sealPurdue News

August 7, 1998

Earwigs invade Indiana

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A menacing-looking insect with a scary -- but undeserved -- reputation is invading Indiana, a Purdue University entomologist says.

The earwig, named because false folklore says that the insect invades the ear canals of children while they are sleeping, is spreading throughout Indiana.

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"They've become a serious concern to homeowners in the last two years in Indiana," said Purdue Cooperative Extension Service entomologist Tim Gibb. "Until recently we've only had occasional reports from the northern two tiers of counties. But in the past two years they've been found throughout the state."

Earwigs are black, roughly the size of a small cricket, with large pincers at the back of the abdomen. Although they have been known to use the pincers on people, they seldom break the skin of their victim. They are not known to spread any diseases, either, so health-wise they are a benign pest.

"People are sometimes concerned with the old tale of earwigs crawling into children's ears. That's not true, they're not attracted to people at all," Gibb said. "They only feed on decaying organic matter such as leaves or wood."

Earwigs prefer damp, shady conditions, and they are often found under porches and decks, and in sheds and playhouses. Eventually they may find their way into homes.

Although earwigs are little threat to health, that's doesn't mean they're welcome in our houses. "They're a nuisance pest," Gibb said. "They live and breed in large colonies and leave fecal markings on walls, in cupboards, and in other places. They're a nasty little pest."

Although earwigs primarily have been found in the northern third of Indiana in past years, Gibb said that they have suddenly spread throughout the state over the past two years. "The reason why has got me buffaloed," Gibb said. "I can't believe there's that much difference in environmental conditions over the past couple of years. It's a mystery.

"It could be that the population cycle is just at an upswing for the pests, and after five or 10 years we won't see that many again, just the natural ebb and flow of animal populations. On the other hand, they could be here to stay and become a perennial problem now."

To help control the pests, Gibb said that homeowners should keep the house clean and use good sanitation practices. To prevent earwigs from establishing colonies near the house, homeowners may want to consider removing mulch from near the house or making sure that the mulch is kept dry.

Perimeter treatments of insecticides also can be effective against earwigs, Gibb said. "Homeowners can also used pesticides approved for indoor and outdoor use, such as Diazinon or Sevin, on established colonies," he said.

Earwigs can sometimes be brought into homes with firewood. "With the higher populations of earwigs in Indiana, there are going to be a few problems with firewood," Gibb said. "Firewood should always be stored outside until you need it for a fire. Also, never treat firewood with pesticides, because there's a chance that the chemicals can volatilize and create toxic fumes in the home."

Source: Tim Gibb, (765) 494-4570; e-mail,

Writer: Steve Tally, (765) 494-9809;;

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

Earwigs are invading Indiana homes, says Tim Gibb, a Cooperative Extension Service entomologist at Purdue. Despite their menacing appearance and horrible reputation, Gibb says that earwigs present little threat to human health. That doesn't mean they're a welcome guest in our homes, however. "They're a nasty little pest," Gibb says. (Purdue Agricultural Communications newsgraphic by the Purdue Department of Entomology.)

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