Botanical Battles: Unveiling the Deadly Secret of Earwigs

Can Earwigs Kill Plants?

In the realm of gardening, the ominous presence of earwigs often raises concerns among enthusiasts. Surprisingly, these seemingly menacing creatures play a beneficial role in your landscape. Contrary to the fear that they might devastate your precious plants, earwigs primarily target destructive pests such as aphids, serving as important predators in your garden ecosystem.

However, it’s crucial to acknowledge that while earwigs contribute positively, under certain circumstances, they can seriously damage specific plants. Young and tender vegetation, like seedling vegetables and annual flowers, is particularly vulnerable. I vividly recall a time when my flourishing garden fell victim to these inconspicuous creatures. Maturing buds and delicate leaves were not spared, emphasizing the need for balance in the garden.

In my experience, soft fruit and corn crops faced challenges as earwigs targeted developing stages. Corn silks, essential for pollination, were occasionally nibbled upon, causing concerns about potential yield impacts. Understanding the nuances of earwig behavior proved pivotal in devising strategies to mitigate their impact on certain crops.

Research has consistently shown that creating an environment that attracts natural predators can help maintain a balance. Introducing plants that harbor beneficial insects or providing suitable shelters for these garden-friendly creatures can guide earwigs away from your more vulnerable flora.

In essence, the query, “Can earwigs kill plants?” unravels a complex relationship between these insects and your garden. While they wield the potential to cause harm, a nuanced approach that considers their important role in pest control can transform them from perceived threats to allies in your gardening endeavors.

Can Earwigs Kill Plants?

How to Identify Earwigs?

Curved forceps, prominent appendages at the tail end—the unmistakable features of the adult earwig. These intriguing creatures, about 3/4 inch long and often reddish-brown, are known for their unique appearance. The male sports straighter forceps, while the female boasts more curved ones. One might be surprised to learn that despite their menacing defense mechanism, earwigs are not a threat to humans. Contrary to the common myth that they are ferocious and capable of biting, earwigs, for the most part, are harmless. Even if trapped in clothing or sat upon, they don’t attack humans.

Understanding their distinguishing features is crucial. Adult earwigs have a pair of short, hard wing covers but seldom fly. Immature earwigs, smaller in size and lacking wings, can be readily identified. They often resemble the adults, with the same prominent appendages and a body that’s about 3/4 inch long. It’s important to note that earwigs are not to be confused with other species. Their unique characteristics, especially the forceps at the tail end, set them apart.

As someone with a keen interest in gardening, I have encountered these intriguing insects multiple times. Contrary to popular belief, they aren’t harmful to plants. The species of earwigs that dwell in gardens are more focused on scavenging dead plant material and preying on other insects, playing a beneficial role in the ecosystem. Understanding their behavior is crucial in dispelling the unfounded fears associated with these creatures.

In essence, while the appearance of earwigs may be intimidating, their actions, particularly towards plants, should not be a cause for concern. As a gardener, one should appreciate the role they play in maintaining a balanced ecosystem rather than fearing their presence. After all, in the intricate dance of nature, every participant has a unique and significant part to play.

Life Cycle of Earwigs

Female earwigs strategically choose dark, cool, moist places to lay their eggs, typically in the fall and winter. The eggs, numbering 30 or more, hatch into small, light brown nymphs that remain protected in cells, diligently fed by their mother. As the first molt occurs, second-instar nymphs emerge, embarking on a nightly foraging routine. These creatures, adept at navigating the night, return to their nests during the day.

As the nymphs progress into the third and fourth instars, their appearance darkens, and they become more independent in their foraging pursuits. Remarkably, one generation of earwigs unfolds within a year, with females capable of producing two broods. During the winter, the earwig population hibernates, with pairs nestled in buried cells within the soil, particularly in the hotter parts of California, where they remain relatively inactive. In milder California climates, however, earwigs stay active throughout the year, continually seeking out hiding spots under loose clods, boards, dense growth, vines, and weeds.

My experiences with earwigs in the garden have revealed their intricate life cycle. Observing their nightly forays and understanding their preference for moist hiding places has enabled me to appreciate their role in controlling other pests like snails, birds, and cutworms. While they may venture into fruit and damaged plants, their overall impact on the garden ecosystem is more nuanced than their appearance suggests.

Can Earwigs Kill Plants

Damages By Earwigs

Delving into the intriguing world of European earwigs, one encounters a diverse variety of behaviors and impacts these creatures have on the environment. While they are voracious feeders on various living organisms, including insects and mites, their role as a significant biological control under certain circumstances cannot be overlooked.

In yards and turf, mature ornamental plants may fall victim to the substantial damage inflicted by earwigs, especially on seedling plants and soft fruit like sweet corn. Damaged seedlings often display missing parts, from leaves to stems. Older plants and fruit trees, on the other hand, exhibit numerous irregular holes and chewed edges, a damage pattern that might initially resemble that caused by caterpillars. Careful inspection reveals distinctions, such as the absence of webbing or frass, indicating the presence of caterpillars.

The list of potential targets grows as earwigs attack soft fruit, including apricots, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries, while harm to hard fruit like apples and stone fruit manifests as shallow gouges and holes, sometimes extending deeply. Distinguishing earwig damage from that of snails or slugs involves checking for slime trails. In corn, earwigs can prevent pollination by feeding on silks, leading to poor kernel development. Flowers such as zinnias, marigolds, and dahlias may suffer serious damage. Confirming the cause of this damage often requires a nocturnal excursion with a flashlight to observe the pests in action, as earwigs seek refuge indoors during certain conditions.

In my experience as a gardener, I have encountered the annoyance caused by large accumulations of earwigs, particularly in dry, hot, or cold conditions. Not only can these gatherings be annoying, but they may also present health hazards. Addressing the issue involves sweeping, vacuuming, sealing entry points, and creating an inhospitable environment, leading earwigs to eventually die indoors. While earwigs do little harm indoors, their voracious feeding habits can cause substantial damages to a variety of plants in outdoor settings.

Can Earwigs Kill Plants

Where Earwigs Hide?

While the question of whether earwigs can inflict harm on plants remains, understanding their nocturnal habits provides valuable insights. To comprehend where these elusive creatures may hide during the day sheds light on their feeding patterns, helping identify the real culprits behind plant damage. In my gardening experience, the discovery that earwigs feed after dark transformed the way I approached pest management. Unlike their daytime camouflage, these insects reveal their true nature when the sun sets, engaging in a feeding frenzy that mimics the damage caused by caterpillars or slugs. To be sure about the identified culprits, a diligent process of checking and observing their feeding habits after dark becomes crucial.

Unusual in appearance, female earwigs fuss over their eggs, laying them in clusters resembling round, white pearls in the soil during late winter. The nymphs, with their distinctive pincers, hatch in spring, adding a new generation to the population. In my garden, I’ve encountered the overwintering adult earwigs seeking refuge in garden debris, under stones, boards, and within the soil. These cool, moist places provide the ideal environment for them to lay low during the day, emerging only when darkness falls. Understanding their hiding spots has been instrumental in effective pest management, allowing me to address the issue at its source.

How to Trap Earwigs?

Addressing the potential threat of earwigs to plants involves not only understanding their habits but also employing effective trapping methods. In my own gardening endeavors, I’ve found success in using simple yet ingenious techniques to trap these elusive insects. One method involves repurposing cat food cans or similar containers, filling them with ¼ inch of oil—preferably fish oil—and sinking them into the ground near plants. Regularly emptying these traps and refilling them ensures their continued effectiveness.

Another effective strategy is setting out improvised shelters made from crumpled damp newspaper, lengths of old hose, or cardboard filled with straw and taped shut at one end. These earwig “traps” can be strategically placed near plants, and their contents can be dumped into a bucket of soapy water each morning. Additionally, placing light-colored cloth beneath an infested plant and giving it a gentle shake causes earwigs to fall onto the cloth, which can then be easily disposed of. These simple yet efficient trapping methods contribute to a balanced and thriving garden, mitigating the potential impact of earwigs on plant health.

Managing Earwigs

Understanding Earwigs and Their Habitat Preferences

Earwigs, commonly found in California’s irrigated gardens, thrive in moist and shaded environments. In arid climates, such as California’s, their presence can be managed by manipulating their habitat preferences. An integrated program that includes reducing hiding places and surface moisture, along with regular trapping, can effectively control earwig populations without resorting to insecticides.

Trapping Techniques for Earwig Management

Trapping is a key element in an earwig management program. Various trapping methods can be employed, such as using low-sided cans with oil at soil level, rolled-up newspapers, corrugated cardboard, bamboo tubes, or short pieces of hose. Placing traps near shrubbery and ground cover plantings enhances their effectiveness. Regularly emptying and refilling traps with oil helps maintain their efficacy. Trapping should be continued until no more earwigs are captured.

Sanitation Measures and Other Controls

Complementing trapping efforts involves removing refuge sites for earwigs, such as ivy, weeds, piles of rubbish, and leaves. Mulches and heavy ground cover should be monitored, as they often harbor earwigs. Natural enemies like toads, birds, chickens, and ducks can also contribute to earwig control. For fruit trees, keeping the area around the trunk clear, monitoring with newspapers or burlap bags, and employing Tanglefoot on trunks can prevent earwig infestations.

Chemical Control: A Last Resort

In cases where insecticides are necessary, products containing spinosad, like SluggoPlus baits or spinosad sprays, are recommended for their effectiveness and environmental friendliness. Baits should be sprinkled preventatively around susceptible plants or the foundation of the house. Application at night and before severe infestations, following label directions, and ensuring compatibility with treated plants are crucial. Combining chemical control with trapping and sanitation practices enhances overall efficacy.

Managing Earwigs Indoors

Indoor control involves sweeping or vacuuming up earwigs promptly. Identifying and sealing entry points, removing outdoor harborage materials, and maintaining proper drainage and ventilation are essential. Insecticide treatments indoors are discouraged, as prevention measures are more effective.

Outdoor Lighting Considerations

If earwigs are attracted to outdoor lighting, using yellow or sodium vapor lightbulbs can minimize their presence. This simple adjustment in lighting can contribute to a reduction in earwig activity around buildings.


Managing earwigs and fruit flies requires a comprehensive approach that leverages their habitat preferences, incorporates trapping methods, and considers alternative controls before resorting to chemical solutions. By adopting these integrated practices, individuals can effectively control earwig and fruit fly populations while minimizing environmental impact and maintaining a balanced ecosystem.

Common Questions About Earwigs

Are Earwigs Harmful?

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What Do Earwigs Hate?

Discovering how to protect your plants from earwigs? Opt for natural solutions! Essential oils like peppermint, eucalyptus, cinnamon, and basil are a game-changer. Dilute a few drops with water, distribute the mixture, create a spray, and generously apply it around your plants. These scents act as a powerful deterrent, making your garden an unwelcome space for earwigs. In my experience, this DIY repellent not only keeps pests at bay but also imparts a pleasant aroma to your green haven. Try it, and watch your plants flourish without any unwanted guests.

Why Are Earwigs So Hard To Kill?

Dealing with earwigs proves a complex task due to their strategic habits. The females lay eggs underground, protecting them at a crucial stage of development. These fast-moving insects evade squishing or spraying, making traditional methods difficult. Tackling them requires a targeted control approach, acknowledging the unique challenges in their lifecycle. Through personal experience, I’ve learned that understanding these nuances is essential for effective earwig elimination, as noted above.

What Are Earwigs Attracted To?

Earwigs, those nocturnal intruders, are inexplicably drawn to the warm glow of lights on summer evenings. Porches, patios, and cushions left outside become unwitting hosts to these nuisances overnight. My experience revealed a simple solution – strategically position lights away from seating areas and bring cushions indoors. Adapting our habits ensures a serene evening, free from the unexpected gathering of earwigs.

Should I Worry About Earwigs?

The intimidating appearance of earwigs, with their unique pincers or forceps, might raise concerns about potential harm to plants. However, dispelling the misconception that they are dangerous, these insects, despite their menacing look, lack the ability to sting or cause direct damage. In my experience, their agitated demeanor is a mere defense mechanism, and the worry about plants suffering because of earwigs is unfounded. Understanding that their pincers are not meant for aggression towards plants, but rather to grasp onto surfaces, allows for a peaceful coexistence with these intriguing bugs. Moreover, their agitated behavior is akin to a bug raising a finger in protest, further highlighting their misunderstood nature.

Are Earwigs Beneficial?

In the realm of home gardens and landscapes, earwigs often find themselves in the midst of controversy. While they are recognized as insect predators, there’s a pervasive concern about their potential to devastate plants. However, my extensive experience with gardening has revealed a nuanced perspective. These creatures play an important and beneficial role by preying on common insect pests like aphids, safeguarding seedling vegetables, annual flowers, and even soft fruit from potential harm.

Contrary to the misconception that they seriously damage maturing plants, earwigs have been shown to be among the most readily available natural predators in the garden. Although they are often misunderstood and, at times, considered a nuisance, understanding the delicate balance they maintain in the ecosystem emphasizes their value. In my gardens, they have become allies in pest control, contributing to the overall health and vitality of the plants.

Do Earwigs Live In Human Ears?

The notion that earwigs seek refuge in the human ear, burrowing through the external auditory canal to reach sleeping persons’ brains, is an ancient myth that has persisted through generations. This peculiar belief, although sometimes causing severe ear discomfort at the mere thought of it, is considered unfounded by entomologists and medical experts alike. The reality is that earwigs do not live in human ears, nor do they have any inclination to enter such a confined space.

While these bugs may occasionally be found near human ears, the idea that they do so with the intention of dwelling in the ear is a misconception that has been debunked by scientific evidence. So, rest assured, the unsettling thought of earwigs making a home in your ear is merely an old wives’ tale devoid of truth.

Do Earwigs Go Near Humans?

Contrary to the ominous image their name suggests, the idea that earwigs purposely crawl into ears is an old wives’ tale that has perpetuated over time. As someone who has spent considerable time observing these insects, I can attest that earwigs, while having the ability to pinch if handled, are not inclined to go near humans. Their reputation as creatures that can be harmful or toxic is often exaggerated, as they aren’t inherently poisonous.

In my experience, when encountering humans or pets, earwigs will generally try to run away from them instead of approaching. The misconception that they go near humans, causing harm or attempting to crawl into ears, is largely unfounded. So, while caution is advised when handling any insect, the fear of earwigs deliberately seeking out humans is an exaggeration that doesn’t align with their natural behavior.

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