Earwigs invade Anza

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Earwigs, also called pincher bugs, are invading homes and gardens in the Anza Valley. Anza Valley Outlook/Diane Sieker photo

Earwigs are everywhere this spring, erupting from cracks in floors, climbing walls, falling from ceilings and congregating on lighted porches for all-night pincher bug parties. Anza Valley residents are seeing more of the odd-looking insects around the house and in the garden now than in recent memory.

Dan Robinson lamented, “They are out in droves.”

Last year crane flies and Painted Lady butterfly populations exploded, thought to be due to copious rainfall over the winter. This season, the lowly earwig is way ahead of the other insects in seemingly unrelenting numbers.

All species of earwigs have a pair of forceps-like pincers on their abdomen, hence the nickname pincher bugs. They are found on all continents except Antarctica.

Earwigs often hide in moist cracks and crevices during the day and are active at night, feeding on a wide variety of insects and plant material. Damage to gardens, flowers and crops is blamed on the bugs.

Earwigs have five molts before they become adults. The developmental stages between these molts are called instars. The insects commonly live for about a year. They start mating in the fall and can be found together in the autumn and winter. The female will lay 20 to 80 tiny white eggs in a two-day period.

Many earwig species display maternal care, which is uncommon among insects. Female earwigs will continue to watch over their offspring until the young go through a second molt. The mother will pay close attention to the needs of her eggs, such as warmth and protection from predators.

The common term, earwig, is derived from the Old English ēare, which means “ear,” and wicga, which means “insect” or “beetle.” Entomologists think that the origin of the name is a reference to the appearance of the hindwings, which can resemble a human ear when unfolded. But most people agree that the name is due to the old wives’ tale that earwigs burrow into the brains of people through the ear and lay their eggs there. Interestingly, there have been verified reports of earwigs being found in the ear.

The common earwig was introduced into North America in 1907 from Europe.

There is no evidence that the insects transmit disease to humans or other animals. Their pincers are commonly believed to be dangerous, but in reality, even the curved pincers of males cause little or no harm to people.

The pesky insects can be successfully trapped to help control their numbers.

One method is to fill shallow containers halfway with beer, fish oil or vegetable oil. The bugs fall into the liquid and drown.

Other effective types of traps include rolled-up newspapers, corrugated cardboard, bamboo tubes or a short piece of hose. These traps are placed on the ground near plants just before dark and the accumulated earwigs shaken out into a bucket of soapy water in the morning. The ideas require trapping them every day until no more earwigs are caught.

Natural enemies including toads, birds, spiders and other predators help to control earwig populations, but they seem to be having little effect this year. Chickens, guinea fowl and ducks enjoy munching on earwigs.

Debra Middleton said, “One thing after another, we will all get through this – what doesn’t break us will make us stronger, earwigs and all.”

Diane Sieker can be reached by email at dsieker@reedermedia.com.