By: Bill Chaney, billc[at]garlic[dot]com, Consulting Rosarian, Entomologist
You know what bugs me? Earwigs!
Even the name earwig is annoying. It comes from the old superstition that these disgusting insects would crawl inside peoples’ ears while they slept. That isn’t true, but they seem to crawl everywhere else, including inside rose blooms. Inside roses, earwigs like to eat the stamens, the little stalks on which the pollen producing anthers are positioned. They are not above eating a hole in the petals or leaves too, just for spite.
Earwigs are a curse to entomologists as well, causing them problems of a taxanomic nature. Most agree that earwigs should be placed in their own order, Dermaptera, referring to the strange short wings. Earwigs are nocturnal and generally are scavengers for food, but feed on plants when it suits them. Earwigs like to hide in cracks and dark tight places. Earwigs are not social, but are gregarious and may often be seen in large numbers under rocks or stones. The adult female earwig lays her eggs in masses in burrows in protected places and carefully guards them until they hatch.
The plant damage is done by their chewing mouthparts, not by their forcepts-like cerci, the ominous pinchers found at the tail end of earwigs. These cerci are not dangerous, but earwigs are known for using them to attempt to free themselves from the grasp of vengeful rosarians. The earwigs body is quite maneuverable and these rascals have been known to inflict some discomfort before being torn in two or reduced to a brown smear.
Control of earwigs is not easy. Baits are available that contain carbaryl, the active ingredient in Sevin®, and these are reasonably effective. Barrier sprays of long residual insecticides such as chlorpyriphos (Dursban®) help keep earwigs out of the house and roses. Treating under pots and behind woodpiles, flowerboxes, etc. with an insecticide helps control earwigs as well.
Organically minded gardeners have been using rolled newspaper to trap earwigs during the night, then placing said newspaper, with earwigs, into a tightly sealed trash cans in the sun to die a horrible death, or thrown into a freezer to die a kinder, gentler death. The earwigs may also be downed in soapy water or beer, depending on your fancy. They may also be trapped in lowsided cans (tuna, catfood, tec.) to which a half an inch of vegetale oil has been added. Personally, I like to watch them swirl to their death in the toilet bowl, but water conservation prohibits such indulgence.
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