Earwig Pest Control – A Guide to the Common “Pincher Bug”

Updated: Feb. 19, 2024

Finding an earwig in the home can be a startling encounter due to their distinguished pincers. But these common household pests should not be feared. Read on to learn why.

Common Household EarwigSemenovIgor/Getty Images

Getting their name from the side to side body movement and an old tale of crawling in people’s ears, the earwig is a common and distinguishable household pest causing angst to homeowners for many years. The ecological scavengers of the insect world, earwigs clean homes and gardens everywhere, feasting on dead and decaying plant life and insects. While an earwig’s presence provides order to their environment, an equal amount of chaos can also follow.

How to Identify Earwigs

Often referred to as the “Pincher Bug“, the earwig is a pest you won’t soon forget nor have trouble identifying when you see one. With intimidating pincers, long antennas, and a predictable lifestyle, you can find these creepy crawlers in and around your home when the environment suits them. Knowing who and what they are makes encountering an earwig a harmless circumstance.

What are earwigs?

Earwigs are a nocturnal insect that make up the Greek designated Dermaptera order (“skin wings”). With more than 20 species of Earwigs in the United States alone, earwigs appear on all continents save for Antarctica. Earwigs are commonly known for the mythical story of “crawling into people’s ear” – something of which has not been proven to be scientifically correct – yet the pincers on the back of their abdomen can frighten the average homeowner.

What do earwigs look like?

Earwigs are a unique looking insect, noticeable most by their large cerci, otherwise characterized as pincers. These pincers, while harmless to people, develop from their abdomens and are used for self-defense. By the end of an earwig’s life cycle, they typically size around ½-1-inch-long and have a light to dark brownish exterior. Along with their pincers, they have 6 legs, two long antennae that protrude from the top of their head and two pairs of wings, which often hide under a thick cover. Even though most species of earwigs have wings, they often do not use the ability to fly, and generally resort to their legs for getting from point A to point B.

What does an earwig look likeAntagain/Getty Images

Types of Earwigs

With over 20 species of earwigs found just in the United States, there are many more that dwell in or near homes all over the world. The European earwig (Forficula auricularia Linnaeus) is the type of earwig showcased above and most commonly identified within the United States. Additional types of earwigs include the Red-Legged earwig, the Striped earwig, the Maritime earwig, the St. Helena (Giant) earwig and Seashore earwigs. The majority of earwig species hold similarities of body type that include pincers, long antennas and a slender frame.

Earwig Habitat

While earwigs are present all over the world, finding them only requires understanding how they live and operate. As a scavenger looking to protect their own self-interest for most of their life, earwigs look to find a healthy supply of food along with a safe and protective environment from dangerous elements.

What do earwigs eat?

Earwigs are typically omnivores that will feed on plant life, other insects, pollens, and lichens. Earwigs can create havoc in gardens due to their preferred food source of plants and flowers. They will feed on soft foods and fruits such apricots, vegetables, plants, and even some flowers. While earwigs use their pincers to hunt arthropods, they are very much a scavenger insect themselves. The nocturnal pest feasts on things such as mites, dead leaves, insect eggs, and other dead insects.

Earwig environment

Earwigs are an outdoor, nocturnal insect that prefer a cool, moist location to live in. Outside, you can find earwigs in places such as an old wood piles, under rocks, in the garden or in leaf piles. The females will always reproduce outdoors, preferring to lay their eggs within the soil or a small crevice. While living outside is where earwigs are most often found, they can get indoors unless  by modes of transportation such as bags or trash.

Earwig in environmentjames63/Getty Images

Occasionally, earwigs will wander into a house through cracks or open crevices in order to escape inhospitable conditions such as hot weather and dry air. They look for spots such as a cool basement that offer the moist environment they desire. As mentioned, earwigs are a nocturnal insect, meaning they typically lie low and sleep during the day while coming out during the night to feed and hunt. Most earwigs are attracted to light, so it’s possible you find many of them at night surrounding a bright porch light.

Where do earwigs live?

Earwigs live all over the globe with the only exception of Antarctica. The common earwig is located all over the United States, but generally is more frequent in the south and southwestern states. Earwigs do not fare well in cold environments, with only a few species residing in the northern atmosphere. Based on what country you live in and where you live in that country, you can possibly encounter several different types of earwigs.

How to Remove Earwigs

The terrifying look of earwigs combined with their potentially nuisance behavior in the gardens can lead any homeowner on a search for answers to getting rid of these unwanted pests. In just a few steps, you can know what it will take to get rid of earwigs and keep them from coming back.

Signs of earwigs

Earwigs prefer a cool and damp environment to live and feast in. Outdoors, you can find them in organic locations such as mulch, dead leaves, stones, or logs. They often like to feed on plants, making gardens with an abundance of food source a good home to camp out in. In the house, locations such as a cool basement, room with a leak in it, or any location that offers that hospitable environment. Earwigs will enter through cracks in the foundation, windows, or other open crevices.

Earwig infestations

Earwigs are not an insect that you will typically find in large numbers. Dissimilar to insects like ants or bees, earwigs are more individual creatures. They don’t have a queen or colony that they belong to, thus making earwig infestations quite rare. Living environment will often be a common denominator for finding a larger number of earwigs in one place. They live outdoors and want to stay away from the dry, hot sun. Its possible to find a few together in places such as leaf or wood piles where there is an abundance of food and protection.

Earwig infestationHenrik_L/Getty Images

Indoors, you may find a few strays leaving their outdoor homes for a nice wet and cool environment, such as a basement with a leak or pile of wet towels. Finding them indoors can be worrisome for a homeowner, but relief can be found knowing they are most likely an outdoor insect temporarily seeking asylum in your house.

Earwig pest control

Earwigs can be unpleasant to find in the home and a problem to plant life in the garden. If you come across a few, there are more than a few methods that can help get rid of earwigs. Making a trap that consists of oil and soy sauce can be used to lure the insects and drown them. Alcohol-based insecticide sprays is a way to quickly kill earwigs visible and onsite. Birds and frogs are natural predators of earwigs, thus creating a habitat for them can be a slow but natural remedy for removing earwigs. For those earwigs in the house, vacuuming is a simple solution for killing the ones you crawling on the floor.

Earwigs want a safe home to hide in throughout the day while they go out and feed at night. They often will be more prevalent in rainy seasons and found in moist locations that offer that type of ideal living space.To prevent earwigs in the yard and garden, attempt to remove their ideal resting locations. Get rid of leaf piles, old wood, mulch build up, and other excess vegetation. Keep gutters and downspouts clean and pointed away from the home to avoid damp or moist locations building up in and against the house.

To keep earwigs out of the home, check the foundation for cracks or holes, windows that don’t close all the way or have gaps in the screens, and any other unplanned entrances to the home. The key to preventing earwigs from living in or around the house is to create an inhospitable environment for them. Cleanliness, open spaces, and dry air is the exact opposite of what an earwig is looking for.

Earwig Safety

While earwigs may look like one the dangerous insects inside your home because of the pincers protruding from their back, they are actually quite harmless to people. If an earwig does crawl on you, it is possible that they might use their pincers to pinch the skin out of self-defense. An earwig’s pinch could potentially cause slight discomfort and in rare cases penetrate the skin. If this were to occur, simple treatment with soap and water along with an antibiotic cream to prevent infection would be all that is necessary.

Earwigs do not have a stinger of any sort and thus do not carry venom. They are not poisonous. And contrary to an old wives’ tale, there is no additional risk of earwigs crawling into one’s ear. While quite harmless, an earwig might not be a pest you want to keep around the home. For more advanced earwig control treatment, contact your local pest exterminator to evaluate and provide solutions for your unique situation.

Additional Earwig Information

For more information about earwigs and what it means when you find this pest in your home, check out these pest control articles.