Do Earwigs Eat Wood? Debunking the Common Myth

Earwigs are misunderstood insects that are often mistaken for pests that consume wood. In reality, these nocturnal creatures typically feed on decaying plant material and dead insects. Though they may appear intimidating with their strong pinchers, they’re not known for causing extensive damage to wood or wooden structures around your home.

These insects, with their flat, reddish-brown bodies, can sometimes be found hiding under wood piles, boards, or other damp areas during the day. However, this shouldn’t be mistaken for an appetite for wood. In the evenings, earwigs become active and roam about, searching for food, such as garbage and various house plants. Their diet mainly consists of organic matter, keeping their focus away from your wooden furniture or structural components.

The Nature of Earwigs

Physical Features

Earwigs, also known as Forficula auricularia, are insects characterized by their unique physical features:

  • Length: Approximately 5/8 inch long1
  • Color: Reddish-brown body
  • Wings: Very short
  • Antennae: Medium length
  • Forceps: Strong pinchers (cerci) on the tip of their abdomen1

Male earwigs have stout, strongly curved cerci, while females possess slender, straight pinchers1.

An Omnivore Diet

Earwigs are omnivores, feeding on a variety of materials such as:

  • Soil organisms
  • Fungi
  • Algae
  • Insect eggs and immature stages (e.g., fleas and aphids)2
  • Snails and other slow creatures2
  • Vegetation, especially when other sources of food are scarce

During the night, earwigs actively search for food3.

Life Cycle and Reproduction

Earwigs have a fascinating life cycle and reproduction process:

  • Female earwigs lay 20 to 50 white or cream-colored eggs in a chamber within the upper 2 to 3 inches of soil4
  • The female cares for the eggs and first stage of nymphs4
  • Nymphs leave the nest and spend one season maturing4

Natural Predators

Earwigs are not only predators themselves, but also serve as prey for other animals:

  • Birds: Many bird species are known to prey on earwigs
  • Larger arthropods: Some larger insects and spiders also consume earwigs

Although earwigs may seem intimidating due to their forceps-like appendages, they do not pose significant harm to humans and typically hide during the day3.

Do Earwigs Eat Wood?

Decaying Wood as Habitat

Earwigs are known to inhabit a variety of places, including decaying wood. They prefer warm and moist environments to hide during the day and become active at night.

While earwigs primarily feed on decaying plant material and dead insects, their presence in decaying wood can create misconceptions about their dietary habits. However, they generally do not feed on healthy wood or cause structural damage to homes or furniture.

Earwigs’ preference for decaying wood:

  • Provides shelter during day
  • Offers a warm and moist habitat

Comparison of Earwigs’ Diet and Habitat

Food Sources Habitats
Decaying plant material Decaying wood
Dead insects Wet mops, flower pots, woodpiles, shrubberies

To summarize, although earwigs may be found in decaying wood, they do not consume healthy wood. It is essential to distinguish between their habitat preferences and dietary choices to avoid misunderstandings about their impact on households and gardens.

Earwig Damage in Gardens

Affected Plants

Earwigs are known to damage different types of plants in gardens, including:

  • Vegetables
  • Seedlings
  • Flowers

These pests feed mostly on decaying plant material and dead insects. However, in high numbers, they can sometimes cause damage to living plants as well.

How to Identify Earwig Damage

Earwig damage can often be confused with damage caused by other pests, such as slugs, cutworms, and rabbits. To differentiate earwig damage from other causes, pay attention to these points:

  • Slime trail: While slugs leave a slime trail, earwigs do not.
  • Feeding time: Earwigs typically hide during the day and come out to feed at night. Use a flashlight to check under plants at night to spot them.

Comparison of Earwig Damage and Slug Damage

Factor Earwig Damage Slug Damage
Slime trail No Yes
Time of feeding Night Night
Plant preference Seedlings, flowers, some vegetables Seedlings, some vegetables

Remember that earwigs can damage seedlings, vegetables, and flowers in your garden when they are present in large numbers. To reduce earwig damage, consider using traps hidden near shrubbery and ground cover plants.

Preventing and Controlling Earwig Infestations

Insect Barriers

One way to prevent earwigs is by using insect barriers. These can include:

  • Sealing gaps around doors and windows
  • Properly maintaining gutters and downspouts
  • Installing window screens

Insect barriers help keep earwigs and other pests, such as centipedes, cockroaches, and boxelder bugs, out of your home.

Removing Habitats

To control earwig infestations, focus on eliminating their potential habitats. This involves:

  • Cleaning up piles of leaves, wood, and debris around your home
  • Maintaining a tidy garden to reduce hiding spots
  • Keeping indoor areas, especially basements, dry and clutter-free

By removing these habitats, you can discourage earwigs from settling in your home.

Attracting Natural Predators

Another approach is to attract earwig predators to help control their population. Some examples of natural predators include:

  • Birds
  • Toads
  • Centipedes

You can attract these predators by providing suitable environments, such as birdhouses and water sources, in your garden.

Method Pros Cons
Insect Barriers Effective in keeping pests out Some maintenance required
Removing Habitats Reduces hiding spots for earwigs May require significant effort
Attracting Predators Natural pest control with minimal effort May also attract other pests to your yard

Are Earwigs Dangerous?

Pinching Behaviour

Earwigs, also known as “pincher bugs,” are known for their characteristic pinchers (cerci) found at the tip of their abdomen. These pinchers can be used defensively when the earwig feels threatened. However, though they may be intimidating in appearance, they are generally not dangerous to humans. An earwig pinch might cause slight discomfort but typically does not result in significant pain or harm.

Preying on Insects

Earwigs are primarily scavengers that feed on dead insects and decaying plant material. In some cases, they may prey on other insects, but this behavior is less common. Comparatively, here are some features of these insects:

  • Pinchers for defense and capturing prey
  • Nocturnal lifestyle, hiding during the day
  • Feeding on decaying matter and insects

Comparison of Earwig Behavior

Behavior Earwigs
Pinching Can pinch in defense, but typically not harmful to humans
Preying Occasionally prey on insects, but mainly feed on decaying plant material and dead insects

In summary, while earwigs may appear intimidating due to their pinchers, they are generally not dangerous to humans or considered major pests. Their primary role in the ecosystem involves scavenging and breaking down decaying matter, and their occasional preying on other insects does not typically pose significant risks or problems.

Footnotes

  1. UMN Extension – Earwigs 2 3

  2. Home Garden Education Center – Earwigs 2

  3. UNH Extension – Earwigs Fact Sheet 2

  4. NC State Extension Publications – Earwigs in the Landscape 2 3

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – White Earwig Newly Molted

 

Whitewig?
Hello,
Love your site! I used it regularly to ID strange bugs in and near my house. The other day while pulling weeds here in San Diego I disturbed this little guy. He was about the size of a regular earwig although his abdomen looked a little longer to me, and obviously, he’s white. I’m curious, is there such a thing as an albino earwig, or do they look like this normally at a subadult stage, or is it possibly something unrelated that just LOOKS earwiggy?
Thanks very much,
Andrea

Hi Andrea,
This is an Earwig. We believe it is a freshly molted specimen that hasn’t darkened. We will check with Eric Eaton to get his opinion. Eric responded: ” The earwig is indeed a freshly-molted specimen. There really is no such thing as an albino insect. There are white phases of some of the sulphur butterflies, but that is about it. Pale-colored specimens of other insects are typical of arid environments.”

Letter 2 – Ring-Legged Earwig

 

Subject: What is this bug ?
Location: Bathroom
January 10, 2016 7:59 pm
I have been seeing these bugs in my bathroom and it is freaking me out since I have a two year old can you tell me what it is ?
Signature: Taryn mcdermott

Ring-Legged Earwig
Ring-Legged Earwig

Dear Taryn,
We believe this earwig is a Ring-Legged Earwig,
Euborellia annulipes.  According to BugGuide, it is:  “A voracious predator, it will also eat all kinds of plant material, though rarely bothers with live plants” and “Not uncommon in homes and gardens, though often displaced by other species, esp. the European Earwig. Whatever damage it does to crops like lettuce and strawberries is usually more than made up for by destroying small slugs, caterpillars, termites, and many other pests.”  Earwigs may pinch with their cerci, the appendages that resemble forceps at the tip of the abdomen, but they are not considered a threat to humans.

Letter 3 – Ring-Legged Earwig

 

I’m from west central Alabama and we have been seeing these bugs around our house often could you please see if you could identify. I sent a message in on the 23 rd but have y heard back yet . I thought I’d try again.
Thanks. Karen Luepnitz

Ring-Legged Earwig

Dear Karen,
We are sorry about the delay.  We are currently out of the Los Angeles office visiting family and friends, and we are poaching internet access from former neighbors in Ohio, so the time we are spending responding to identification requests is minimal.  This is a Ring-Legged Earwig,
Euborellia annulipes , which you may verify by comparing your image to this BugGuide image.  According to BugGuide, their habitat is:  “under debris, rocks, and bark in dry and damp places. Its ability to live indoors and habit of hiding in dark places means it can show up just about anywhere people go” and “Not uncommon in homes and gardens, though often displaced by other species, esp. the European Earwig. Whatever damage it does to crops like lettuce and strawberries is usually more than made up for by destroying small slugs, caterpillars, termites, and many other pests.”

Letter 4 – Ring Legged Earwig

 

Subject: Found a few in and around my house
Location: Austin, TX
January 22, 2015 8:05 pm
Wondering what this bug might be.
Signature: CJD

Ring Legged Earwig
Ring Legged Earwig

Dear CJD,
We believe your Earwig is a Ring Legged Earwig,
Euborellia annulipes, based on images posted to BugGuide where it states:  “A voracious predator, it also eats all kinds of plant material, though it rarely bothers with live plants.”  Earwigs do not pose a danger to you or your home.

Letter 5 – Ringlegged Earwig

 

Subject: Weird BUG
Location: Alabama
November 17, 2015 9:32 am
Hello, I found this weird looking bug in my bathroom sink this morning ! I’ve seen it in the kitchen , in my room .. Everywhere ! Could you please tell me what it is!
Signature: Tatyana

Ringlegged Earwig
Ringlegged Earwig

Dear Tatyana,
Though your image lacks critical sharpness, we are relatively certain we have properly identified your creature as a Ringlegged Earwig,
Euborellia annulipes, based on this image posted to BugGuide.

Letter 6 – Ringlegged Earwigs: Dead of unknown causes

 

Unidentified Beetle??
Hi,
I need help identifying this beetle. I looked through the beetles on your site and couldn’t find one quite like this one. I started seeing larvae in our bedroom in late September. (About the time my antique bedroom suite came back from being refinished and stored in a warehouse. I was worried that they came with the bed.) The larvae looked similar to carpet beetle larvae. In fact the people who came to spray suggested that is what they were. Then they started to get larger. They are now crawling around the house. (They are not in any cabinets.) We had them come spray again and they could not identify the bug. We clean and vacuum all the time and they seem to keep coming back. Can you help us identify the bug so that we get rid of it? We live in a rural area near Memphis, Tennessee. The bug varies in size from .5 centimeter to 1.5 centimeters. The legs have are brown and varied. Please help! My son will be crawling soon and I want these critters gone!
Thanks!
Laura

Hi Laura,
The insects in your photo are Earwigs, not Beetles. They often enter homes, being attracted to lights, but they are basically harmless. The pincers can give a slight nip, but really can’t break the skin.

Update from Eric Eaton (01/04/2006)
” The earwigs are ringlegged earwigs, a pretty common, flightless species in urban areas.”

WTB? is Chastised!!!

earwig carnage answer
Mr. Bugman,
I am almost totally impressed by your site and your knowledge. Way cool nonetheless. “Almost” because I’m a bit disappointed by your answer to the person in Tennessee who hired a pest sprayer who couldn’t even identify an earwig (not high standards there fer sure). It seemed like a teaching moment, especially since she was more concerned about the presence of a harmless insect than the fact that she is spraying her house needlessly with a baby around. And she shouldn’t be hiring a total ignoramous to deal with her bug issues. Or maybe the carpet bug ID was a deliberate ruse to encourage her to spray.
Dave Tamayo
Sacramento, CA

Letter 7 – Shore Earwig

 

Subject: Earwig Species
Location: Florida
May 16, 2015 6:57 am
I found this bug at work inside our office the other day. I immediately recognized it as an earwig but it definitively wasn’t a typical one you see everywhere. It was a lot larger and it had very distinct coloring. I tried to identify it online but the closest image I got was tawny earwig but I was still not 100% positive on that identification. Hopefully you will have a better idea of what this exactly is. I live in Florida but we do get a lot of packaging from China so it’s good to keep that in mind as well (previous employees got a scorpion with one of the shipments). Hopefully this will be enough information to ID the species. Thank you.
Signature: Ivana

Shore Earwig
Shore Earwig

Dear Ivana,
We believe we have matched your image to an image of a male Shore Earwig,
Labidura riparia, that is posted to BugGuide.  According to BugGuide, it is:  “Cosmopolitan; introduced in NA, occurs across the southern states” and the habitat is:  “Coastal/riparian (along margins of various water bodies).”  Finally BugGuide notes that the Shore Earwig:  “Preys on various invertebrates, but may occasionally switch to plant material.”

Thank you for the quick responce. That is definitively a match. Very cool species!

 

Letter 8 – Striped Earwig

 

Subject: Unknown creepy crawler!
Location: Chandler, Arizona
November 16, 2016 12:18 pm
Hello Bugman! We live in Chandler, Arizona & see all kinds of different insects. Found this one in my dog’s empty food bowl this morning & have never seen anything like it! With a quick first glance, I thought it was a small scorpion, but once I picked up the bowl, I saw it only has 6 legs & no “stinger tail”. We think it’s an earwig. Should we be concerned? Can you help us identify this little guy?
Signature: K. Garrett

Striped Earwig
Striped Earwig

Dear K. Garrett,
You are correct that this is an Earwig, and we believe we have correctly identified it as a Striped Earwig or Shore Earwig,
Labidura riparia, thanks to this Bugguide image.  According to BugGuide:  “introduced in NA, occurs across the southern states” and its habitat is “Coastal/riparian.”  How close you are to a body of water?  BugGuide also indicates:  “Preys on various invertebrates, but may occasionally switch to plant material.”

Letter 9 – Unknown Earwig from India, not undisclosed location

 

House Bugs
November 25, 2009
We have tens of these bugs in our house. We are not sure about this bug. Can you please provide information about this bug and if it is harmful or not. If so, how can we get rid of them.
Many thanks for your information in advance.
Vj
Geographic Location of Bug    uploading the file

Earwig
Earwig

Dear Vj,
Your response to the Geographic Location of Bug is of no assistance to us since it doesn’t make any sense.  This is an Earwig, though we are quite curious where the photo was taken since it is a species we do not recognize.  The forceps are quite spectacular.

Dear Daniel,
Thanks a lot for the quick response.  I have uploaded some more photos of the same into the web site immediately, along with the Geographic location.  We are located in India > Andhra Pradesh (this is the state) > Hyderabad (city) > Miyapur (location).
We have a very big river right behind our house and we see many different types of bugs on a daily basis.  This perticular type of bugs are increasing in numbers.
Since we have a 8 year old son, who is developing some kind of rash now a days, we wanted to elimiate all possible options, including bug bites.
If you want I can send you some more pictures of the same.
Once again many thanks for your information.  I will gather more information on this bug from the web.
Best regards,
Vj.

Karl Comments
November 30, 2009Hi Daniel:
Earwigs are well beyond the fringe of my normal comfort zone, but I will give it a try. I believe the genus is Diplatys (Dermaptera: Pygidicranoidea: Diplatyidae: Diplatyinae) and I think Vj has photographed a nymph. According to an early but exhaustive work by Burr, 1911 (Dermaptera; In: Genera Insectorum) “Larvae [of Diplatys sp.] depressed; instead of forceps, having long segmented caudal styles, resembling antennae; number of segments varying from about fifteen to thirty; segments cylindrical, gradually lengthening after the second, the basal segment equaling in length the next five or six segments. This long basal segment is the sheath of the future forceps.” There are at least six representative species in India but photos and information are very difficult to find. D. lefroyi appears to be a relatively common species that does show a banded pattern and leg markings similar to Vj’s photo. Regards.
Karl

Letter 10 – What’s in the Tea Cup???? An Earwig

 

Subject: Long earwig-like thing
Location: Somerset, UK
July 30, 2015 12:44 am
Hello! I was wondering if you could help, no one here seems to know and I can’t find this insect in any ‘common British insects’ books.
I’m in England, I was just about to finish the last gulp of my tea when I saw this thing in the bottom of my mug. It was quite a shock, not least because of its size – it was about 1.5 inches long! The closest thing I can find that it looks like is an earwig, with those big pincers on the back but way bigger and with a much more extended abdomen. Sorry the pictures aren’t great.
Do you know what it is?
Signature: Emma

What's In the Tea Cup???
What’s In the Tea Cup???

Dear Emma,
We empathize with your experience, but we still find it terribly amusing.  The reason this looks like an Earwig is because it is an Earwig.  The beadlike antennae and forceps are plainly evident when zooming in for a close-up.

Earwig
Earwig

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

32 thoughts on “Do Earwigs Eat Wood? Debunking the Common Myth”

  1. Dave,
    I believe WTb is either too polite or too busy to CORRECT YOU! Either way they are an honest service or they wouldn’t have allowed your ill informed post to pass.

    EARWIGS ARE NEVER LARVAE! They do not go through a larval stage-Their metamorphosis is called gradual or incomplete. The babies are born looking very similar to the adults and it is highly unlikely to see any of them regardless. The pest company you trashed for lack of knowledge knew this and therefore ruled out what you erroneously came up with and WTB identified the pic and that is all they ever promised to do.
    http://pestcemetery.com/pincer-bugs-aka-earwigs/

    Perhaps you should apologize to both.

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Dear pestcemetery,
      Thanks so much for coming to our defense. We should have added the information you thoughtfully provided regarding immature earwigs and incomplete metamorphosis, an oversight on our part for sure to leave it out.

      Reply
  2. My heart is still beating fast.

    My mom just finished some alterations on my suit pants, so I went to the closet to grab my suit jacket and there was one of these things on it.

    scared the hell out of me !!!

    dublin, california

    Reply
  3. My heart is still beating fast.

    My mom just finished some alterations on my suit pants, so I went to the closet to grab my suit jacket and there was one of these things on it.

    scared the hell out of me !!!

    dublin, california

    Reply
  4. I always have a mass of earwigs on the pole of my washing line when I wind it up. And I just spied this anomaly today so I googled it. If it is just a newly molted one, why have I only ever seen one?

    Reply
    • Insects are more vulnerable when they have just molted and they are more likely to hide in more secluded places at that time.

      Reply
  5. Wow, except for the ending this sure does look a lot like the tiny rove beetles that have taken up residence in my home (I like them as I believe they are eating pests I’d rather not have). I wonder if earwigs and rove beetles are more related than we realize…

    Reply
  6. Still have chills from seeing one of these earlier on my towel. I thought it was some crazy weird insect and started looking around for more.
    Thank you for posting this to calm my worries!

    Reply
  7. Still have chills from seeing one of these earlier on my towel. I thought it was some crazy weird insect and started looking around for more.
    Thank you for posting this to calm my worries!

    Reply
  8. We went outsid at night to see what was eating our garden plants. They were all over especially the petunias. They are eating all the leaves from the vegtables. Is there a way to minimize these critters?

    Reply
  9. I found one up my trouser leg he had turned white and his brown body skin was next to him, so he must have removed it. I put him safely outside

    Reply
  10. Seen my 1st one the other day, I took a picture because I’ve seen tens of thousands of earwigs, but never an albino one.

    Reply
  11. I have a tendency to drink a cup of tea at night & then forget to drink it all before going to sleep. So i woke up one morning and toyed with the idea of drinking the remainder cold, but instead i threw it down in the sink. Which is just as well, since a drowned earwig fell out also. Now i NEVER finish my tea from the night before.

    Reply
  12. Thanks for this article; I saw one today and don’t remember seeing one before.

    How long do they normally stay white/light before they darken to the usual dark brown.

    Carmarthen, South Wales.

    Reply
  13. Thanks for this article; I saw one today and don’t remember seeing one before.

    How long do they normally stay white/light before they darken to the usual dark brown.

    Carmarthen, South Wales.

    Reply

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