Pest Issues

What Are Earwigs and How to Get Rid of Them

thatmacroguy /

Earwig (also called a “pincher bug”) can be found in five out of seven continents except for the poles where it’s just too cold for it. Being called “earwigs”, pincher bugs often induce horror in the minds of people who believe they will crawl into their ear and pinch them. Rest assured – this rarely ever happens. They are generally harmless but are still considered a nuisance pest among Australian homeowners.

So, if you’re seeing earwigs walking around your home, let’s take a closer look at the pest itself and how to properly get rid of it.

In this article:

What is an earwig?

Earwigs are from the Dermaptera order and have been around for over 200 million years. This ancient order has walked among dinosaurs and now serves to strike terror into the hearts of homeowners with its minute size and (relatively) big pincers.

Australia offers a fantastic climate for earwigs to grow and thrive. They are plentiful here and can be quite a nuisance both indoors and outdoors, especially during the summer months. Avid gardeners, you can often find them tending to your plants when you’re not looking!

Since earwigs love humidity and dampness, you can almost certainly find them wherever there’s rotten wood (which seems to be a delicacy for them).

Combine that with the fact that darkness is their ally, and it wouldn’t be too inconceivable to imagine why they’ve infested that wooden pile you’ve been meaning to clear out for a couple of years now (we’re not judging, btw).

When they’re not too busy munching on your botanical experiments at night, earwigs maintain a diet comprised of maggots, earthworms, aphids and other insects. Those pincers that look so dangerous are harmless to you, but they’re a handy tool for dispatching smaller, weaker creatures that didn’t have the foresight to escape in time.

Pincher bugs are not territorial, meaning they can share nests which is why they can quickly rise in numbers. Having a hospitable environment is a recipe for disaster.

What do earwigs look like?

Eric Isselee /

Earwigs range in size depending on their species. They are brownish in colour. Their elongated bodies feature big forceps which, based on the gender of the pincher bug, can be bigger (on male earwigs) and smaller (on female ones).

  • Size
    Their size is widely dependent on their species. Earwigs can grow between 5mm and 50 mm in size.
  • Wings
    Earwigs have two pairs of leather wings. Despite the fact they have wings, most species do not fly. Those that actually do, usually do it in small bursts more akin to leaps than controlled flight.
  • Forceps
    The forceps (or the pincers) is the part of the earwig’s body that makes it intimidating. But here’s the thing – pincher bugs are lovers, not fighters. The forceps is much more important for mating than it is for biting and pinching. It actually indicates the gender of the bug. Those scary looking ones are probably male – they have longer, curved pincers. The females have shorter, straight ones.

Earwig distribution and habitat

There are only about 85 species of earwigs in Australia (out of over 1800 worldwide, so we assume there’s more yet to be discovered here). Some of them are native and some are introduced.

Even though European pincher bugs are an introduced species, they are quite abundant in numbers, especially when the environment is just right. This species is the most likely to become a garden pest.

Earwigs are most widely distributed in warm, humid climates. Their habitat includes dark and damp environments. They literally live under rocks. They can live in leaf piles during the fall season, inside and under tree trunks, barks, or fallen branches. Your basement is a safe, family environment for earwigs as well. Think about it as a pincher bug suburban area.

Earwig lifecycle

The earwig lifecycle begins in the form of an egg, like typical insects. However, what is atypical is the fact that the female looks after the eggs even after they hatch. This is not standard behaviour for solitary insects.

A female can lay 40 to 50 eggs at a time in tunnels she has created and designated for this specific purpose. They take a week to hatch.

Earwigs do not go through a full metamorphosis. When the nymphs are hatched, they resemble an adult, save for a few characteristics. Their pincers are noticeably smaller and more underdeveloped, as compared to the adults. Young pincher nymphs also lack wings and there’s a noticeable line going through their entire heads and bodies where they moult.

Nymphs go through 4 or 5 moults before they reach adulthood. The mother stops caring for them by the third, at which point she might eat them.

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What attracts earwigs inside your house?

Like with many other insects, the main offenders are rubbish or food leftovers. If there’s any leftover food that is greasy, sweet, or oily, you can be sure it’s going to attract a lot more than pincher bugs. But they don’t mind sharing.

Throwing organic materials in the rubbish and not disposing of them immediately can also provide a lucrative environment for these little buggers. Finally, any source of cellulose or rotting wood (like boxes in your damp basement). Expect more earwigs inside during dry weather periods as they’re looking for shelter.

Outside in your garden, rocks and debris are their best friend. Wood piles, leaves, or anything that offers darkness and dampness, earwigs can use to settle down and procreate, meaning your garden is about to suffer.

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How to get rid of earwigs

There are some environment-friendly earwig control methods that homeowners prefer to test as a safer and more convenient option. However, depending on the location and severity of infestations, a specialised pest control treatment can be the more secure solution that brings permanent results. Let’s review some of the steps you can take to get rid of an earwig infestation.

  • Look for signs of an actual earwig infestation – It is not uncommon to find a pincher bug wandering inside your home, brought in from the garden with a plant or a veggie. There is no need to panic in this case. If you find you have more than a few individual bugs, then you probably have an earwig infestation. Since earwigs are not social animals, it would be highly unusual to see several of them in one place.
  • Find where the earwigs are hiding – You can find earwigs inside your home in dark, damp, and cluttered places. Having a source of food nearby would be a bonus. The basement or the kitchen would be the most likely interior habitat for these nasty creatures.
  • Take the necessary control measures – Some of the natural remedies often used to kill earwigs include spraying them with soapy water, trapping and killing them with beer, different oils or alcohol. However, as we’ve mentioned earlier, specialised treatment may be needed for the complete eradication of the infestation. A professional pest controller performs an inspection to locate the nest. This would make it easier to kill the eggs during the treatment, as well. The premises are then sprayed, which reduces the earwig population significantly. Sometimes, if the nest is not located and treated, the eggs survive. This makes earwigs more difficult to control and may require a second specialised treatment.

Is the earwig infestation more stubborn than expected? Hire a professional pest controller to rid your home from the pincher bugs!

How to prevent an earwig infestation

Dealing with earwigs at home

  • Tidy your home.
    If you have no clutter and provide no safe environment for them, pincher bugs would have no reason to enter your home and infest it.
  • Stop leaving food lying around.
    If you spill something, clean it up immediately.
  • Fix leaky faucets.
    Remove any leaky faucets in your home. Make sure to check the pipes around the faucets as well.
  • Place a dehumidifier in humid areas or ensure proper ventilation.
    Control the humidity levels in your home. Bathrooms, toilets and rooms without windows all should have a dehumidifier placed in them.

Dealing with earwigs in the garden

  • Declutter your yard and garden.
    Don’t decorate with rocks and other objects that can be used as a hiding place for earwigs. Remove all organic rubbish from your yard. Don’t leave piles of rubble or wood anywhere in the garden. Remove leaf piles.
  • Create earwig traps
    Put part olive oil and part soy sauce in a plastic container, poke a small hole in the lid and bury it in your garden. Change the mixture every few days and adjust if it seems ineffective.
  • Trim your grass regularly.
    Maintain your yard in good condition. Installing a fake turf is also a good way to keep pincher bugs at bay.

Are earwigs dangerous?

Earwigs don’t transmit diseases like rats and mice, for instance, so you don’t have to worry about that. Their pincers aren’t powerful enough to produce a strong pinch, so they are not harmful to humans as a lot of people fear.

They can bite, but the bites only cause minor irritation. Pincher bugs really look more dangerous than they actually are. Their reputation is mostly made up. Nevertheless, earwigs can cause problems in your garden.

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Do earwigs go into ears?

There is a common myth that earwigs can infest the human brain through our ears. Some people even believe that’s where the insect got its name. Pincher bugs have quite the reputation, the first recorded source of which originates in the 17th century.

The idea was that earwigs had an unnatural propensity for infesting human ears. A common propose remedy was spitting in the person’s ear until the insect got out.

To this day the belief persists. Along the way, it has evolved to include an infestation of the brain. Clearly, with basic knowledge of anatomy, you would know how ludicrous the idea is.

There is no scientific evidence to support the claim that earwigs get inside people’s ears. The notion that they can somehow get to your brain through your ear is even more ridiculous. The only scientific consensus is earwigs do not harm people. So sleep well!


  • You can encounter earwigs both in your home and in your garden.
  • An earwig likes humid and damp places, preferably with plenty of insects nearby to feed on.
  • Finding several of these insects in your home can be a sign of an active infestation.
  • When trying to get rid of pincher bugs, it is important to kill both the adults and the eggs to prevent reinfestation.
  • Avoid having to deal with these insects again by keeping your home and garden clean and organised all the time.
  • Earwigs are not really dangerous to humans and despite the myth, there is a little chance of finding one of them in your ear.

From fixing leaky faucets to keeping your garden in pristine condition, Fantastic Services offers in-house services for your home.

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