Attack of the Earwigs

I keep getting asked for updated photos of my garden projects, and now I’m kicking myself that I didn’t take them a few days ago. Because now we are under attack by that filthy disgusting Dermaptera known as the earwig.

I can remember an era before the European earwig invasion. It was a simpler, less horrifying time.

That summer my mother’s delphiniums mysteriously died. She couldn’t figure out why. But when she cut off the dead dried-up flower stalks, earwigs poured out in the thousands. It was like an earwig fountain. Real life horror movie stuff.

Fast forward 20 years or so and my vegetable garden looks pretty swell. Then I started noticing something happened to my “Green Machine” melon seedlings.

melon problems

They started getting some yellowish spots and what looked like nibbles. I was concerned about powdery mildew, but quickly ruled that out. After hours of internet research, I determined that it was likely a bit of environmental stress (there had been a several day cold snap before the damage appeared) and perhaps a few nibbles from some critters. I lost 2 melon seedlings, but the two in the photo above are doing okay.

However, it’s been two weeks and now almost all of my bean plants have been munched away to nothingness:


This is one of about 2 or 3 bean plants that haven’t been completely annihilated:


This butternut squash plant looked awesome until about 3 days ago. All of that damage was done in about that amount of time:


This is what the smaller, less robust butternut plants look like. I wish I had taken a photo of this plant yesterday because all of this damage was done last night:


As you can see, something is causing significant damage. Healthy leaves are reduced to skeletons overnight. If I don’t figure out how to stop this quickly, I might not have a garden at all in a week.

Again, I searched for hours on the internet. I found some photos of damage done by the Cucumber Beetle that looked similar. They love cucurbits (squash, melon, cucumber, gourds, etc.), but they will also sometimes eat beans, corn, etc. So far so good. It’s the right time of year (April-June). You can avoid them by waiting to transplant (I transplanted quite early).  But then I looked up feeding time. Cucumber beetles are most active from 11 am to 3 pm. I’ve been checking frequently throughout the day and have yet to see ANYTHING munching my plants, which was one of the most perplexing things about this.

Finally I found a photo of similar damage that was caused by earwigs. And despite the fact that I hadn’t seen any earwigs on my plants, I know we have them in abundance. I didn’t realize this before, but earwigs are nocturnal, which is why I wouldn’t have seen anything.

Last night I waited about 2 hours after sunset and went out with my flashlight. I headed straight for the squash plants and sure enough, I found 3 small earwigs on one of them. I smushed them and looked around a little more, but didn’t find anything else. So I waited a few more hours. This time I didn’t even make it to the vegetable garden.

I heard a rustling when I went outside and thought maybe the rabbit that had eaten all the leaves off my eggplant seedling a few weeks ago had finally ventured back. I have a lot of baby plants that haven’t been transplanted yet clustered around the door of my porch. So I shined the light around and found a big quarter-sized bite taken out of a pepper seedling. Aha! Varmints!  But when I looked closer, there were FIVE earwigs eating at the hole.pepper

Cue the heebie jeebies.

I squashed them and then shined the light on the tomato plant next to the pepper and found two or three more. Squish. Squash. Squish. I looked a few inches more to the left and then gasped. Where I had expected to find a container with some cosmos seedlings, instead I found a container of brown writhing bodies. There was no green even visible anymore. Just earwigs.

Thoroughly creeped out, I ran back into the house.

The good news is that now I know what the culprit was and could figure out how to deal with it. The bad news is that I have plenty of fodder for terrifying buggy nightmares. I’m not super afraid of bugs, but I find earwigs absolutely disgusting. Seeing them en masse like that, I almost wanted to dry heave.

Here are some popular pesticide-free ways to deal with earwigs and my results with them:

  • Fill an old cat food or tuna can (unrinsed- you want that fishy smell) with cooking oil. Earwigs are attracted to the fishy scent. They crawl in and are suffocated by the oil. People say it works best to bury the can so that the edge is level with the ground, but I just set mine on the ground. Results: I got about a dozen bodies overnight.
  • Fill a small dish with beer or white wine. Most people use beer, but white wine was what I had on hand, so I poured some of that in the lid of a peanut butter jar. Again, burying so the edge is ground level is recommended, but I set it on the ground. (Bonus: beer also attracts and kills slugs if you have a problem with them. Not sure if the white wine also works with slugs.) Results: I got less than a dozen bodies overnight.
  • Roll up an old newspaper and make it nice and damp. Set it on the ground where you’ve seen the nasty buggers. They’ll crawl in to hide in the dark dampness during the day. So all you have to do is go out the next morning and dump the whole thing in a pail of soapy water. (You could also use a piece of old hose, make sure to get it nice and wet inside. Then you can reuse it over and over.) Results: When I picked up the newspaper, I saw a bunch scurry away from underneath it. I don’t like leaving the option for escape. I like that the other two methods kill them outright. Sorry, earwigs. But fuck you.
  • Put a small amount (I used about 1/4 teaspoon) of soy sauce in a dish. Cover with 1/2″ of cooking oil. Burying is recommended, but shocker- I didn’t. Results: I got about 200 bodies overnight. Yes, 200.
earwigs white wine
earwig carcasses in white wine

The verdict? SOY SAUCE AND OIL is the way to go.

A friend told me that adding 30-40 drops of Grapefruit Seed Extract to a small spray bottle of water and then sprayed on and around the plants will keep the earwigs away because they don’t like the bitter taste. I’m ordering the GSE and will report back with my results.

Repeat your earwig slaughter every night until you notice less bodies and less plant destruction.


3 thoughts on “Attack of the Earwigs

  1. Ugh. Glad to hear that you found some solutions!

    Prior to me moving I had the worst earwig problem in the world. Like really. We had huge gardens that included about 8 rose bushes and a climbing rose on an entire wall. One day I went outside to gather roses for a bouquet after a light rain, and the second I grabbed a rose to snip, all the petals fell off and the earwigs came pouring out. Ick! There was another plant we had that also attracted them, can’t remember which it was, but it had a hollow stem that the earwigs would live in. Now, for the most part I didn’t have the same problem as you where they ate everything, but I never knew what to do to keep them away. So I had a garden pretty to look at, but absolutely terrifying to work in; and there was no hope in gathering flowers.
    At least now I know some tricks to try if I get them at my current place! Thanks!

    I really hope these end up working well for ya, and that your garden turns out great once all those little suckers are gone! Home grown veggies always seem to taste the yummiest

    1. Shannon-
      Thank you for the reminder! Yes, it does seem to work! It has to be reapplied every few days or after it rains, but whenever I see evidence of munching, I give the plants a spray and it seems to stop them!

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