Deb Babcock: Don't fear earwigs

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The poor earwig, though disgusting to most of us, can be a beneficial insect as well as a destructive one. Earwigs are often blamed for damages caused by other insects because they seek out dark, enclosed spaces such as tunneling wounds caused by caterpillars and borers. Even though they did not cause the damage, they often are found at the scene of the crime and are vilified by gardeners. Earwigs also are feared by many thanks to those nasty looking pincers on their hind end. The pincers are actually quite weak, but their jaws at the opposite end have been known to cause a mildly painful bite.

Earwigs nocturnally feed on fruit and vegetable crops and garden ornamentals as well as many insects and their eggs and larvae, including aphids, mites and spiders. During the day, they like to hide in moist, dark, snug places.

Though there is only one generation of earwigs per year, they develope throughout the growing season. The female builds a nest in small holes, under rocks, or in the soil of potted plants and tends her eggs for several weeks until the young earwigs are ready to leave the nest and forage on their own.

If you have earwig problems indoors, you must first control them outside your home. They are attracted to light and generally come into the house through cracks and crevices along the base of your home and through loose weather-stripping around door and window openings.

First, clear away any debris or other materials next to the house where they may hide. Then seal any cracks where earwigs might enter the house. If you can create a dry barrier zone along the outside of your home, earwigs are less likely to cross it to come inside the house.

Insecticides and baits may be used in the garden and on the exterior foundation walls of your home as well as along a 1 - to - 3 foot swath of soil surrounding the house.

Carbaryl and permetherin are some of the insecticides available to homeowners for controlling earwigs.

Some of these insecticides also can be used indoors on houseplants. Be sure to follow label directions.

Bran insecticidial baits also are effective at controlling earwigs, including the leftover Eco-Bran bait you might have from this summer's grasshopper infestation.

If you prefer to avoid the use of insecticides, you can trap earwigs by placing a damp, rolled-up newspaper in the garden or near your potted plants and other moist places overnight, then crush and dispose of it in the morning.

Another way is the use of sticky traps (such as the 'roach motel') placed under sinks or other moist areas where you have seen earwigs. A vacuum cleaner or broom and dustpan will also scoop up the indoor pests.

Earwigs can be a nuisance, especially when they enter your home and surprise you from their hiding place under a damp towel or inside a cupboard.

But if you can keep them outdoors, they can bring some benefits to your garden.

- Deb Babcock is a master gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call the CSU Cooperative Extension office at 879-0825 or e-mail gardeners@co.routt.co.us

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