The European Earwig (Forficula auricularia, Linnaeus 1758) is normally intercepted in bundles of plants, shrubbery, cut flowers and florists' equipment arriving from the Western United States. Man largely spreads the insect as it has only a limited ability for flight. The earwig was first recorded in Newport, Rhode Island in 1911. By 1915 a small colony was reported in Seattle, Washington. Later evidence indicates that despite its European origins, it first invaded North America on the western coast in the early 1900's before becoming widespread in the New England and Middle Atlantic states. The Earwig is most abundant where adequate rainfall or irrigation provide moisture and food. The name earwig springs from an unfounded myth that it lodges in the ear causing any number of folk tale ailments. In reality the Earwig, despite its fearsome appearance, is harmless to humans, but has a powerful scent gland that can release a foul odor when crushed.


The earwig is found throughout Europe but seldom in great numbers. While it has not become a serious economic threat in its homeland, it has become quite a pest in many parts of the United States.

Originally from the palearctic region, the earwig has been found in quantities in Canada (British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan) and the United States (Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah and Washington). Dr Kevin M. Hoffman from the Department of Entomology at Clemson University reports unpublished colonies in Kansas, Maryland, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. There is a questionable record for an appearance in Chile.


F. auricularia is a medium sized insect with a body length averaging between 12-15mm. The males have forceps from 4-8mm while the females are about 3mm. Male forceps vary from about half as long to as long as the upper abdomen, broadened at the basal end with crenulated teeth basally and on the beginning curvature of the inner margin. Antennae are segmented 14 to 15 times. The adult is a reddish brown with wing covers and legs being a yellowish hue. Males are distinguishable from other North American varieties of Earwig by their distinctive forceps.

Life History and Habits

The female lays between 50 and 90 eggs about 5-8mm below the surface of soil in the fall. The eggs are a shiny white about 1.5mm in length. Rich garden soil with a southern exposure is a favored deposition. The female does not die immediately, but instead hibernates and returns in the spring to care for the larvae during their early developmental stage. Some females may lay a second brood in the spring. The female and male cooperate in the construction of the nest in late August to early October. In the spring the male is ejected from the nest and dies shortly thereafter. The Earwigs' principal enemy is the tachinid fly, Bigonicheta spiniennis.

Hosts and Habitats

The European Earwig is an omnivore and feeds on other insects, plants, ripe fruit and garbage. It is particularly fond of clover, dahlias, zinnias, butterfly bush, hollyhock, lettuce, strawberry, celery, potatoes, roses, seedling beans and beets, and tender grass shoots and roots. It can also damage sweet corn by feeding on the silks. It is nocturnal, hiding during the day and foraging at night. In homes, it tends to hide in garden plants, shrubberies, along fences, in woodpiles, at the base of trees and behind loose boards on buildings and in the framework of walls. While chiefly an outdoor pest it is frequently brought inside with fruits and flowers.

New colonies tend to grow to a large population quickly and then gradually decline as resources dwindle or the home owner becomes aware of their presence. It is mostly disliked for its fearsome appearance, foul odor and habit of wallowing in kitchen refuse and wet mops. Although it does tend to destroy many household plants and kitchen produce it may have an unrecognized beneficial side effect as the majority of its diet is other small insects.

Major sources: University of Florida Department of Entomology.

Killing the Bastards

I am currently living in Eastern Oregon, which is not generally known for its rainfall. We had an unusually wet spring, though, and the earwigs have taken the opportunity to launch a full-scale invasion of everyone's house.

Since Roninspoon's earwig node is marvelously detailed, I will add only the Very Important Detail he left out: How To Kill The Little Buggers.

Earwigs are nocturnal. This is troubling on many levels, not the least of which is that they become active just as you get sleepy. They don't crawl into ears, but they do like to spend time under your warm covers if they can. Their nocturnal behavior also makes them harder to kill, what with all the darkness. You can go the "spray the Raid like a madman" route, but all you wind up doing is contaminating your own living space.

The little pissers hide under rugs and in gardens during the day. They come out in droves as soon as the sun sets and begin marching indoors, looking for dead insect parts to munch on. One way of keeping the earwig population down a bit is to vacuum obsessively, paying special attention to windowsills and doorjambs. If you can keep your entryways clear of dead insect parts, you stand a slightly smaller chance of evening infestation, as you've removed much of the earwig's buffet.

But that doesn't do the trick of killing the nasty things, does it?

Believe it or not, the best thing you can really do is trap the wee beasties. That, and pray for an early cold snap.

There are two approved methods for trapping earwigs. One is the old tuna fish can trick (which is also good for catching stray cats, but that's a different node entirely). You want to use the kind of tuna that's packed in oil. Open a can or two. Make some tuna salad. Leave a few millimeters of rich, stinky tuna fish oil in the bottom of the cans. Leave the oiled cans near whichever entryway seems to be the earwigs' entry point. The nasty things will be drawn to the oil, climb into the cans, and hopefully be too greasy or too happy to climb back out. In the morning - presto! - you will have a lovely tin of boiling, swarming earwigs, drunk on the oil and suitable for drowning in a bucket of hot, soapy water.

Alternatively, you can make a big, tight roll of newspaper and spray it with water until it's damp all the way through. Leave the roll beside the earwigs' entry routes. They'll saunter in and see a giant earwig condo! They'll stop to check out this prime real estate and burrow into the crevices in the paper! In the morning you will find a metric fuckton of earwigs nestled in the damp newsprint. The bonus is that it'll be morning, so they'll be all sleepy and inactive. Take the newspaper (carefully; don't wake them up) and drop it into a bucket of hot, soapy water. Watch them squirm and die in a most satisfying way.

Sadly, these methods will not completely prevent the nightly March of the Earwigs, but it will keep them otherwise occupied for the most part. Nothing will completely stop them until it gets really cold, so you are pretty much stuck with them until mid-September or so.

For all you Buddhists and earwig lovers out there, let me assure you that earwigs are a pest to be reckoned with. They have a bitter stink when you smish them, for one thing. Also, they actually do bite, regardless of what you've been brought up to believe. I have the little red bumps on my ankles to prove it. It's much like a flea bite, but it's even ickier because once you feel the nip you look down and there's this long, fearsomely pincered bug all curled up on your foot. They really get their whole bodies into the whole biting thing, like Gwen Stefani singing Holla Back Girl except much, much less cute.

And when I say "earwig infestation", I am patently NOT kidding. I am talking droves and droves here. They stream in like little jackbooted Nazis and immediately begin to crawl all over your living space as though they had an engraved invite. They like to hide in damp towels and dark spaces (like shoes and closets and folded clothes), so you never know when you'll encounter one with your naked body or naked foot.

Just this morning I went to grab a cigarette with my coffee. I was out of Camel Lights, so I'd bummed a pack of my mom's Vantages, which have a recessed filter. The pack had been on my bedside table all night long. For whatever reason, and thank God, I happened to look at the cig before I lit it. I noticed - wait for it - a pair of earwig pincers sticking out of the filter. One of the little bastards had made itself a nice cozy home inside the recessed filter while I was sleeping. That in itself is reason for a Stalinesque purge of the creepy little buggers.

Until the first fall cold snap, I'm sleeping with the lights on and with a tuna fish can by my window.

Ear"wig` (?), n. ear + wicga beetle, worm: cf. Prov. E. erri-wiggle.]

1. Zool.

Any insect of the genus Forticula and related genera, belonging to the order Euplexoptera.

2. Zool.

In America, any small chilopodous myriapod, esp. of the genus Geophilus.

Both insects are so called from the supposition that they creep into the human ear.


A whisperer of insinuations; a secret counselor.



© Webster 1913.

Ear"wig` (?), v. t. [imp. & p. p. Earwigged (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Earwigging (?).]

To influence, or attempt to influence, by whispered insinuations or private talk.

"No longer was he earwigged by the Lord Cravens."

Lord Campbell.


© Webster 1913.

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