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Information about earwigs and how to manage them

Claire LaCanne, Agricultural Extension Educator for Rice and Steele Counties

When I was 10 years old, my younger sister pulled a sinister looking bug from near her ear and our parents informed us that it was called an earwig. That information sent us up the wall—we thought that the name undoubtedly meant that these critters would crawl in our ears. Yikes!
This isn’t an uncommon belief. Yes, there are occurrences of finding earwigs near human ears, but these are accidental. Earwigs do get their name from the belief that they climb into human ears while individuals are asleep, however, this belief is fortunately untrue.

The European Earwig, common in Minnesota, has a distinct look, with its 5/8 inch long, reddish-brown body adorned with a pincher at their posterior. They also have medium length antennae, chewing mouthparts and tucked wings, but mostly, people notice the pincher. The technical term for the pincher is a pair of cerci. Males have thick, curved cerci, while females have slender, straight cerci. Earwigs use these cerci to protect themselves and to grab prey, but they are not as menacing as they appear. People worry that earwigs will use their cerci to pinch them, but they cannot squeeze especially hard and are harmless to humans. They are scavengers and feed on decaying or healthy plant material, and dead insects.
Earwigs mate in the fall and spend the winter together in specially constructed nests. In early spring, females force the males out and then lay eggs. Female earwigs have maternal behavior, in which they guard their eggs and their young, an unusual trait in insects. Eggs hatch in a week, and nymph emerge from nests in late May to early June, maturing into adults in late June or early July; adults are then active through fall. Fortunately, earwigs are only a pest problem during summer.
Earwigs hide in dark, damp, confined areas during the day and are often found under potted plants, leaves, door mats, and other objects. They also hide in cracks between pavers or bricks and plant folds. Earwigs can enter homes and other buildings during summer. They do not damage property or eat our food and they don't reproduce indoors, but their presence can be a nuisance. Earwigs can also cause problems in gardens as they feed on flowers. Larger plants will survive earwig feeding but seedlings can be severely damaged or killed by dense populations.
To reduce the number of earwigs around your home and garden, clean up debris that earwigs can hide under, such as leaves, bricks, or piles of lumber. You can set out rolled up newspapers to attract and trap earwigs. Set them out overnight in areas where you are seeing earwigs in your yard. In the morning, shake the traps above a bucket of soapy water to remove and kill the insects. Also repair cracks or gaps around the outside of your home, especially around doors, windows, and the juncture of the siding and the foundation. For any earwigs you find inside, remove them with a vacuum.

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