BOULDER COUNTY – I grew up watching ‘Star Trek’ as a child and still remember the episode that helped shape my life as an adult. Poor Mr. Chekov was attacked by an alien that looked remarkably like an earwig, which crawled into his ear and took over his body. I was so impressed by this I became an entomologist. Someday, I dreamed, I would be asked to save the universe by correctly identifying the insect in someone’s head.
I never realized that the call to save the universe from earwigs would come one plant at a time. Yet here they are, out in force this season, attacking plants in large numbers. Gardeners out for their morning stroll are finding their plants savaged by the attack, with the soft tissue of new seedlings, blooms and fruit being eaten. Because earwigs are mostly nocturnal, the assaults are occurring while the unsuspecting gardener sleeps.
Slugs are taking the blame for the crimes committed by earwigs. I’m no slug fan but I hate to see the wrong animal shouldering the blame for plant damage. This is largely due to the importance of blaming the correct villain in order to launch the right counter-offensive. Earwigs simply cannot be controlled by the same method as slugs and good pest control relies on the right control for the right pest.
Slugs can easily be controlled by putting a dish of beer out in the garden for them to crawl in and drown. This is well known by gardeners and is a popular, non-toxic method for eliminating the drunken slimeballs. For controlling earwigs, beer is best when consumed by the gardener. It may not control the earwigs but one feels much mellower about the damage they cause.
But you can put out a trap that is similar to the beer trap. Instead of beer, pour vegetable oil in a small container and add a dollop of soy sauce. Earwigs find this irresistible, and being gluttons, crawl into the oil where they drown.
Earwigs hide during the day in tight places, and as superior beings we can use this behavior against them. Taking a slightly moistened, rolled up newspaper and placing it out in the garden near the affected plants can easily achieve control. The earwigs will take advantage of this miraculous new housing to hide in during the day, and gardeners can easily pick up the paper, earwigs and all, and throw it in the trash.
If you are thrifty with resources, you might consider recycling the paper trap by emptying it of earwigs and re-rolling it for another evening of pest control. To recycle the trap, unroll it over a bucket of soapy water and vigorously shake the earwigs into the bucket. The soap will prevent them from climbing out, and they will quickly drown in the water.
For those who are squeamish and don’t want to have dozens of live earwigs scurrying around their hands and the paper trap as they shake it, try placing the rolled paper (in a plastic bag) in the freezer for the day and unroll to shake it out before evening. The frozen bugs will be unable to run and fall gently to their end. Reuse paper only if it hasn’t gotten soaking wet from rain or irrigation.
If the earwig infestation is severe in your garden, place several traps out at once and be persistent in emptying them or replacing them daily. It may take a week or longer to gain control, but the plants will thank you.
Colorado State University Extension, together with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, provides unbiased, research-based information about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development. For more information contact Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Rd., Box B, Longmont, 303.678.6238, or visit the CSU Extension web site at ext.colostate.edu/boulder.