if the summer is dry.

Earwigs are nocturnal outdoor pests and are abundant in Ontario, especially between June to October. Earwigs favour cool, dark, damp and undisturbed areas. Preferred habitats include under mulch, bark, dead leaves, logs, stones and piles of firewood, boards or debris. They will also hide in the tubular legs of garden furniture, in hollow aluminum doors, and around wooden fences. Earwigs especially favour rotted wood as they feed on decaying vegetation. It is very common to remove ground cover and find many earwigs quickly scattering quickly about to hide.


What do Earwigs Look Like?

Earwigs are greatly judged (and feared) by their appearance, possibly even more than spiders. Adult earwigs are typically 1.5 to 2 cm long with reddish heads, pale yellow-brown legs, and chewing mouthparts. Their skin is tough, and appears shiny. They have long, flat and flexible bodies with prominent pincers (forceps) on the end of their bodies.  Earwigs also have antennae and two sets of wings. Their hind wings generally fold under their front wings. The skin on their wings has a leathery appearance. While they can fly, they prefer to run from one place to another. They are quite fast.

Immature earwigs (or nymphs) look like adult earwigs, only they do not have wings.

Their pincers, while intimidating to humans, are used for defense, reproduction and to snatch certain prey. Female earwigs have straight pincers, while males have more pronounced pincers which appear more curved and caliper-like.

An earwig sitting on a log outside


The Lifecycle of an Earwig

Earwigs move through 3 stages of development - Egg, Nymph and Adult. Female adult earwigs lay their eggs (typically 30-50) in the Spring, often in protected areas they frequent, like under mulch or wet leaves or within cracks and crevices. She cares for her eggs until they hatch, which is usually 7 days later. After hatching, the earwig nymphs undergo 4-6 molts until they become adult earwigs in late summer and early fall. The mother earwig continues to care for her young until they mature into an adult and leave the nest in search of their own food. As the weather gets colder, earwigs secure shelter in burrows in the ground, and settle in for the winter. In general adult earwigs live for about a year.


What do Earwigs Eat?

Earwigs are known scavengers and predators. They eat decaying organic matter, aphids, insect larvae, slug eggs, and other garden pests. They will even feed on other earwigs, dead insects and spiders. Earwigs also feed on leaves, blossoms of flowering plants, tender shoots, and the leaves and blossoms of flowering plants and vegetables.  As they feed on plants, earwigs can cause damage to plants, especially if there is a large volume of them.


Do Earwigs Bite?

Earwigs do not bite humans. While they may appear dangerous with their pincers, earwigs do not harm people. If handled, they may attempt to pinch (which is frequently mistaken for biting). Often, they only end up grabbing onto a finger. In some cases, they may break skin. The pinched area often appears as a scratch, and can cause some discomfort.  

With earwigs being outdoor garden pests, it is important to clean the pinched area as you may have been exposed to germs that reside in the outdoor soil. If you have concerns after being pinched by an earwig, seek medical attention.


Do Earwigs Cause Damage?

Earwigs are a nuisance and annoyance by their presence alone. They do not typically cause damage to people or structures, however if they feel threatened by human handling, they may pinch. Note that there are some earwig species in other parts of the world, like the Shore earwig, which secretes a foul odour comparable to rotting flesh to ward off its predators.

As they feed on vegetation (flowers, shrubs, vegetable, etc.), earwigs can cause harm to healthy plants if their populations get too large.


How Does an Earwig Infestation Happen?

Earwigs are true outdoor pests. During the day earwigs like to hide in cool, dark, damp places, and at night they venture out in search for food or new shelter (if conditions are not ideal). They can be found scurrying on the ground and climbing trees, fences and buildings.

They enter houses and structures either by accident or when seeking shelter, especially in the summer and fall months, or if there are prolonged periods of dry weather.

Unless conditions are ideal (cool, damp, dark and ample food), like in some basements, earwigs will not congregate indoors in large numbers. Large infestations are more typical outdoors. The illusion of a home infestation happens because earwigs are attracted to lights, especially those on porches, patios and decks. They will invade and plague these lit areas overnight, gathering under patio furniture cushions or piles of beach or pool towels.  Come morning, they are an unwelcoming surprise to the homeowner. Once disturbed, they are very quick and will scurry in all directions.  In some cases, a few may wander indoors, raising further concern of an infestation.

An earwig running across concrete


Signs of an Earwig Infestation

Earwigs are anti-social, much like spiders. They are not like wasps and hornets, or bees with a queen and colony. Therefore, they are not typically come across in large numbers. As well, being an outdoor insect, they do not actively nest indoors.

The easiest way to identify an earwig infestation is to spot them indoors. Homeowners often find them in rooms where there is water, like kitchens, bathrooms and laundry rooms. Once inside, earwigs do find their way into bedrooms, family rooms, and really, just about every room. They have been found around food, in clothes and even within bedding. They can also be found in narrow foundation cracks or under floorboards.

Often, seeing just a few earwigs indoors raises serious concerns that an infestation has resulted. This panic and alarm is mostly driven by their grotesque and intimidating appearance. Rest assured, if you come across a couple of earwigs in your home, garage or sheds, this does not mean you have an infestation. If you are concerned after spotting a few unwelcome earwigs in your home, check any damp or dark areas, paying extra attention to cracks in the foundation.  This is the likely place a nest could be.


How to Get Rid of Earwigs

Earwigs found inside the house can be sucked up with a vacuum cleaner or swept up with a broom, and discarded outdoors. The most effective way to get rid of earwigs is to eliminate their hiding and nesting places, and taking precaution to prevent their entry indoors.

Below are tips to help you minimize favourable earwig living conditions around your home or business:

  • Prevent earwig (and other insects) entry by using high quality caulking and putty around doors, windows, pipes, and other entry points.
  • Repair broken screens and weather stripping.
  • Maintain a perimeter around your home or business that is clean and low moisture to eliminate favourable nesting sites and hiding places:
    • Trim back vegetation from your home’s exterior.
    • Remove or minimize mulch.
    • Remove or minimize decorative stones, ornamental objects, logs or firewood.
    • Immediately compost grass clippings, fallen leaves and old wood.
    • Remove debris piles from your homes exterior perimeter.
  • Use yellow light bulbs for outdoor lighting as it is less-attractive to insects.
  • Ensure gutters and downspouts are in good condition, and direct them to drain away from the structure’s foundation.
  • If using an irrigation system, ensure it is maintained, leak-free, and adjust the settings so that landscapes are watered in the morning and can dry during the day.
  • Check for and repair all leaking faucets or air-conditioning units around the perimeter.
  • Indoors, utilize a dehumidifier in damp rooms or areas (like basements) to dry them out.


For those that maintain flower and vegetable gardens near their home or business, consider the following gardening tips to minimize earwig infestations:

  • In the early spring, prepare the soil to unsettle any earwigs that lived through the winter and uncover any newly laid eggs. Exposing them to the dry surface will help minimize their chances of survival.
  • Plant early to allow vegetables a head start before earwig nymphs emerge in June to feed on seedlings or tender shoots.
  • Regularly remove damaged vegetation from your garden to minimize the availability of decaying organic matter.
  • Prior to bringing flowers, plants or vegetables indoors, fully inspect for earwigs hiding inside the blooms or between leaves, and remove.


Some people have had success with creating DIY outdoor traps for earwigs using:

  • Flower pots stuffed with damp newspaper or straw, which are left upside-down on the ground, and further propped up with a small rock allowing space for earwigs to crawl under.
  • Rolled up pieces of short corrugated cardboard, which are secured with a rubber band, and stood on end.
  • Short sections of garden hose tubing placed on the ground.


How to Get Rid of an Earwig Infestation

To fully address an earwig infestation, and minimize future infestations, consider working with a licensed pest control professional.  Environmental Pest Control offers excellent treatments and safe solutions to help you get rid of earwigs.

Give us a call and speak to one of our pest experts about how to get rid of earwigs.

Call 1 (800) 263-5055

Our Professional Team is Happy to Help!