A long, thin body with terrifying plier-like pinchers at the tip, anybody will instantly recognize an earwig when it crawls along! In the garden, people often accuse it of damaging plants.
In truth, it’s quite the opposite! Its diet is both vegetarian and carnivorous, which makes earwig an excellent ally in the battle between organic treatments and pests such as aphids and parasites. The time has come to set the record straight, and to rehabilitate this beneficial insect’s tarnished reputation.
More beneficial animals to adopt:
Earwig: key facts
Across Europe, even though there are over two dozen species, the ones that are the most common are:
- Common earwig (Forficula auricularia) which is a half-inch long insect (12 to 20 mm). It has wings, is brown, and the claws at the end are curved back on male specimens (those of the female are straighter).
- The mourning earwig (Euborellia moesta) is smaller than its cousin, barely one-third to half an inch (10 to 17mm). Its body is black and it doesn’t have any wings. On male specimens, the pinchers are asymetrical. It’s generally found around the Mediterranean.
An earwig can survive for over a year. In Fall, the female lays its eggs among dead leaves or under the bark of certain trees. Hatching occurs at the end of Winter. Until it happens, the female earwig watches over her eggs, and keeps doing so until the hatched larvae can fend for their own.
These beneficial insects tend to favor darkness and moisture. During the daytime, they’re often found in dark spots: cracks in a wall, holes in the ground, under rocks, loose bark, or underneath piles of wood. They usually wait for dusk to start hunting and feeding.
Why is it good to have earwigs in the garden?
Since it’s omnivorous, the earwig fulfills two separate needs in our growing beds:
- As part of its plant diet, it tends to feed on plants that have just died and started decaying, clean dead matter from wounds, and nibble on overripe fruits. This helps break organic matter down to make it available again for plants to absorb.
- As for the carnivorous aspect of its diet, earwigs attack aphids, flies, insect larvae, mites, thrips and even indulges in cannibalism! It feeds both on live and dead prey. Again, it helps recycle organic matter and controls pest populations, whatever the type of pest.
Pessimists will insist that earwig insects also feed on flower petals and plants, leaving holes in its wake. It’s actually true. Nonetheless, these are purely aesthetic concerns. The health of the plant isn’t compromised.
Moreover, when one realizes that aphids also inoculate a great many viral diseases on top of weakening and twisting leaves on the host plant, one would clearly say that having a few earwig scars on a plant cleansed of aphids is a better trade-off for both ornamental flowers and vegetables.
Dealing with earwigs in the garden
It’s pretty easy to create shelters and houses for earwigs. Simply lay a few stones down in and along the edges of your growing beds. Tiles or shingles placed here and there in the vegetable patch will to the trick as well. Remember to pile a small bundle of wood nearby, too. That way they’ll have lots of hiding places during the daytime!
If ever a portion of your garden is overrun by earwigs (a greenhouse, perhaps), you should know that there’s an easy trick to catch them without killing them. Scatter a number of “traps” around: bundles of wet rags, rolls of corrugated cardboard, and terra cotta pots filled with moist hay are perfect. As the night draws to an end, the insects will take refuge in these traps and you can easily carry them over to another area of the garden where they’ll be more useful.
To sum it up, the earwig is both an excellent recycler and a pest control insect. A great asset for the garden and for the vegetable patch, that deserves proper recognition!
Earwigs on yellow flower by Line Sabroe under © CC BY 2.0
Eggs watched over by earwig by Marshal Hedin under © CC BY-SA 2.0
The perfect shelter… but unsuccessful! by yaquina under © CC BY 2.0
Portrait of an earwig by Tom Bullock under © CC BY 2.0