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By: Heather Rhoades
Earwigs are one of those garden pests that look very frightening, but, in fact, earwigs are rather harmless. Admittedly they look rather scary, like a bug that has gotten run over by a steamroller. They have long, flat bodies and their legs stick out to the sides, which gives them a slithery motion when they move. They also have a set of pinchers on the ends of their abdomens.
Because of the earwig’s appearance, there is a superstition that earwigs will crawl into a person’s ear and bore into the brain. This superstition is absolutely not true. Earwigs are scary looking but they are not harmful to people or animals.
But that is not to say that earwigs are not harmful to your garden though. Earwigs will chew on flowers, vegetables and other plants. Earwig damage can be identified by ragged edges or holes found on the leaves and petals of a plant.
Most of the time, a gardener will not actually see the earwigs in their garden. If they do see them, it will only be briefly as they watch an earwig scurry away after being exposed to sunlight somehow. Earwigs are nocturnal insects. They prefer dark areas and during the day, they can be found hiding in dark areas.
Earwigs also need damp areas to survive. They commonly show up in the garden if they can find a moist dark area to survive in, such as mulch, woodpiles or compost piles.
The common advice given for eliminating earwigs from the garden is to reduce or eliminate moist, dark conditions from your garden. But frankly, eliminating these conditions from a healthy garden is nearly impossible. A compost pile and mulched beds are part of a well tended garden. Instead, try to remove any non-essential elements that may be providing these conditions so you can at least reduce the number of areas in your garden where earwigs can flourish.
You can also try adding barriers to the edges of your garden. Earwigs cannot travel very far, especially over dry conditions. Adding a small moat of consistently dry material, such as gravel or coarse sand, around garden beds will help to keep earwigs out of the beds.
You can also set up earwig traps. Roll up a section of newspaper and wet it down slightly. Place the damp newspaper roll into the part of the garden that you are having an earwig problem. Leave it there overnight. The earwigs will crawl into the newspaper as it provided the exact conditions that they like.
In the morning, dispose of the roll of newspaper either by burning it, dousing it with boiling water or immersing it in a solution of water and bleach.
You can also use pesticides to eliminate earwigs, but some care should be taken if using this method as pesticide will kill both earwigs and helpful insects, such as ladybugs and butterflies.
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Earwigs may damage young sweet corn and miscellaneous plant seedlings, but favored garden delicacies include soft fruits such as apricots, blackberries, raspberries, stone fruits, and strawberries. They like flowers, too and prefer dahlias, marigolds, and zinnias. Turf and mature ornamental plants aren’t on the earwig menu, so they’re spared. The bad news about getting rid of these insects is that they’re voracious and effective predators of other plant pests, such as aphids and mites. Earwigs are typically manageable with persistent cultural adjustments and trapping, so you won’t need poisonous baits or other chemical control measures. They’re at their busiest during June, July and August.
Take a flashlight to the garden after dark when earwigs actively feed. Look for damaged seedlings that may be missing parts or all of stems and leaves. Examine leaves for chewed edges or irregular holes. Pick off any earwigs that you see and drop them into a plastic bag. Stomp on the bag soundly to squash the pests. You can drown them in a bucket of soapy water if you prefer.
Smear petroleum jelly generously on the stems of plants. Earwigs can’t navigate the material.
Cut an orange, grapefruit, cantaloupe or watermelon in half. Eat the fruit. Take the rind out to the garden at dusk and lay it on its side. Dump the earwigs out of the rind into a bucket of soapy water early the next morning. Repeat every two or three days.
Trap earwigs with stale beer, or offer them a little Asian cuisine. Poke several ¼-inch holes in the top of the lid of a small disposable plastic container. Pour about ½ inch of stale beer into it. If you don’t have beer, mix equal parts soy sauce and vegetable oil. Snap the lid onto the trap. Bury it to about ¼ inch below the rim in the garden. Empty the trap into a bucket of soapy water in the morning. Repeat every two or three days.
Invite earwigs to a lazy afternoon at the day spa. Roll a section of newspaper into a narrow tube with a ½- to one-inch diameter. Dip it into a container of water to dampen it and remove it quickly. Set the trap in a shady spot near the garden in the morning. Earwigs will seek it out to escape the afternoon heat. Dump them into a bucket of soapy water before they come out to feed at dusk.
Cut one panel off an empty milk carton to make a daytime hideaway for earwigs. Wash it well with soap and warm water. Wad some newspaper up and stuff it loosely into the carton. Dampen the newspaper. Set the trap near the garden but out of direct sun in the morning. The pests will snuggle into the wet newspaper to wait out the heat of the day. Empty them into a bucket of soapy water before nightfall.
Remove objects that earwigs seek out for hiding places, such as stacks of wood, piles of weeds, grass clippings and debris. Pull mulches about six inches away from tender plant stems.
Water your garden and lawn only as necessary. Earwigs love overly damp conditions.
Turn off as many outdoor lights as possible after dark as earwigs are attracted to them.
The photo above is a real picture of my home garden. After weeks of putting out homemade slug traps and checking all sides of my plant leaves for other pests on a daily basis, I was stumped. It was hard to believe anything unseen could do this much damage to my bean plants seemingly overnight. New starts were disappearing days after emerging from the ground, and even the starts on my patio table were showing signs of serious damage. One night I got my flashlight out and wandered into the garden to find hundreds of earwigs on every row of vegetable starts and in every raised bed. I had found the culprit.
Earwig damage can look similar to slug damage. Earwigs tend to prefer the more tender parts of plants and will target young plants first, often leaving the tougher veins of the leaf alone. Because earwigs feed at night like slugs, you'll need to go out with a flashlight at night to be sure that's what you're dealing with. Luckily, they don't hide well at night and are easy to spot.
So, what should be done? There is a number of steps recommended by scientists that will help you get rid of earwigs. However, as Jeffrey Hahn and Phil Pellitteri, entomologists from the University of Minnesota, put it, these measures will only decrease the number of the pests but will not ensure the problem solved if the infestation is heavy. And yet without taking these steps, no further earwig control efforts will be successful.
First of all, clean up debris serving as breeding and nesting places. These are fallen leaves, plant debris, ripe fruits, lumber, and bricks. Removing mulch or making it thinner will also be helpful. Prune the fruit trees and scrape off loose bark on their trunks. Arthur L. Antonelli, an extension entomologist from the Washington State University, advises wrapping a cardboard around the trunks to collect these pests as they move from ground to the branches. Once you have got enough of them inside the cardboard, remove it and crush the earwigs. Make every efforts to make your garden or yard a sunny and exposed area because this will be an unfavorable environment for earwigs. Secondly, if there is too much moisture in the garden, check drainage and irrigation systems to make sure that they function well. If they do not, you should repair or replace these systems. When irrigating the plants, do it frequently but more thoroughly. This will assist in reducing the humidity of the soil.
John L. Capinera, a scientist from the University of Florida, suggests exploiting natural enemies to control earwigs. Some of them have been imported from abroad specifically for that purpose. The best option is the European parasitoid Bigonicheta spinipennis, a fly which kills up to fifty percent of earwigs present in the treated area. However, take into consideration that using natural enemies does not guarantee the same result in different regions. It is not clear yet which factors influence on how many earwigs can be killed by these parasites, but still, this solution is worth trying.
Another natural enemy, nematode Mermis nigrescens, can cause high mortality among earwigs, according to studies conducted in Ontario. The experiments showed that over sixty percent of the target pests could become infected by nematodes over the course of two years. Keep in mind that nematodes are beneficial and assist in controlling a wide range of pests damaging the garden. Therefore, their presence in the garden will only make its crops and plants healthier. Apart from that, earwigs have natural enemies among birds and animals. Toads, birds, chickens and ducks are able to eat many of them and could be considered reliable partners in your pest control strategy.
Earwigs don’t transmit diseases. They are completely harmless. Their pincers aren’t powerful enough to produce a strong pinch, so don’t worry they can’t cause any harm.
They can bite, but the bites only cause minor irritation. Pincher bugs really look more dangerous than they actually are. Their reputation is mostly made up. The idea that it will do any harm to you is mostly folklore and pure nonsense.
They can cause problems in your garden though.
Among the most common places to sight earwigs are in and around a barbecue grill. These creatures appear to be attracted to grills for a number of reasons, including the darkness a grill offers during the daytime and the grease and oil that collect on it and in its drip pan.
Opening up a grill that’s been taken over by these bugs often sends them scattering, much to the chagrin of the cook!
Here are a few tips to keep them away: