Earwigs are omnivores – they will eat both plant and animal material – however, humans are not on themenu. Many species of earwig are particularly partial to pollen, and can be commonly seen at night moving from flower to flower to feed. As such, they play important roles as pollinators alongside bees, albeit doing the night shift! Earwigs are also scavengers and feed on all sorts of bits and pieces, including cleaning up the mini-carcasses of dead insects. Some earwigs are predators and use the pincers at the end of their bodies to capture small insects.
Australia has almost one hundred species of earwigs, including several introduced species. Two common species which are often encountered are the native Brown Earwig (Labidura truncata), and the European Earwig (Forficula auricularia ). Like many introduced species, the European Earwig does occur in large numbers at times, and can be seen on flowers at night and under objects in the garden during the day in plentiful supply. In these situations it can be a pest and damage young plants, whereas the native Brown Earwig is regarded as beneficial in the garden and is known to attack pests such as the Codling Moth.
Like many insects, earwigs are most active during the warmer months, and it is during this period that breeding takes place. Both sexes look similar, but males can be distinguished by their enlarged pincers.
There is a superstition that earwigs burrow into the ears of people while they sleep. This is a myth and without any scientific basis. Earwigs frighten many people because of the pincers on the back of their abdomens. Earwigs use these pincers for defence and for sparing with rival earwigs. Depending on the species, adults range in size from 5-25 mm. They are slender insects with two pair of wings. Some species produce a foul smelling liquid that they use for defence. Earwigs also produce a pheromone (scent). Scientists believe that this pheromone is the reason that earwigs cluster together in large numbers. Immature earwigs (nymphs) resemble the adults except they do not have wings
There are over 85 species of earwigs in Australia, so there are slight variations in the life cycle of each, but there are also many similarities. As part of the life cycle of earwigs, they undergo gradual metamorphosis. Metamorphosis is the process of changing stages from egg to adult in insects. In gradual metamorphosis, the stages are rather basic: egg, nymphs (stages of juveniles) and adult. Nymphs typically resemble the adults but on a smaller scale. Simple metamorphosis is also called simple metamorphosis. Other insects go through complete metamorphosis and the stages here are egg, larva, pupa and adult. The larva resembles a worm, and later the larva will rest in a pupal stage prior to emerging as an adult.
Usually, only adult earwigs overwinter, or survive the change of seasons into cooler weather. This is probably because the adults are more suited to changing climate and environments. Also, feeding opportunities are less available during the winter, making adults more durable. Typically, the young are full adults by the onset of winter.
Since earwigs undergo gradual metamorphosis, the eggs hatch, and the first instar is the first stage to appear. While it doesn’t look exactly like adults, the similarities are striking. As the earwig grows, it sheds its shell, as the shell is not flexible enough to grow by itself. As the shell is shed, the next instar is soft bodied and usually appears whitish until the shell starts to harden into a darker, more durable and harder shell. The process of hardening and, ultimately, darkening in most cases is called sclerotization, and, as the skin or shell is hardened, it is called sclerotized.
Since earwigs go through several instars, the first instar, second instar, etc., as they move from egg to adults, with adequate food can reproduce during warm weather and emerge as full adults prior to the end of the season.
Earwigs are active at night. During the day they hide in cracks in damp areas. They live under rocks and logs and in mulch in flowerbeds. Earwigs eat plants and insects.
Outdoors, earwigs spend the winter in small burrows in the ground. In spring the female lays eggs in the burrow. She tends the eggs until they hatch. Then she cares for the nymphs until they can find their own food.
Earwigs are attracted to lights. They can become a nuisance on porches and patios on summer evenings. In the morning they will be gathered under things like cushions that were left outside overnight.
Earwigs move into homes to find food or because of a change in weather.
When an earwig, either alone or in numbers, enters a house, it may be because conditions are harsh outside or because conditions are suitable inside. Since most earwigs like moist protected areas and rarely come into dry moving air, conditions must be just right for them to establish themselves inside.
As one visualizes these conditions, it might appear that no house or apartment is going to harbor conditions which would lead to earwig infestation; however, sometimes there will be leaks or even condensation in basements, and this will provide the wet and humid environment that earwigs prefer. If leaves have blown into an unfinished or even dirt floor basement, the conditions are perfect for earwig populations.
For homes with dirt floor crawlspaces, conditions are good for earwigs generally and if there is no vapour barrier down or if there is no dehumidification, the atmosphere in the crawl can lead to fungus and insects.
The most important task to keep earwigs out of a house is to make conditions inhospitable for their success. If the house has a crawlspace, install a vapour barrier and if there is still excessive moisture, take steps necessary to dry the crawl including dehumidification.
For earwigs that wander in because conditions outside are not hospitable, make sure that the door sweeps on the bottom of the doors fit tightly and that all foundation points do not have cracks. Install screens on weep holes in brick. Make sure that all window screens fit securely.
A little preparation and inspection a few times a year will keep earwigs from entering a house or apartment. Pest control professionals also can offer guidance and have tools they can employ to keep earwigs out of the home.
Earwigs prefer to live in cooler, damp or wet areas, usually under decaying vegetation outside where there is an ample supply of food. As with any insect pest, it is best to prevent earwigs, rather than waiting until the infestation requires extensive control. Earwigs typically feed on live sprouts or decaying vegetation and, in rare cases, some species are predators. Earwigs belong to the biological classification or taxonomic order Dermaptera, meaning skin- or leather-winged. This is due to the presence of harder solid wings in the winged species.
The best way to prevent earwigs is to utilize Integrated Pest Management, or IPM. IPM is a holistic approach to pest control. The basic steps of IPM include Inspection, Identification and Control.
In order to start the IPM process, it is important to understand the insect. Earwigs live and reproduce in moist or wet areas, typically outside where there is an abundance of decaying vegetation, the preferred food of most species. While some earwig species are predators, for most purposes, it can be assumed that the species encountered around homes are herbivores, or those preferring vegetation.
The inspection, the first step of IPM, is to look for signs of a buildup of leaves and other dead or decaying vegetation. This is not just an autumn occurrence, but during the summer it is common to have fallen leaves and old-growth plant debris fall onto the soil. With today’s watering systems, it is also common to have accelerated decay due to drip or lawn irrigation. Pulling away wet vegetation that has fallen might reveal if and where there is an earwig infestation.
Identification of earwigs and their living environment is important as well. Most life stages of earwigs have the telltale forceps, or pincers, extending from the abdomen. This attribute is the best method to make sure that the insect is, in fact, an earwig. Identification of conditions which lead to infestation, such as overwatered plants near the foundation, will point you toward finding earwigs and is a condition which should be identified during the inspection.
Finally, removing moisture and decaying vegetation will make conditions less hospitable for earwigs and will reduce their numbers.
Since some earwigs prefer young plants, besides being a garden pest, the earwigs can become an indoor pest and feed on indoor plants. Earwigs are commonly found under plant pots in the saucer that is used to catch water that drains through the soil. This wet and dark area is protected from sun. Outside, the earwigs might feed on decaying vegetation washed through the humus soil. Earwigs can attack the young plants, though, so watch for damage of plants, especially seedlings.
When plants are brought in, earwigs can remain in the saucers and prosper in the constant temperature of the indoor environment. They do need high moisture substrate, so even overwatered plant soil can be a host.
If it appears that earwigs were brought in with plants, remove the plant and shake out the earwigs outside. Dry the saucer and inspect the plant soil for other earwigs or eggs and remove these if found. Look around carpet edges inside to make sure that earwigs are not there. They can be vacuumed to remove; don’t forget to remove the bag
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