Earwigs are small insects of the Dermaptera order. They have a slender body and a pair of pincers, called cerci, at the end of the abdomen. Although they have two sets of wings, they do not often use them to fly. Usually nocturnal, during the day they hide in small, dark, moist areas -- well caps are another favorite hideout.
The earwigs' diet is diverse. They eat small insects such as mites and fleas as well as insect eggs. However, they also eat fruits and flowers.
Earwigs are also scavengers and will consume dead animal matter. They may eat corn silk as well as other flowers and crops. Dahlias, zinnias, carnations, butterfly bush, hollyhocks and sunflowers suffer damage from this insect. Crops that earwigs commonly eat include lettuce, strawberries, peaches, pears, cabbage, chard, potatoes, lettuce, cucumber, pea and beets are just some of their preferences. The exact varieties of food will depend on the geographical distribution of this insect, which is found in the Americas and Eurasia.
The omnivorous earwigs feed at night on foliage and garden plants and do not tend to be choosy about what they eat. In addition to the things already listed, these insects may also include moss, lichens and algae in their diet. Eliminating places of shelter, removing moss and algae, and not growing the earwigs' favorite plants will aid in controlling them.
There are also species that are either phytophagous (plant-eating) or predacious. Some (the Hemmerina) feed on fungi that reside on the skin of rats, while others (the Arixenina) prefer the skin gland secretions of bats.
Because earwigs feed on beetle larvae, maggots, scale insects and aphids, among other things, they are considered to be beneficial. However, most eat decaying plant material such as is found in the soil or garbage, and some will eat grain. Earwigs may also eat spiders.
If they crawl into an object on the ground, humans coming in contact with them may receive a mild nip. Although they often seek out protected spots like the underside of stones, they are also frequent residents of sheds and greenhouses. Vinegar is thought to be a deterrent to earwig infestation in the home.
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Kathleen March has been a writer for 40 years. A professor and translator of Spanish, Portuguese, and Galician, she has studied several languages and uses them for travel and research. She enjoys medieval architecture and avant-garde poetry. Her work has appeared in numerous critical journals in the U.S. and Spain.