Earwigs are often misunderstood creatures. These small, reddish-brown insects with distinctive pincers at the end of their abdomens are commonly found in homes and gardens. While they may appear intimidating, they are generally harmless to humans. In this article, we will delve into all you need to know about earwigs, their behavior, and how to manage their presence around your home.
There are several species of earwigs, but the two most common ones found in North America are the European earwig and the ringlegged earwig. The European earwig is approximately 1/2 to 3/4 inches long, with banded legs and a reddish head. On the other hand, the ringlegged earwig ranges from 1/2 to 3/5 inches long and is black-yellowish underneath, with dark crossbands on its legs.
Interesting fact: the pincers (cerci) on an earwig’s abdomen differ between males and females. Males have stout, strongly curved cerci, while females have straight-sided cerci. These forceps-like appendages are primarily used for defense and during courtship. So now that we’ve introduced these intriguing insects, let’s dive into their habits and how to manage them effectively around your home and garden.
What Are Earwigs?
Earwigs are small, reddish-brown insects that have unique forceps-like pincers (called cerci) at the end of their abdomen. They have:
- Medium length antennae
- Chewing mouthparts
- Short wings (in some species)
Types and Species
There are over 2,000 species of earwigs globally, but two common types include:
- European earwig (Forficula auricularia): 1/2 to 3/4 inches long, banded legs, reddish head
- Ringlegged earwig: 1/2 to 3/5 inches long, black-yellowish underneath, legs with dark crossbands
Earwigs belong to the insect order Dermaptera. This order comprises various suborders and families of earwigs, contributing to their diverse presence worldwide.
Lifespan and Metamorphosis
- Earwigs undergo incomplete metamorphosis, transitioning from an egg to a nymph, then to an adult.
- Their lifespan typically ranges from a few months to over a year, depending on the species and environmental conditions.
Habitat and Distribution
Earwigs prefer damp and dark environments. They usually dwell in:
- Moist areas: Earwigs seek moisture to thrive, so they’re commonly found in damp spaces.
- Soil: These insects often burrow into the top layers of soil to find shelter and food.
- Debris: Earwigs love hiding under garden debris, fallen leaves, or wood piles.
- Mulch: Garden mulch provides them with an ideal refuge due to its moisture retention properties.
- Leaf litter: The fallen leaves offer shelter and a food source for earwigs.
Earwigs can be found in different regions across the globe, such as:
- Temperate climates: These insects are more common in temperate climates due to the availability of their preferred habitats.
- North America: Earwigs are widespread throughout many parts of North America, including the European earwig and the ringlegged earwig.
- Asia: These pests are also found in various areas across Asia.
- New Zealand: Earwigs have made their way to New Zealand, posing challenges to local flora and fauna.
- Eurasia: Earwig species can be found throughout Europe and Asia.
- Americas: From the United States down to Argentina, earwigs have a broad geographical range in the Americas.
However, they’re not found in Antarctica due to the extreme cold and lack of suitable habitats.
|Presence of Earwigs
|Europe and Asia
Diet and Predators
Earwigs are omnivorous creatures that feed on a variety of plants and small insects. While they play a significant role in consuming decaying plants and fungi, they also enjoy feasting on vegetation, particularly in gardens. Earwigs typically consume the following:
- Vegetation: leaves, flowers, and fruits
- Small insects: aphids, mites, and insect eggs
- Decaying plants and fungi
They are also known to be important predators of certain pests in orchards, where they contribute to the suppression of soft-bodied pests such as woolly apple aphids and pear psylla.
Earwigs face various threats from predators in their natural habitat. Some of the most common enemies they encounter include:
These predators help keep earwig populations in check, providing a balance within the ecosystems they inhabit.
Behavior and Reproduction
Social Interactions and Mating Rituals
Earwigs are nocturnal creatures that prefer living in moist and musty places. They are generally herbivorous and are attracted to light, occasionally creeping into homes. As for interactions, they usually live individually but may aggregate in high-density populations.
During the mating season, earwigs conduct a unique courtship ritual. A male will climb on top of the female and tap her head with his rear end1. This mating dance comprises the following:
- Male climbs on the female
- Head tapping with rear-end
Once they mate, females lay eggs in burrows. This process highlights some essential aspects of earwig reproduction:
- Females are responsible for egg-laying
- Eggs are deposited in protected burrows
Nymphs and Maturation
After hatching, earwigs go through several nymph stages before maturing into adults. They molt as they grow and resemble their adult forms as they progress. Key points about nymphs and maturation include:
- Resemble adults after several molts
- Short antennae and shorter cerci
The lifespan of an earwig can range from several months to a year, depending on the species and environmental conditions.
Earwigs share some resemblance with ants and beetles, but their most distinctive feature is the pair of strong pinchers (cerci) on the tip of their abdomen2. They don’t have a complex brain, but they exhibit some minimal cognitive abilities. In search of food sources, earwigs may consume aphids, a common garden pest.
Earwigs in the Home and Garden
Infestations and Prevention
Earwigs are flat, reddish-brown insects, about 5/8 inch long, with a pair of strong pinchers (cerci) on the tip of their abdomen1. They are nocturnal creatures, hiding in dark, damp places during the day, and can be found around doors and windows due to their attraction to light2.
To prevent earwig infestations:
- Caulk or apply weather stripping around doors and windows1.
- Remove damp and decaying organic matter from your property.
Natural Predators and Pesticides
Earwigs have several natural predators, including birds, frogs, and beneficial insects like tachinid flies3. Encouraging these predators can help control earwig populations. If infestations persist, outdoor chemical treatments may be needed1.
Use of pesticides:
- Effective in controlling large earwig populations.
- Faster solution than natural methods.
- Can harm beneficial insects and disrupt the ecosystem.
- May have negative effects on human health and pets.
One effective alternative approach to pesticides is trapping4. Traps can be made using low-sided cans (such as cat food or tuna cans) with 1/2 inch of oil in the bottom4. Hide traps near shrubbery, ground cover, or against fences.
Getting Rid of Earwigs
Pest Control Methods
There are various ways to remove earwigs from your home and garden:
- Diatomaceous Earth: Spread food-grade diatomaceous earth around the infested areas. It is a natural, non-toxic substance that damages the earwigs’ exoskeleton, causing dehydration and eventually death.
- Vacuum: Use a vacuum cleaner to suck up earwigs hiding indoors, especially in kitchens and bathrooms.
Traps and Insecticides
Trapping earwigs can be an effective method for reducing their population:
- Homemade Traps: Place multiple traps throughout the yard, near shrubbery and ground cover plantings, or against fences. An excellent trap can be made using a low-sided can with 1/2 inch of oil in the bottom.
- Insecticides: Use insecticides labeled for earwig control, and apply according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Keep in mind that chemical insecticides can also harm beneficial insects in your garden.
To prevent earwigs from becoming a problem, consider the following steps:
- Remove outdoor hiding places for earwigs, such as piles of leaves, peaches, or any other fruits that have fallen to the ground.
- Seal cracks and gaps around doors, windows, and foundations, to prevent earwigs from entering your home.
- Maintain a clean and dry environment in your home, as earwigs are attracted to moist and damp areas.
|Natural, non-toxic, effective
|May need reapplication after rain or watering
|Instant removal, non-toxic
|Only effective indoors
|Cost-effective, non-toxic, easy to create
|Can take time to see results
|May harm beneficial insects
By utilizing a combination of these pest control methods, traps, insecticides, and preventative measures, you can effectively manage and prevent earwig infestations in your home and garden.
Fun and Interesting Facts
- Earwigs are small insects, about 5/8 inch long, with a flat, reddish-brown body and very short wings 1.
- They have medium-length antennae and chewing mouthparts.
- A distinct feature of earwigs is their pair of strong pinchers (cerci) on the tip of their abdomen.
- These pinchers are primarily used for defense, but they do not typically harm humans, as the pinch has no venom 3.
Earwigs are mostly nocturnal and prefer moist, dark environments. They hide in mulch, soil, and plant debris during the day 4. In homes, they can be found in kitchens or bathrooms, which are typically more humid and damp.
Here is a comparison of two common earwig species:
|1/2 to 3/4 inches
|1/2 to 3/5 inches
|Legs with crossbands
- Both species are known to occasionally be attracted to flowers, but their primary food source is other insects and plant matter 4.
- They can exhibit signs of aggression when threatened, using their pinchers to grasp onto skin, although the pinch is not dangerous or venomous.
- Some people believe that earwigs will crawl into ears to lay eggs, but this is purely a myth, as earwigs prefer dark and moist environments like soil or mulch 2.
Earwigs can become a nuisance when they invade homes and gardens because they can be destructive to house plants. To prevent an infestation, keep your home clean and free of clutter, which can attract earwigs. Additionally, seal any cracks or gaps in your home to deny them entry.
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 – Earwig
Subject: Mystery bug
Location: Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
December 31, 2013 11:56 am
I dropped a box of strawberries on the floor and as I was picking them up I noticed this little guy. Not sure if he was a stow away from somewhere in California or not. I live in Saskatchewan, Canada, where currently winter is just beginning and it’s -40 Celsius with wind chill. I have never seen a bug like this around here so any ideas are much appreciated! Thanks for your time.
Signature: Jess from SK
This Earwign appears to be in the genus Doru, and according to BugGuide: “Back edge of the forewings is black, with the other two thirds yellow. With wings folded this gives the appearance of a black stripe down the middle of the back.” Though most of the sightings on BugGuide are from the south, it is indicated that these Earwigs are found in Ontario. So, it may have been a stowaway on the strawberries, or it may have been a local species for you, though we would favor the stowaway possibility.
Letter 2 – Earwig
Earwigs in Kansas in February!
February 20, 2010
Greetings again from Topeka, Kansas!
I already know what I’ve got here, but thought it might be worth sharing.
I am including an unremarkable photo of an earwig. The remarkable thing is that the photo was taken today, February-20-2010, here in Kansas.
It’s around 30 degrees F. outside, and snowing too. I thought it was pretty interesting to find an earwig today at the local shopping mall…OK he was indoors, but that makes me wonder…and maybe you can shed some light on this, How long do these guys live? It must be a lot longer than flies, and moths, huh?
Thanks for all you do!
Kansas, United States (right in the middle)
Your Earwig is a Ring Legged Earwig, Euborellia annulipes. According to BugGuide: “A medium-sized dark-brown earwig with dark areas on the light-yellow legs (“black armbands”). Although the species has both winged and wingless forms, only the wingless ones are found in our area. Adults have antennae with 14-16 segments, the third and fourth (sometimes the fifth) from the end being white or pale.” BugGuide also indicates: “Its ability to live indoors and habit of hiding in dark places means it can show up just about anywhere people go.” We are not certain what the maximum life expectancy for an Earwig is, but we suspect it is approximately a year.
Letter 3 – Earwig
Subject: I’m just curious
July 26, 2017 11:30 pm
I found this on my wall, and I’m not sure if it has wings or not. I’m just curious about what it is
Signature: I can’t find anyone else
Based on the similar appearance to this BugGuide image, we are confident that your Earwig is a female European Earwig, Forficula auricularia. Male European Earwigs have considerably larger forceps. According to BugGuide, they are now “Cosmopolitan, native to western Palearctic; widely though spottily distributed across NA; introduced from Europe around 1910.”
Letter 4 – Artist's Rendering of an Earwig
After an hour of surfing the web and looking at hundreds of pictures of bugs I am still yet to learn what kind of bug I found crawling around my apartment. I am coming to you in search of answers. I noticed this particular insect when I was cleaning my room the other day and became extremely curious as to what kind of bug this is, considering I have never seen it before. It is no longer than a thumbnail. It’s body is black, but it’s legs are a very light brown color (almost transparent). It’s body is oddly shaped and has a pincher or "claw" on it’s backside. I will say that it is a very strong critter because it took a lot more than I expected to kill it (I know, I know, I probably shouldn’t have killed it, but I did not know what it was and it creeped me out). I assume that it uses it’s "claw" to catch things to eat because before it died I poked it’s pincher with a small wooden skewer and it closed its pincher on the skewer. Any information you might have as to what this insect may be will be oh so helpful to me.
PS- I found it on my bedroom floor away not near an outside door. My location is in Lafayette, Louisiana if that is to any help. I also attached a sketch I drew of the specimen with a sketch of a fingernail file for reference to the size of the insect. Thanks again.
We love your rendering of an Earwig. Those pincers are known as forceps and they do grasp prey as well as performing other tasks. They are omniverous feeders, sometimes doing damage in gardens. They love our roses. They are often attracted indoors, but are generally outdoor critters.
Letter 5 – Cave Earwigs from Deer Cave, Malaysia: Symbiosis with Hairless Bulldog Bats
Subject: Unidentified bug in Mulu
Location: Mulu, Sarawak, Malaysia
November 8, 2014 10:24 am
We saw these bugs recently on a rock inside the Deer Cave in Mulu National Park in Sarawak and would be interested to know their name and a little about their lifecycle as the inside of the cave is pitch black.
Our first thought was that these must be Orthopterans, members of the order that included Crickets and Grasshoppers, but a search brought us to a Flicker posting that identifies these unusual insects as Earwigs, Arixenia esau. Paul Bertner who posted the image wrote: “Found during a day walk in Deer cave, Mulu national park, HQ. Notice the reduced cerci, this is due to the earwig’s modified lifestyle in which it has given up its predatory role and instead lives epizootically; which is to say that it lives on or around another animal in either a mutualistic or parasitic relationship. Arixenia specifically feed on the body or glandular secretions of bats (usually Malaysian hairless bulldog bats) in the folds of skin or gular pouch. Unlike other genera of earwigs, some species of Arixenia are viviparous (give birth to live young).” Images on Discover Life and Science Photo Library support the identification.
We believe the insects on the bat head are immature Earwigs.
Many thanks for that information. I also thought that it may have been some kind of a cricket but I am very pleased to now be able to put a name to my photograph.
Letter 6 – Cerci of an Earwig, we presume
Subject: What type of bug is it?
Geographic location of the bug: My room
Time: 02:39 AM EDT
Can you please tell me what kind of bug this is I found it in my room and I’ve been getting bit every night and I’m not sure what kind of bug is biting me I need to figure it out by all the nasty bites I’ve been getting every night. I thought it was bed bugs but it turns out it wasn’t. And I’m the only one in the house getting bit.
How you want your letter signed: Solei Austin
Google Maps is not helping with your location “my room” so we are still clueless as to your location. This is not a complete insect, and generally insect body parts can be difficult to identify using images, but we believe these are the distinctive Cerci of an Earwig.
My location is Pomona California. Are you sure its the distinctive earwig? I believe the pinchers of an earwig is on the butt side and in this picture of the big I sent you the pinchers are in front of it’s face and the pinchers are a lot longer. I couldn’t find anything on google either that is similar to it.
Sincerely Ms. Austin
Whatever was in the image you sent is not a complete insect. We might be wrong, but it does not look like the head of anything.
Letter 7 – Earwig
Update: August 21, 2015
In 2007, we created our Nasty Reader Award because we occasionally receive rude requests and responses, and in researching an Earwig today, we stumbled upon this older posting that predated our Nasty Reader Award, and though it is not quite as virulent as other letters in this tag, we felt we could retroactively include this submission.
Thanks a lot for nothing. I found out what type of bug it is. If you’re not going to respond then you need to take the link down. I’ve noticed that you’ve posted several bugs since I first posted this message. Is anybody ever going to respond to my message about this bug I found. I’ve searched all over the internet and no responses from anybody. Yet, I look at your site and I see new pictures and emails posted. My gosh, is it that difficult to find help!!! I am resending this message. Feel free to post on your site if you like. But, please respond and let me know what these little critters are. Thank you very much.
Chris from Huntsville, Alabama
I’ve been searching for this particular bug on your website and can’t seem to find it. It looks like the bug on your homepage on the left hand side right above ASK WTB. I’ve taken a couple of pictures and hopefully you can identify this bug for me. I’ve seen just a few in my attic and from time to time in the children’s bedroom and other parts of the house. Please Help. Attached are the pictures. Thanks,
Dear Demanding Chris,
This is an Earwig. Nowhere on our site is there any guarantee that we will answer every letter. In addition to working several jobs, we are very active in community service and some days we can only post one letter, and that takes time. Just for the fun of it, we have decided to forward all the mail our site received today to you. Perhaps you can answer everyone.
P.S. Did your mommy do your homework???
Update: (08/16/2008) That was too Funny!!!
Thanks….. For a Great LOL this morning regarding this older post. I had to read it twice just to make sure I read correctly. Your answer was right on! My Daughter thought these were poisonous. I can now let her know they are not. Awesome Web site! Thanks Again,
Letter 8 – Earwig
I recently sent you a picture of a Great golden digger wasp that I found digging a hole. I thought you might enjoy this photo of an Earwig that I took today as well. I find myself searching out bugs now that I found your site.
We have been online entirely too long this morning. The plants need watering and morning chores must begin. We had to post your photo before logging off. thanks.
Letter 9 – Earwig
Can you identify this bug?
My friend in Texas found this bug in her daughter’s
bedroom. Do you know what it is? Thanks! Tonja
This is an Earwig. They are harmless, though frightening looking. Those pincers can give a very mild nip, and are incapable of breaking the skin. They are sometimes attracted to lights and find their way indoors, but are not household pests. Sometimes they get very numerous in the garden where they may eat tender plant shoots and buds.
Letter 10 – Earwig
IDing this bug
Hi, I’m trying to identify this bug. I am no etymologist, but I believe this is a picture of an Earwig. If you could please identify this bug, I would be grateful.
Thank you for your time,
Yes you have an earwig.
Letter 11 – Earwig
What’s this bug?
This is probably a common bug but I’ve never seen one before. It was on my front door here in Philadelphia. Does it use the tail to attack? If so what kind of enemies would it face? Thanks guys!
You have sent in a photo of a common Earwig. They fly and are attracted to lights. Those foreceps can give a mild nip, but will not break the skin. They are used to catch and manipulate prey as well as to fend off enemies. Your Earwig is male European earwig, Forficula auricularia. Trophy male with those forceps!
Letter 12 – Earwig
I found this bug in a comforter that had been sitting on the carpet a couple days. First, I thought it might be a pantry beetle, but I’m not sure pantry beetles have a pincher at the end. It looks like it would REALLY hurt if this thing bit someone. Can you help me identify it so I will know how to proceed with extermination?
At last, a reader has sent in a photo of an earwig. You don’t need an exterminator. They are sometimes attracted to lights.
Letter 13 – Earwig
Help identifying bug, It’s driving us crazy!
Location: Palmdale, California
May 15, 2011 12:50 am
Hello, I see these bugs mostly downstairs in my house. In the kitchen and sometimes the bathrooms. I have also seen them in my den/dining room and crawling on walls and once on the ceiling. I live in the Antelope Valley of California, also known as the High Desert. There are tons of mountains around. The climate right now varies from cold to hot although it is spring. Winters get as cold as 20 degrees, and summers 110.
Signature: Driven crazy
Dear Driven crazy,
You have Earwigs. They will not harm you or your home, but they may eat young seedlings and tender plants in the garden.
Letter 14 – Earwig
What is this?
Location: Eagle Pass, TX
September 12, 2011 1:35 am
I saw it crawling around my living room, at first I thought it was a cricket that escaped from my Gecko’s tank. That was until I turned the lights on.
Signature: Mike C.
This is an Earwig, an insect that is common in gardens. We have identified it as a Striped Earwig, Labidura riparia, based on this photo posted to BugGuide. According to BugGuide, it: “Preys on various invertebrates, but may occasionally switch to plant material.”
Letter 15 – Earwig
Subject: creepy bug
Location: santa barbara
November 22, 2013 10:39 pm
I found this bug in my kitchen. I live in Santa Barbara Caliornia. Any idea on the type of bug this is?
This is an Earwig, and judging by the size of the cerci or pincers, this is a male. Earwigs are basically harmless, though when they are numerous, they can do some damage in the garden, eating such things as rose buds. According to BugGuide: “Earwigs are sensitive to heat and dryness, so they usually hide in cool, dark places during the day and come out at night. Some species hide mostly under leaves, rocks and other debris, while others hide under the bark of trees. An important habitat in the deserts of the southwest US is inside rotting cactus- one of the few places with constant moisture even in the driest parts of the year. Winged species are often attracted to light at night.” The name Earwig is allegedly derived from the Anglo-Saxon word earwicga, which according to Charles Hogue in Insects of the Los Angeles Basin, refers to the notion that the Anglo-Saxons slept in sod huts with straw mattresses and “the warm and tight ear opening of a slumbering person might well have been a snug hiding place for these crevice-loving creatures.”
Letter 16 – Earwig
Subject: Garage key-pad-loving bug. Help!
August 20, 2015 8:11 pm
To whom it may concern,
This kind of bug has been very attracted to (and is somehow crawling into) our garage keypad box. Whenever I open it and see one (or two or three) I knock them off but more come back! What kind of bug is this? It freaks me out to open my own garage, so I would greatly appreciate the help!
Signature: Thank you!
This is an Earwig and though they can be an annoyance, they are basically benign. Earwigs often seek small enclosures within which to congregate.
Letter 17 – Earwig
Subject: Found this in my house plant
Location: Junction City Oregon
January 4, 2016 5:20 pm
I found this in my house plant that I’ve had for 6 years I have no idea what it is it seems to have some sort of cocoon or pod next to it
Signature: Ms Doyal
Dear Ms Doyal,
This sure looks like an Earwig to us. They tend to take shelter in enclosed areas like the crown of this plant.
Letter 18 – Earwig
Subject: What is this?
Location: Los Angeles
May 6, 2016 8:57 am
Hi there, wondering if you can identify this, and know how to keep them at bay.
This is an Earwig, a common insect in the garden and they readily enter homes. We believe your individual is a male European Earwig, Forficula auricularia, based on images found on BugGuide. According to Penn State Department of Entomology: “Earwigs are active at night and hide during the day in cracks and crevices. They are mainly scavengers and occasionally feed on plants. The eggs are laid in burrows in the ground and most species overwinter as adults.” The site further elaborates: “Because large numbers may seek shelter in and around homes, the European earwig also has become a notorious household pest in some areas. Although population explosions of this insect are not as intensive as those following its initial introduction into the United States, it is not uncommon to have isolated areas with high populations during periods of warm and humid weather. When earwigs do invade homes, they can get into everything, including laundry, furniture, loaves of bread, and even clothing and bedding. They hide in cracks and crevices throughout the home and are difficult to keep out, even with the use of screens and other mechanical barriers.” We do not provide extermination advice, but the Penn State site does provide this management strategy: “Modification of surrounding areas – Earwigs can be found in large numbers under boards, in tree holes, under decaying bark, or wherever it is moist and dark. The first step to controlling earwigs is to eliminate these and other breeding and nesting places. Homeowners should remove decaying vegetable matter around the home, such as piles of leaves or grass clippings. They should also repair poorly placed rain downspouts and broken irrigation systems, which contribute to moist, dark areas that are attractive to nesting females.”
Ah, brilliant! That’s definitely it. Thank you so much!!!
Letter 19 – Earwig
Subject: Bug on patio and siding
June 26, 2016 7:21 am
We are putting some siding up that we got from someone and it has been lying on our patio for some weeks. We have had a lot of rain and today my husband said he saw some of these bugs/insects. I only saw a few of them, but could be hiding and there is water lying on the siding in puddles. Just want to make sure it isn’t something that would harm the home when put on. He is trying to wipe off each piece before he installs.
Signature: Terri Downing
This is an Earwig in the order Dermaptera, and it sound like the siding your stored on your patio that got damp has created the perfect habitat for them. According to BugGuide: “Earwigs are sensitive to heat and dryness, so they usually hide in cool, dark places during the day and come out at night. Some species hide mostly under leaves, rocks and other debris, while others hide under the bark of trees. An important habitat in the deserts of the southwest US is inside rotting cactus- one of the few places with constant moisture even in the driest parts of the year. Winged species are often attracted to light at night.” The presence of many Earwigs is more a nuisance than a problem.
Letter 20 – Earwig
Subject: A bug I’ve never seen before.
September 23, 2016 6:49 am
Check this out. What is it?
Signature: Josh Jordan
Congratulations on seeing your first Earwig.