Earwigs also enjoyed the warm summer

Pest control company kept busy by harmless, but creepy, critters

Published on October 6, 2012
Earwigs are a common insect, which feed mostly on decaying matter, but also prey on many garden pests. — Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

The warm, dry season may have kept the mosquitoes and blackflies at bay during the summer, but it hasn’t stopped earwigs from invading the city of St. John’s this fall. In fact, the weather may have increased their numbers.

“For a lot of insects, this year is worse,” said Lloyd Hollett, owner of the Newfoundland Insectarium in Reidville. “They like moisture, but when it’s really wet and rainy, fungus and dampness kills them.”

Diseases are more likely to grow in wet weather, so a dry summer like the one we just had is good for the survival of bugs.

Though earwigs won’t do any damage to a house, this is the time of year for infestations.

“Earwigs are looking for places to head for the winter,” he said. “They go in any kind of crook or cranny.”

Earwigs are nocturnal and need moisture, so they look for cool, dark places to hide.

Earwigs, which have a lifespan of one year, are 1.5 to two centimetres in length and are armed with hard brown shells, pincers and wings.

In the spring, females lay a nest of about 60 eggs and stay with their young, called nymphs, for about two weeks once they’ve hatched.

“Apparently female earwigs are actually good mothers," Hollett said. He said the earwig is one of the few insects that has a maternal role. When the nymphs are about six millimetres long, they leave the nest in search of food.

Earwigs are among the best natural recyclers. The bugs are scavengers whose diets consist mostly of decaying matter.

Though earwigs will occasionally munch on fruit and leaves, they won't destroy an entire garden. They are actually predators to many garden pests.

So why does everyone hate earwigs so much?

“They’re ugly and creepy, and they just freak people out,” said a spokeswoman for GreenLawn, a pest control company in St. John’s.

Though earwigs are harmless, homeowners will do anything to get rid of them.

At its busiest time this fall, the company took about 50 to 100 calls requesting earwig eradication each week.

“Ninety per cent of those are for homes,” she said.

This year is a busy year for the pest control industry. Earwig eradication costs about $120 – and that’s just to spray the perimeter of the house.

“It’s not going to take care of anything inside the house, but it will prevent new earwigs from coming in,” she said.

The tried and true method for catching bugs in the house is a butter tub filled with soy sauce and cooking oil.

The bugs, attracted to the sweetness of the soy sauce, crawl through small holes punched in the lid of the tub and drown in the thick cooking oil.

According to GreenLawn, dish soap works well, too. It dehydrates the bugs, which need moisture to survive, and they die.

Tom Chapman, an entomologist from Memorial University, said McDonald’s straws are another option for trapping earwigs — and for some reason the yellow ones seem to work best.

“They like to breed in small crevices," he said. Straws are similar to places earwigs like to hide: crevices in basements, floors of old houses and leaky pipes.

He said keeping the garden free of dead plants and around the house neat will help reduce the number of earwigs.

Earwigs are a common bug that tend to hide in numbers. While harmless, people are still scared of them.

“I think part of it is it’s the insect they encounter the most," he said. “And the pincers.”