In Defence of Earwigs in Your Garden


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Author: Dale Odorizzi, Master Gardeners of Lanark County

Mention the word earwig to a group of gardeners, and you get a strong negative reaction. Tell gardeners that they are beneficial insects, and they will look at you as if you have lost your mind. Earwigs are members of the insect class Dermaptera and are despised by most gardeners.

An Undeserved Rap

Generally, earwigs are called plant pests, but this is an undeserved, harsh, and erroneous rap. Earwigs do eat our garden plants, but this practice is forced on them by gardeners who are too neat, removing all plant debris and leaving their garden soil exposed, often called well-groomed. If earwigs do not have any dead plant material to munch on, they eat your ornaments and vegetables. In more natural conditions, such as soil covered with mulch and organic debris that naturally occurs under plants, the earwigs happily find much to dine on, leaving your prized plants alone.

Earwigs Control Pests

Too often, gardeners blame earwigs for damage caused by other pests such as snails, slugs, and cutworms. The blame is put on earwigs as they are found at the scene of the crime, where they may be taking shelter for the day. In fact, earwigs are one of the great controls for these pests. They enjoy dining on soft-bodied insects such as aphids, mealy bugs, and slug eggs. They also eat mites, nematodes, insects, and decaying matter.

They Hang Out in Plants

Earwigs work at night and often take cover in our plants in the daytime. In my early years of gardening, earwigs were prevalent in my garden. They particularly liked to take cover in the daytime in the petals of my large double marigolds. I soon learned that if I wanted to take a bouquet into the house, I should shake the flowers over a bucket of water. Often, 20–30 of them would fall into the water. Even then, a few earwigs would hang on and come into the house. Those were the days when chemicals were available to dispose of every kind of insect, usually killing more than the intended victim. I bought every kind of earwig bait I could find. One day, sitting at my breakfast table, I watched mesmerized as a goldfinch destroyed a couple of zinnias in my window box. Hubby asked why I was so happy to see a goldfinch do that damage when I had worked so hard to get rid of an insect that only hung out in the plant. Good question!

Earwigs do not do any damage in the house and prefer to hide in corners. They do like to hang out in crowds and emit an odour if startled. While I have learned to appreciate earwigs, I still do not like seeing them in my house and actively go after them.

A Way to Trap Earwigs

If you are not convinced that earwigs can be beneficial, you can trap them by laying sections of old hose or rolled up newspaper in your garden. After a night’s work clearing the pests and debris from your garden, they will crawl into the hose to take daytime shelter. Go out in the morning and tilt the hose into a bucket of water with a few drops of soap added, and dump the earwigs captured in the hose into it.

Why Destroying Pests in Your Garden Can Be the Wrong Thing

There are many beneficial insects for your garden. If gardeners are inclined to destroy all pests they see in their gardens, they are doing the wrong thing. They can be removing food that attracts birds and beneficial insects or destroying predators that perform a valuable service in our gardens.

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