Perhaps you’ve heard the wives’ tales of dangerous, ear-dwelling insects equipped with large pincers and an affinity for human brains? Unfortunately, earwigs are known more for their reputation than their actual nature, once thought to crawl inside the ears of unsuspecting sleepers, lay their eggs, and feed on your brains!

Fortunately, these horror-movie-esque stories are fictional, for earwigs are nothing more than harmless, albeit frightening-looking home and garden pests. While they tend to snack on many bugs in PA, making them helpful, they can also wreak havoc on garden vegetation. 

Earwigs are a common pest throughout North America and the rest of the globe. These little insects commonly invoke fear due to the large, pincer-like “cerci,” or appendages, located at the rear of their abdomens, though they’re generally harmless to humans and pets.

In the following article, we’ll answer several questions regarding Earwigs, from what they are and whether they’re dangerous to the necessary steps to get rid of them. 

What Are Earwigs?

Earwigs are a generally harmless insect of the Dermaptera order, meaning “skin wing,” due to the rarely used, ornate flight wings located beneath their tough, leathery forewings. 

To answer your first burning question, yes Earwigs can fly, though flight is rarely seen due to their preference for scurrying across the ground. Additionally, Earwigs are extremely clumsy creatures, generally only flying very short distances from extreme heights to avoid predators. 

The name “Earwig” has several suspected roots, though entomologists suggest that the name originates from the ear-like appearance of their flight wings when fully unfolded. Contrary to popular belief, the name likely has nothing to do with the falsified horror stories of the insect burrowing into ears!  

These insects are generally harmless despite their menacing appearance and nasty reputation. While several species of Earwigs exist, they all share the same relative characteristics. Earwigs are long, narrow, and flat, allowing them to burrow into small crevices, underneath bark, under leaves, and other tight fits that other similar-sized insects wouldn’t dare travel into. 

Additionally, Earwigs feature two large antennae, six legs, and a pair of menacing, pincer-like appendages on their abdomen, referred to as “cerci.” These appendages are the root of their colloquial nickname “pincher bug,” though they aren’t likely to pinch humans or pets. Primarily, Earwigs use their cerci to fight off predators and capture prey. The size and shape of an Earwig’s cerci is one of the key differences between males and females, with male Earwigs featuring curved cerci and females featuring straight appendages.   

Are They Harmful to Humans and Animals? 

Earwigs are not generally harmful to you, your children, or your pets. However, these little invertebrates have a nasty reputation, primarily due to their name and colloquial nickname, though they’ve hardly been found in ears or pinching humans. 

Earwigs spend the majority of their time hiding in cracks, crevices, under leaves, or other damp, dark hiding places. They tend only to expose themselves while hunting in the evening, and even in the rare chance that you come across one, they aren’t likely to turn their pincers in your direction. Even if an Earwig sets its cerci on your flesh, these appendages are not venomous and will cause no lingering side effects. 

While not directly harmful to humans and animals, Earwigs often threaten gardens and other vegetation, leading to indirect harm due to loss of harvest. While this won’t be harmful to the majority, Earwigs can put a serious dent in production from your yearly garden!

What Attracts Earwigs to Your House? 

Like most nuisance pests, Earwigs migrate to areas where their basic necessities can be found, such as food, water, and shelter; they also don’t shy away from human dwellings. Additionally, Earwigs are attracted to the light, and considering they’re nocturnal, they will often end up traveling to porch lights and other illuminated areas of your home. 

Earwigs are omnivorous, so they’ll consume practically anything that suits their needs, including 

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Flowers
  • Vegetation
  • Decaying organic material
  • Other Insects

For this reason, Earwigs are often found in homes and gardens where vegetation and other invertebrates can be found. 

Earwigs tend to like dark, damp dwellings to reside; therefore, basements, pipes, and any crack or crevice just large enough to house the insect is fair game. Earwigs can also be found around sinks, in bathrooms, and any other areas with an abundance of moisture.

Luckily, because Earwigs are relatively anti-social and do not exist in colonies with a queen, they’re generally found individually and rarely cause infestations.  

How Do You Get Rid of Earwigs? 

The most effective way to control an Earwig infestation in and around your home is to prevent them from wanting to enter in the first place. The most effective means of doing so is to rid your home of potential hiding places, such as cracks, crevices, and dark, damp locations. 

You can take several steps in your yard to minimize the Earwig population. This consists of: 

  • Clearing felled timbers, rotting wood, and other organic debris
  • Moving wood piles away from the foundation and siding
  • Creating a moisture-free zone that extends roughly a foot out from your home’s foundation
  • Trimming trees that cast shade onto your home

Around your home’s exterior, a similar series of steps can be taken, including: 

  • Closing possible entry points
  • Drying moisture-prone basements, bathrooms, and laundry rooms
  • Directing exterior lighting onto your home, rather than onto landscaping
  • Ensuring drains are properly functioning 
  • Watering the lawn/plants in the early morning to ensure ample time to dry during the day

If these methods don’t seem to rid your home of Earwigs, several other steps can be taken to eradicate your home’s Earwig population. The following methods are all insecticides, though some are much more toxic than others and should be used with extreme caution. 

On the non-toxic side, a 50/50 mixture of rubbing alcohol and water can help to protect your plants from Earwigs and kill the pests on sight. Spraying a 50/50 mixture of dish soap and water has a similar effect and is most effective when sprayed in areas where Earwigs are commonly found. Diatomaceous earth is another excellent non-toxic treatment; when sprinkled around the base of plants and in areas where Earwigs are commonly seen, this fossilized algae acts as an abrasive to scratch their soft body parts and draw out moisture, causing death by dehydration. 

On the toxic end of the spectrum, chemicals such as boric acid and compatible pesticides can effectively kill current pests and prevent others from returning. Please note, chemicals and pesticides are often harmful to pets and humans, so caution is always advised when employing chemical treatments. 

If all else fails, don’t hesitate to call your local pest specialists! Earwig infestations can commonly be handled with proper preparation and treatments. 

Concluding Thoughts

So are Earwigs truly as frightening and dangerous as their appearance and reputation suggest? Of course not. Earwigs won’t crawl in your ears to lay eggs or eat your brains like a crazed zombie.  

Earwigs are small invertebrates of the Dermaptera order. They’re generally harmless to all humans and pets, and while they can pinch and fly, they rarely engage in either and are non-venomous. So when it comes to your property, they won’t cause any major damage, though they may feed on gardens and vegetation. 

Eradicating them is as simple as making your home less hospitable and treating them with your choice of chemical or non-toxic solutions. And if the above-outlined treatments don’t work, don’t hesitate to contact a certified pest control specialist for professional assistance.