Controlling or Eliminating Earwigs Naturally to Prevent Damage to your Flowers and Herbs (No Pesticides, No Chemicals) (Forficula auricularia)

Natural Earwig Control

How To Control or Kill Earwigs (Forficula auricularia) Naturally (No Pesticides, No Chemicals)

Earwig Eating An Impatiens Flower At Night - Control EarwigsAn Earwig eating Impatiens Flowers by night

Earwig in Impatiens Plant At Night - Control EarwigsAn Earwig in an Impatiens Plant at night

Schultz Garden Safe Insecticidal Soap - Control EarwigsSchultz Insecticidal Soap

Guiness Beer Trap - Get Rid of Earwigs NaturallyGuinness Beer Trap

Soy Sauce Death Trap - Get Rid of Earwigs NaturallySoy Sauce Trap

Beer vs Soy Sauce Traps - Natural Earwig EliminationGuinness Beer vs Soy Sauce Traps

Earwig Trap with Earwig Sized Holes Cut Into Lid - Natural Earwig ControlEarwig Trap with Earwig Sized Holes

The Soy Sauce Results with a SINGLE EARWIG caught - Natural Earwig ControlThe Soy Sauce Results with a SINGLE EARWIG caught

The Guinness Results with Earwigs, Potato Bugs, Slugs, and Centipedes all dead - Natural Earwig ControlThe Guinness Results with Earwigs, Potato Bugs, Slugs, and Centipedes all dead

Impatiens eaten by Earwigs. Note the near lack of flowers - Control EarwigsHanging basket of Impatiens ravaged by Earwigs!

Other hanging Impatiens basket not affected by Earwigs - Control EarwigsThis basket of Impatiens was not as affected.

Frilly Basil with Earwig Damage - Control EarwigsFrilly Basil with Earwig Damage.

We have a small herb garden in a raised bed and in pots around the back deck. Earwigs have been a particular pest this year. In particular, we have hanging Impatiens on our deck, and earwigs have been having a little feast with one pot while the other is little scathed. They also have been eating most of the broad leaf herbs like frilly basil. I don't blame them for liking basil, but I want the basil for myself. They have even been eating my mint and strawberry plants! Wanna bite of earwig-riddled strawberry?

Because the earwig victims are mostly edible herbs, I wanted to eliminate the pests naturally. Plus the fewer chemicals to which I can expose my family and my self the better in my opinion. Here are some things I have found, tried, and I share my results here.

Earwigs (Forficula auricularia)

First let's dismiss the fearsomeness of these little bugs. Earwigs are ugly little critters with pincers that look frightening. The etymology of Earwig is old and related to Old English Eare wicga which means, Ear Bug or Ear Insect or Ear Wiggly (more at Wiggly). That is kinda creepy, right?

I think this "fearsome" name has aggrandized their actual ferocity or ability to hurt you. The freaky name gives you the idea to  imagine these things crawling in your ear.

And THAT is creepy. Gives me the willies even if I know they can't really hurt me. I know I pondered it as a young child and even in recent years I have wondered why they are called earwigs. Even though I know it is a myth or old wives tale, that image in my head, while lying in bed, an earwig crawling up and into my ear... Creepy! 

To make things better, the Latin name Forficula auricularia is probably just as spooky. Forficula is the family styled name which is Latin for shears or scissors. This name was chosen for the pincers earwigs have on their abdomen. Auricularia is of course *EAR*. It is related to to our modern words Audio, Aural, etc.... So this is basically translated to "Scissor Ear" bug or "Shear Ear" bug. That does not help demystify the old myth.

The reality is they cannot bite or hurt you even if if you dump a bunch of them in your ear. If you see an earwig and logically examine it's capacity to hurt you, knowing it has no poison, no teeth, a mouth so small it can't get a hold of your skin (mostly), and pincers that can get no leverage on you and would break if they could, you have to realize these things are not at all intimidating. Just a little ugly. Still is creepy though thinking about them in your ear, right?

I did run across this one article that suggest there are rare cases of ear infestation, though. Here is a brief summary along with a link to the article.

In Switzerland, an medical journal article published that several children did in fact have aural infestations. There is an x-ray photo showing the trapped earwig  as well. It goes on to say that a queen was trapped in deep in the ear canal by wax and laid eggs there while the young could get out, I guess. Ear wig soldiers guarded  the ear canal entrance. The article suggests we have come full circle regarding the naming of earwigs as an old wives tale to the reality that earwigs can live quite contently in ear canals. Side effects for the children included itching, insomnia, dizziness, depression, loss of cognitive faculty, and hearing loss. 

Fortunately, if you pay attention to the x-ray photo, you should realize the soft tissue of an earwig would not show up with any clarity if at all in an x-ray. Also, you will hopefully notice the article was posted on April 1st, 2008. And lastly, earwigs don't have queens and soldiers. Pretty good joke though. 

Although they are not dangerous to humans earwigs can do damage to your garden plants. So let's get rid of them!

Soapy Insectiside Spray

My first quick attack is simply to use vegetable and flower safe Insecticidal Soap. The brand I am trying is Schultz and basically contains fatty acids (1%) and 99% aquaeous stuff.  Although this is maybe not 100% "natural" in the catch-and-release sense, I think it will be close enough for me. It can be applied "up to the day of harvest" of edibles. And that is what I wanted so our herbs could be used with no worries about traditional insecticides.

Results: Decent Success!

This solution has worked the best and quickest for me so far. Take a look at the before and after pictures of the impatiens hanging basket. This improvement was after only 8 days. You can see how the flowers immediately responded and new leaves started to grow unscathed. This stuff works great.

Caveats!

The trick, however, is this is CONTROL, not getting rid of or killing all the earwigs. I found that if I go a week or so without reapplying, I start to see damage again. I've found spraying every 2 or 3 days gives the best results. It doesn't seem necessary to spray everyday to get good results. 

Will Other Soaps or Household Soaps Work?

Yes and no. I have not been able to find a list of "Dove Dish Soap - Yes, Dial Liquid Soap - No" but here is what I have found: The fatty lipids in soap tend to be a solution of Potassium Salts. So if you have a liquid soap composed of this, it will probably work fine. Mixing it and trying it I recommend starting pretty dilute and applying gingerly to see how your plants react. If you can apply to feeding earwigs and then watch their reaction (see if it actually kills them) that is a good test too. 

Other Soaps I Tried (So Far)
  1. Dial Liquid Anti-Bacterial Soap: I have tried using Dial Liquid Anti-Bacterial Soap (not a great candidate in my opinion but I thought I would try it since it was handy and in the kitchen). It appears its main salt is Tetrasodium EDTA and glycerin for the "soapy" part. It has a bunch of other stuff which is probably the anti-bacterial part. I mixed about 1 tablespoon to a quart (32oz) and it seems to work just as well and I don't see any adverse affects on the plants after using it 2 to 3 times a week for 4 weeks. It does leave a slightly soapy smell for a day or so...probably the fragrance. 
  2. I found another store bought common soap to try: I found a Verbana oil based soap which has fatty lipid salts in it. This one is more 'natural' than Dial. I'll post more as I continue to use it. So far, it smells better than Dial! 

Natural Traps

Earwigs are nocturnal. They come out to feed and are active when it cools down a couple hours after sunset. During the day, they like to hide in dark moist locations and this gives us a clue on how to catch them.

In my case, this amounts to a couple of areas under my deck that have some foliage and are well watered areas. The earwigs seem to spring out of these spots at night as bats from a cave. Spooky thought, eh?

Boric Acid Trap, Control Egress To Your House

Now that sounds intense. Acid! Trap! Boric! If the Soy vs. Beer thing doesn't work out, I'll try building one of these. This basically involves lacing oatmeal or bran with boric acid and just waiting for the earwigs to die. Apparently this takes a week. Hum.... You have to hope they will prefer your oatmeal over your Impatiens and then wait a week and see... But I don't want to wait weeks for something like that to work.  

However, I suppose at the very least you can use boric acid as a general barrier of entry to your house. If earwigs are actually getting INTO your house despite proper sealing and landscaping techniques, putting a line of a residual insecticide like boric acid near baseboards, around your foundation, cracks, and hard to reach places should work. Boric acid is a natural insecticide and works when the earwig is forced to travel through the powder while trying to gain entry.

Have some beer, Mr. Earwig. No? How about some Soy Sauce?

Like slugs, earwigs are said to be attracted to beer. So I gathered a few beer cans together with some residual slosh in them and placed them where I knew earwigs would frequent. I checked the cans every morning for a week and did not catch a single earwig. So either this little tribe does not like the smell of beer, or the beer evaporated too quickly, or these earwigs are very clever and know when last call is. 

Now there are many traps you can construct. Many I have read about involve creating some wood blocks with little slits cut into them, rolling up newspaper or using garden hose bits, or bamboo lengths, and dampening them everyday and then waiting for the earwigs to hang out in them, then dump them in your ready bin of soapy water. 

Although many of these sound very simple, I am not sold on their effectiveness. And especially having already tried what should seem better than any of these anyway and checking it everyday, I realized I did not want to check ANYTHING everyday and just hope the earwigs like damp paper, beer, garden hose, whatever. Forget that! I want something I can put in place and forget about for a week or so. So.....

Death by Sushi & Beer

Having heard they also like soy, I decided to make a couple of death traps. I test Beer vs Soy to see which was really more effective if at all. I have taken two Brummel & Brown containers (a cottage cheese or small cool whip tub, et al) and put a sampling of Guinness and Soy in each with some vegetable oil on top of each. The oil is what will actually kill the termites by suffocating them (it coats their spiracles). I cut some holes in top so earwigs can climb in, but cannot climb out. I bury them in a known earwig spot so the little wigglies can crawl right on in and jump to their death. Yeah! Let the best juice win!

Soy vs Guinness Beer Results: GUINNESS WINS!

I let these go two weeks near where the earwigs seemed to come from under the deck. After one week, I checked them and then swapped them. At that point, it looked like the Soy Sauce had caught zilch, nada, nothing. And the Guinness had caught a few earwigs and other things. In addition, the Guinness had started to mold a bit. But whatever. I am sure it was still working. Although it looks pretty gross.

After a week in swapped positions (to show no favoritism to location), the Guinness had still done better by capturing all kinds of critters and about a dozen earwigs while the Soy managed to only capture ONE solitary earwig.

For me that is pretty clear. Guinness attracts not only earwigs, but slugs, rolly-polly's or Potato bugs, and centipedes too. I'll be making more Guinness Beer based traps for the rest of my garden areas and Mint (spearmint and wintergreen) plant beds.

Natural Enemies

Aside from humans, attracting other natural enemies can help cut down on earwigs. Again, unless you go ballistic with pesticides (which kill most everything as well as put you and your family's health at risk) you are only going to CONTROL the earwig population, not eradicate them. 

The down side of most natural enemies is that you may not like the natural enemies presence in great abundance either. While toads and lizards love to eat earwigs (which aren't common in Northern Utah neighbourhoods), the European earwig has at least two specific natural insect enemies in the U.S.--  a tachinid fly (Bigonicheta Spinipennis) that was imported in the Northwest in 1924;  and the parasitic fly Digonichaeta Setipennis. If they are plentiful enough during good years for these flies, it is estimated  these parasites attack and kill over 1/3 of the earwig population. These flies look very much like common house flies but are perhaps a bit larger.

Short of breeding these flies, you can naturally attract these flies by planting the certain plants near the area where the earwigs are problem:

  • Anise (Pimpinella anisum) - A yummy herb
  • Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) - Also edible to humans
  • Coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria) - A pretty yellow flower, pretty hardy
  • Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) - A pretty flower that is a bit invasive...Be Careful! It spreads easily (propagates by seed) and can grow 5 feet tall or more!
  • Dill (Anethum graveolens) - Another yummy herb
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) - Yummy herb
  • Golden marguerite (Anthemis tinctoria) - A flower that is a bit dated, like pink roses, and kind of stinks. Also spreads by seed pretty well, but is small and compact.
  • Painted daisy (Chrysanthemum coccineum) - A pretty flower
  • Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) - A pretty yellow flower

 

*All these pictures were taken at night with my Mytouch Slide G3 camera phone if you were wondering.




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