How to identify and dispose of European earwigs
By Helen Tuton
They’re beautiful and brown, they burrow, have big appetites and definitely don’t crawl into ears. They’re European earwigs and they’re everywhere at the moment. Unlike our native Australian earwigs, the European version can make a real mess of loads of plants in the garden, especially young seedlings. European earwigs are little fellows, about 12–20mm in length, smooth, shiny and dark chocolate brown in colour, with sensational pale yellow legs, shoulders and pincers. In comparison, our native earwigs have lighter brown heads on a dark brown body and rarely cause any damage to our precious plants as they prefer organic matter and leaf litter.
Sheltering in organic material (such as straw-based mulches) during the day, European earwigs are nocturnal and, while you sleep, can make short work of just about any type of plant in your garden. Fruit, vegetables and field crops are favourite foods but they will also target zinnias, roses and dahlias as well as feasting on the roots of seedlings, mosses and lichens. You’ll know you’ve met them when all your plants’ growing tips, stems, flowers and fruits have lovely gouge marks and nibble spots in them. So voracious are these insects that they can destroy an entire seedling bed overnight!
Birds and lizards are natural predators of this hungry little critter, so maintaining a bio-diverse garden and minimising the use of chemicals in the patch can see their numbers managed naturally. Avoid overworking the soil and clean up any unnecessary organic matter (sticks, straw, prunings) that may be lying about the place. This will minimise daytime hiding places for earwigs. Should your garden be under European earwig attack, there are a few things you can do to trap and remove them before they do too much damage:
- Set up a super-duper earwig trap. Grab a few clear plastic takeaway food containers (with lids), tip about 3–4mm of pure linseed oil into the bottom of each, punch several 5mm holes in the sides or lids of containers (above the level of the oil) and position these traps in the mulch around the plants being attacked by earwigs. Go to bed and check the traps the next morning — you’ll be amazed at how many earwigs you will capture during the night! Empty the traps, refill and reposition for an earwig-free existence.
- Set up a trap using an upside-down pot stuffed with newspaper or straw. Earwigs will nest in these during the day, making it easy to remove the paper and dispose of the pests.
- Let your chooks scratch about in the garden for a while (just make sure the chooks have had a nice big feed of greens first!).
- Clean up any detritus and junk around the garden.
- Create a diverse garden. This encourages predators — enough said!
- Half-fill a jar with beer and lay it on its side where earwigs are most active. They love beer but when they drink it they die.