Thursday, July 12, 2012

My Not-So-New Nemesis: The Earwig

I have found earwigs to be among the most grotesque, horrendous, disgusting creatures on this earth for years now.  And yes, I appreciate all forms of life due to my education in conservation biology and as a Christian.  But my appreciation really takes a dive with non-native species that invade my life and property.  Starlings?  Not a fan.  Manitoba maple?  Can't stand it.  Earwigs?  I loathe them.

Not the clearest photo, but these little horrors are a bit tough to catch on a phone camera!

I had a university professor once (an awesome one, I might add) who told me that earwigs have amazingly maternal tendencies.  I think she thought that it might soften my decidedly unyielding detest for the creatures.  It didn't.  I like maternal animals.  I am one!  But earwig mommies are just something I don't sympathize with.

Particularly now.  I have had earwigs in our garden each year, and have always been horrified at their sneaky, yucky way of dropping from hiding places when you move something in the garden, their way of ending up in your line-dried laundry when you take it in (even after shaking!), their creepy-crawliness in general, and the way they multiply like crazy.  GROSS.  I actually was thinking to myself, just over a week ago, that they didn't seem to be that bad this year.  I wasn't encountering them at a comparable rate to the last couple of summers, I was only seeing the odd one here and there but definitely not being bombarded by them.  Things changed though.

I went outside to check on the vegetables I had planted in a built-in planter box on our deck.  It had one zucchini plant, one eggplant, two red pepper plants, and at least a hundred tiny carrot seedlings coming up.  This is what I found (keep in mind that these photos are from about 3 days ago, the current situation is only worse!):

Zucchini: early days of damage.

This plant had a bunch of gorgeous blooms.  All eaten away, now to nothing!

The last carrot seedling standing (now there isn't even one).

Pepper plants are apparently yummy.

Pepper plant number two suffers a little less damage (at first!)

Apparently eggplant leaves are not as palatable as some of the others, but they'll take what they can get!
 Not only did they eat my gorgeous veggies (I may add I am on planting #3 of yellow beans right now and these ones have all the leaves eaten right off the tops of the seedlings), but they added insult to injury when they left excrement all over the plants, which is pretty obvious in the zucchini pictures.  Yuck.

So enough moaning and complaining, what do we do about these dastardly insect villains?  The way I see it, we have three options:

Option 1
Leave them alone.  They actually eat slugs and aphids, and maybe you like that.  If you don't have an overpopulation, then they might actually be beneficial to have around.  It does pain me to admit that.

Option 2
Use some sort of awful insecticide that could potentially harm beneficial insects and leave a toxic residue in your plants where your kids or pets could be affected.  Yuck, no thanks.

Option 3
Use some organic and natural methods and hope for the best!  Here are a few I've put together and plan on trying this summer:

  • Use diatomaceous earth around your house foundation, walkways, fences, trees, and other structures.  Apply it in several different applications in late spring, about a week apart.
  • Take advantage of the earwigs' preference for damp, dark, close places and make some traps.  These could include:
    • a dampened, rolled up newspaper
    • a flower pot, upside down but propped up slightly and also filled with dampened, crumpled newspaper
    • an empty grapefruit half
    • cardboard boxes with a few small holes in them and baited with oatmeal or bran
    • Two pieces of 2x4 lumber, neatly stacked one upon the other.
      • These are all live traps.  You can shake them out into a bucket of soapy water, or boiling water, or feed them to chickens--I understand that the majority of our fine feathered friends relish them and they're a cheap (and abundant!) source of protein!  You can also seal them in a plastic bag to suffocate and throw them in the trash.  That seems a bit harsh, even to me.  Just make sure that you don't put them on your compost pile!!
    • For a more deadly approach, use an empty tuna can, fill it partially with oil, and place it on the ground in the garden where they will be interested (you could put honey or molasses in the oil to attract them, but I'm not sure it's really necessary and seems a waste of good baking supplies).  You can also half-bury a bottle of beer (drink about 2/3 first!) in the soil so that they can crawl in through the bottle neck and drown.  You'll also pick off some slugs this way too.
  • In the late fall, before the snow, you can pour boiling water down your foundation.  Due to the cooling weather, some earwigs will overwinter between your foundation and the soil in your yard as it is a warmer spot to hang out.  If you can catch them there while they're vulnerable, you might have a smaller population to deal with the next year.
If you do decide to trap them, make sure you put traps near your affected plants and put a lot of them out.  Keep checking, emptying, and replacing the traps until you see a noticeable decrease in earwig activity.  And good luck!

I have read that they are attracted to compost and mulch.  This is a problem for me because I am increasing the mulch in all areas of our garden, and just started two compost piles this spring/summer.  I have a feeling that these new ventures may have exacerbated the problem--but I'm not willing to give them up.  So we'll have to see if the other methods work!  I look forward to  attempting to combat this garden foe.  If you have any suggestions for me, please leave them in the comments!!

This post is shared with Homestead Barn Hop #70 on Homestead Revival and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.


  1. Earwigs are the grossest bugs in the world. YUCK. Remember the infestations Camp Keir used to get? Shudder.

    1. I thought about adding a whole paragraph about the mutated Camp Keir earwigs but as I am a bit of a run-on writer, I thought it best to leave it out. Was definitely thinking about them though!

  2. Rosalyn, I've never had a big problem with earwigs, but I'm a huge fan of diatomaceous earth. Hope it works for you!

    1. Thanks Susan! I'll let you know how goes the battle. :)

  3. Found you on the Frugal Days link up. It's like you took the thoughts right from my own head and posted them. I have an INSANE amount of earwigs in my yard this year. I got married a few weeks ago and my dad was driving me to the church. I had just finished stuffing myself and my huge, poufy dress into his car. He got in and while I'm sitting there, buried under 30 yards of netting and satin, unable to move, I look over and see an earwig 3 inches from me, crawling on his shoulder. I FREAKED OUT and made him get out and shake it off. Thank God that thing didn't get up inside all the puffs of my dress! I'd've been doing a jig all the way up the aisle!

    Anyways, I find that the dish of beer trick works well for me!

    1. Oh my goodness Jill. What a close call to full-on horror you had! Thank goodness you spotted it. I'm sorry to hear you have a lot in your yard too. They're just so gross.

    2. Jill- that is a cute, for lack of a better word, story and tho't for sure you were going to say it was in your dress...but thankfully not, for what could be worse?! Thanks for sharing!


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