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Earwigs: Don’t judge the bug by its cover

Earwigs: Don’t judge the bug by its cover


Although UNL Extension educator Jody Green detested earwigs when she was growing up, they may have been one of the reasons she has become an entomologist.

“I hated them as a kid,” said Green, a pest expert and co-host of Arthro-Pod entomology podcasts.

Earwigs have slender, flexible, flattened bodies with bead-like antennae. They have large, forceps-like pincers at the tip of their abdomen and short wing covers. Males have curved pincers with teeth and females have straight pincers.

Most times earwigs are considered pests, Green said. They can cause some defoliation of vegetation. People dislike them because large numbers show up in flowers and home gardens, she said.

“Their presence and odor are gross,” Green said. “People are generally repulsed by them – especially when they are inside the peach when you take a bite.”

On her podcast, she reminisced about her early experiences with the insect. She grew up in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, so her exposure to the insect was limited. But every summer, she taught at a science camp and would stay with her cousin who lived on a lake.

“We slept in a bedroom with an attached bathroom,” Green said. “The bathroom was partially underground; it was damp and dark.”

At night nobody wanted to go into the bathroom. She said when you turned on the light because earwigs were everywhere; on the counter, on the wall and even in the shower.

“We needed to fight back against these earwigs,” Green said. “I wanted to know how many there were.”

So, the budding scientist collected the insects in a jar. She said she had caught about 30 of them at one time.

“I went into the bathroom and turned on the light,” Green said. “There were more earwigs. Some were even looking in the jar at the captured earwigs.”

Some while later, Green’s cousin related a story about a time she was in grade school. She had poured milk in a thermos to take to school to drink at lunch. During her meal, her cousin drank some milk. She said she felt something in her mouth, spit the milk out and observed a dead earwig floating in the milk.

“Now I don’t hate earwigs,” Green said. “I think they are cool. Their wings fold like origami.”

Earwigs make up the insect order Dermaptera. There are about 2,000 species in 12 families. The most commonly encountered are the Forficula auricularia, known as the common earwig or European earwig.

Though they look rather vicious, earwigs are not harmful to people, Green said. They are not venomous, but the male earwig with the long, curved cerci can pinch quite forcefully for a small insect, she said.

They are omnivorous. Their diet includes fruit, vegetables and flowers. Their favorites include apples, peaches, plums, pears and strawberries for fruits and zinnias for flowers. They like to aggregate and hide in the vegetation, Green said.

On the plus side, they are predators to small insects such as aphids, spiders, springtails and pest eggs/pupa. So, they are thought to be beneficial predators and a natural form of pest control in orchards.

To manage earwigs, Green suggests trapping them with wooden boards or rolled up newspapers or pitfalls sunken in the soil. Exclusion practices include reducing clutter and leaf litter, she said.

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