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Earwigs

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on September 30, 2020

What Are Earwigs?

Earwigs are generally harmless bugs with a bad reputation. Despite what you may have heard, they do not in fact crawl into your ears. The name is inaccurate. The bug’s name comes from the Old English words ear wicga, which roughly translates to “ear wiggler” or “ear creature,” which is how the myth began about this type of insect crawling into your ears while you sleep. Even more disturbing, the mistaken belief held that once in the ear, these insects can tunnel into your brain and lay eggs there. This, too, is false. These bugs aren’t even interested in entering the human ear.

The adult earwig is brownish-black and about three-quarters of an inch long. The male’s forceps are curved and the female's are straight. Earwigs have a tiny pair of rear wings that look like fans when they’re open. Even though it has wings, the insect isn’t big on flying.

Of the 22 species of earwigs in the U.S., only four or five of them are household pests that ever venture into our homes seeking dark, cozy places for shelter. (Not your ears.)

Where Do Earwigs Live?

Earwigs hide out during the day under and inside leaves, in ground-level debris outdoors, stones, garden mulch, under loose tree bark, and cracks and crevices of trunks. They like dark, shaded, moist environments.

It’s only when they’re disturbed (by humans, for instance) that earwigs scurry off looking for fresh hiding places that might include indoors, where they are often mistaken for cockroaches.

Earwigs are scavengers that come out at night to eat decaying organic rubbish, plus grass, plants, flowers, berries, shrubs, moss, and other insects -- dead or alive -- such as caterpillars and the eggs from moths and other pests.

Earwig eggs are small, oval, and pearly white in color, and are laid in batches of 30 to 60 in underground nests -- far removed from your ears -- during the stretch of seasons from fall to spring.

Earwig Risks

Looks are deceiving when it comes to earwigs. Their claw-like forceps, called cerci, can seem menacing at first glance. But they use their pincers for protection from other animals and to capture prey, not to pinch or bite people.

All in all, earwigs aren’t dangerous. They don’t usually bite people or spread disease. But you could get pinched by their “claws” if you pick up an earwig. The pinch might hurt, but their pincers don’t have venom. But they can wreak havoc on gardens, fruit, and leaves and stunt the growth of young seedlings.

How to Prevent Earwigs

If you do notice earwigs in your home, there are three ways to get rid of them.

Seal cracksaround windows and doors and move debris away from your home. Earwigs like moist, covered to places to hide and nest, such as mulch, leaf piles and grass clippings. Keep windows and doorways clear of these kinds of earwig-friendly habitats and make sure your gutters and drains are clearing rainwater away from the house to avoid moisture.

Use traps such as rolled up corrugated cardboard or newspapers with a small amount of food inside (wheat bran and wheat germ has proven popular with these little critters). Once the earwigs have gathered inside, you can bag and discard the trap or empty the earwigs out into a small container of oil where they will be trapped. Similarly, you can submerge small cups of oil in the ground near earwig nesting areas. Leave a little room at the top of the container to lure the earwigs into the oil where they will drown.

Spray pesticides around the exterior of your home. Follow directions carefully.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Penn State College of Agricultural Studies: “European Earwigs.”

Farmers’ Almanac: “How Did These 7 Bugs Get Their Names?”

Washington State University: “WSU Tree Fruit.”

PestWorld.org: “Earwigs.”

Lexico, Powered by Oxford: “Definition of the word ‘earwig.’”

Colorado State University Extension: “European Earwigs”

Medscape: “What are the health risks of cockroach and earwig exposures?”

 

 
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