Earwigs earned their name because they were once thought to crawl into human ears to chew on eardrums. This myth may have come from the fact that they look for small dark cavities in which to hide. Perhaps one did exceptionally take refuge in someone's ear, but the human ear is not an earwig habitat!
If handled carelessly, a male earwig can give a sharp pinch with his cerci, which he usually uses to attack his prey, scare his enemies and defend himself. These appendages also play an important role during courtship and mating.
Some earwig species have special glands located at the base of the abdomen that secrete a foul-smelling defensive liquid when the insect feels threatened.
Depending on the species, earwigs are herbivores, detritivores or omnivores.
The common earwig is the most abundant earwig in North America; this species was introduced from Europe, where it is often found in gardens. These omnivores are beneficial when not overly abundant, so the goal should be to control their populations, not eliminate them entirely. Check your garden at night with a flashlight to determine if earwigs are present. Plant damage can be extreme and looks much like slug damage; the main difference is that slugs will leave a slimy trail behind. There are a number of easy, “green” ways to control earwigs. Here are a few:
• start your vegetable garden as early as possible;
• use a compost mulch
• keep your lawn and garden free of dead leaves, wood piles and excess debris;
• make traps as described below and place them where earwigs congregate:
- rolled-up corrugated cardboard or newspaper;
- grooved boards tied together;
- short sections of old garden hose tied into bundles;
- an empty tuna (or other fish) can, with a bit of oil remaining or a few pieces of bread inside, set into the soil so it is flush with the surface;
• check the traps in the morning and drown the trapped earwigs in a pail of soapy water;
• spread diatomaceous earth in crevices and cracks, around woodpiles and around the outside of your foundation;
• spray the earwigs with diluted liquid soap.