Controlling Earwigs

Dear Margaret
How can we get rid of earwigs? They haven't been much of a problem in previous years, but this year they seem to be everywhere. They fall out of everything I pick up in the yard or shed. In desperation I used a crawling insect spray, but it didn't seem to have much effect. Please help!

The garden earwigs that bother us in the Southern States of Australia are introduced European earwigs, not members of one of the more than 60 species native to Australia. Like any life-form, earwigs go through boom & bust cycles, & booms are intensified by the favourable conditions we unwittingly create. Certainly there's been a bit of a plague this winter. The numbers will probably reduce as the weather warms up, but it may take a year or two for the overall population to decline.

Spraying is not the answer. Sprays are not selective, & insects are increasing their resistance to them with every generation. (Theirs, not ours!)
Since earwigs like to be really snug - they are seriously agoraphobic - they seek out crevices of every kind. They take up residence & breed in hoses & blinds rolled up for the winter, & in the folds of the garden chairs you stacked in the shed. So, when you use your hose for the first time each season, run the water into a bucket & catch the earwigs! Unwind blinds & unfold chairs over a paddling pool. Or use a vacuum cleaner, but this needs two people & you have to be quick! Make traps by loosely rolling fabric made of natural fibres - hessian is ideal, but old jeans will do - or cane blinds that are starting to disintegrate. On a smaller scale, simply crumpling newspaper & leaving it in corners will attract some, while others prefer dead sneakers (trainers). Dispose of your collection by feeding them to the chooks(poultry). If you or a neighbour don't have chooks, brush them into a screw-topped jar full of water, with a film of oil or kerosene (Tracey suggests linseed oil - see below) on the top. Then put the jar somewhere where you can't see it, because they take days to drown! The alternative is to squash the beasts manually.

If this sounds brutal, or a lot of work, consider learning to live with earwigs. They do eat some vegetation, but about 60% of their diet is meat, in the form of insects & other earwigs! The nippers of the garden variety cannot do you any damage, & in spite of their name, they are no more likely to take up residence in your ear than any other insect. Nervous souls who sleep on the ground amongst earwigs could always use earplugs!
NB: Even the natural way of keeping earwigs under control, i.e. chooks, will only work if you raise your own birds from day-olds, and bring them up to eat a varied and natural diet. Those raised on chick crumbles and then pellets just turn up their noses at a nice slug or earwig.

Note:In researching & answering questions about earthwise living, Margaret offers information, opinion, & personal experience, but no quick fixes! Readers should evaluate these offerings in the context of their own situations; they are suggestions, *not* recommendations. Any responsibility for their implementation rests *solely* with the reader.


In September 2009, I received the following delightful contribution:
Hi Margaret
My name is Tracy Wilson and I live in Kapunda, South Australia.
I have a non toxic and relatively cheap way to kill earwigs when in mass numbers that destroy vegie gardens & I wanted to share it with you.
Whilst I believe in living in harmony with all creatures and insects and do not use any chemicals or sprays in the garden I have had to resort to killing earwigs when in mass numbers to save my vegies!
For some reason they are attracted to Raw Linseed Oil, though I'm not sure why.
For a few years now, during spring when they are at their worst in the garden, we fill an old yoghurt container with water and pour a small amount of raw linseed oil into the container and it creates a film on top of the water. The earwigs go into the container and die. the container fills up with literally hundreds of earwigs within a few nights - better than losing your vegies in a night or two!
I am happy for you to share this tip with others who are experiencing a big problem with earwigs.

On 17th.June 2000, I received the following email. I feel it only fair to allow others to express their views.
**Ms Margaret, Your entry on the European earwig appears to be erroneous. The insect is generally considered to be 'harmless', but is quite capable of decimating an entire vegetable garden. A horde of earwigs can make garden slugs look like inept hooligans.
Also, contrary to the popular line about the origin of their name, they do like to hide in warm dark places, and assuredly do on occasion clumsy into the mouth, nostril, or ear canal of sleeping human beings.
Further evidence of earwig damage to vegetable gardens furnished upon request. We in the Midwest States are also learning to contend with this invader. By the way, they prefer damp places over dry. If you want an organic treatment, mix about 1 tablespoon each non-detergent liquid soap and vegetable oil per gallon of water and spray at night while they feed.
Thank you for your time. - Jim Charles**

While I have every sympathy with gardeners who experience pest damage, I know from my own experience and that of others that spraying, even with organic or non-toxic sprays is in the long run counter-productive.
Designing gardens for ecological sustainability and balance, using companion planting, mixing and scattering varieties, and intelligent species selection is preferable wherever possible.

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