A common garden pest, these glossy, flattened insects are brown to black in color and measure 1/2 to 1 inch long, and they have a pair of curved pincers or forceps emerging from the tip of the abdomen. Adults may or may not have wings, but rarely fly; they also rarely pinch. Larvae resemble adults. Found throughout North America, the European earwig (Forficula auricularia) is most problematic in northern areas; the ringlegged earwig (Euborellia annulipes) in the South.
Earwigs are omnivorous and primarily feed on decaying organic matter as well as some pest insects, including aphids and other insect larvae. They are beneficial in compost piles and as pest predators, but are a nuisance because they are attracted to moist areas around and inside homes. They become pests when they come indoors and when outdoor populations get out of control. In gardens and greenhouses, they chew irregularly shaped holes in plant leaves and flower petals, tunnel into flower buds, and also consume seedlings.
Overwintering adults lay clusters of round, white eggs in the soil in late winter; larvae, which resemble adults, hatch in spring. Adults overwinter under garden debris, stones, and boards as well as in soil.
Clean up garden debris and organic mulches, especially around foundations, since moist areas serve as daytime hiding spots for earwigs. Spread dry gravel as mulch next to foundations. Earwigs are attracted to lights, so eliminate or reduce lighting around foundations. To trap earwigs, set out crumpled, damp newspaper, lengths of old hose, or boxes with small holes cut in the sides and baited with oatmeal; collect and dump trapped pests in soapy water. Spread diatomaceous earth in limited areas where earwigs commonly travel, and repeat applications after rains; encourage tachinid flies, which are natural predators; apply the nematode Steinernema carpocapsae.
Photo: (cc) pondman2/Flickr