We’ve all heard the old wives’ tales of earwigs (AKA pincher bugs) creeping into ears so their larvae can feed on human brains, but that’s only true in Sci-fi. So if not brains, what do earwigs eat?
Today we are going to discuss the varied earwig diet and what attracts them to our homes and gardens. You might be surprised by the answer.
What Do Earwigs Eat?
Most of the 2,000 species of earwigs (order Dermaptera) are scavengers, eating whatever’s available. However, some are omnivores and others are predatory.
Let’s begin by looking at the common earwig, which you’re likely most familiar with. Then we’ll cover a few special circumstances.
What Does a Common Earwig (Forficula auricularia) Eat?
The common earwig (AKA European earwig) is one of 12 species introduced to North America (the US also has 10 native species of earwig). It’s one of the most common household pests, and knowing its diet can help stave off an invasion.
In truth, this is one of those critters that’s a beneficial insect so long as you provide its favorite foods. It’ll gladly help rid your plants of aphids, pear psyllids, and many other tiny garden pests.
Unfortunately, when there’s not enough meat, they’ll readily attack all sorts of crops. Leafy vegetables and cucurbits are a popular snack, as are the flower petals of ornamental plants such as carnations, dahlias, roses, and zinnias. They will also devour corn silks with a-maize-ing speed.
Even fruit trees aren’t safe, with apples, peaches, pears, and plums all prime targets. Thus, it’s important to only invite them over if you have plenty of pests among your garden plants. Remember, common earwigs diet first on nuisance pests and second on organic matter.
What Do Pincher Bugs Eat Besides Plants and Insects?
Bats provide some unusual food for earwigs in the Arixeniidae family. Arixenia spp. likes to live in the skin folds of Malaysian hairless bulldog bats (Cheiromeles torquatus). They’re believed to feed on the bat’s glandular secretions.
Meanwhile, their sister genus, Xeniaria spp., prefers the bat’s guano and may also feed on other pests that target the guano.
Meanwhile, the two genera in from the Hemimerina family tend to live on or around two species of rats. However, these epizoic families are definitely the exception and not the rule when it comes to what earwigs eat.
Diet of Earwigs in House vs Garden
Earwig infestations can be pretty common, and their diet inside is often very different than in the wild. So what do earwigs eat in the house?
Once inside, they’ll seek out any potential food source. This may include dead insects, bug infestations, or plant material. The pantry and basement are two common places to find them. Potted plants are also a popular source of food.
Do Earwigs Eat Clothes?
Clothes made from plant fibers are certainly potential targets. However, there’s no evidence to suggest an earwig will go after synthetic fibers. Thus, if you spot an earwig in your closet, take a look for signs of carpet beetles or bed worms (such as baby clothes moths) as the more likely reason the earwig’s there.
Do Earwigs Eat Mold?
Many earwig species eat mold and fungus. If you spot them in the basement or other places moisture can accumulate, it could be a bad sign. Be sure to check for mold, fungus, and other insect pests.
Do Earwigs Eat Spiders?
Do Earwigs Eat Wood?
This is actually a popular myth, possibly because earwigs are known to hide in wood cracks. In fact, there’s a lot of debate on whether or not earwigs will even munch on paper or cardboard.
There’s enough evidence to suggest they will in a pinch (no pun intended), but this is about as rare as the IRS telling you you don’t have to file taxes this year.
Instead, your culprit is more likely to be a type of silverfish.
What Insects Do Earwigs Eat?
Insects are such an important part of an earwig’s diet that we need to devote an entire section to them. In addition to plant matter, earwigs will go after insects, insect eggs, and even some arachnids such as ticks and spider mites.
So what does an earwig eat in terms of insects? Here are some of the more common questions we’re asked on this topic:
Do Earwigs Eat Ants?
Ants are the appetizer to an earwig’s preferred main course in the restaurant that is your garden. An unlucky pavement ant might become an easy snack for a hungry earwig if it gets too close.
Do Earwigs Eat Aphids?
Aphids are a preferred meal for earwigs. While not every species is on the menu, those in your garden most likely are.
Do Earwigs Eat Bed Bugs?
Honestly, nobody knows the answer to this. However, since fleas, mites, and other small pests are common prey, it’s safe to say they probably do eat bed bugs. Scientists just haven’t caught them in the act yet.
Do Earwigs Eat Fleas?
Yes, earwigs actually eat fleas. In fact, this is one of the reasons you may want them around if you have pets. Just be careful you don’t have a similar-looking critter by accident!
Do Earwigs Eat Roaches?
Earwigs likely won’t eat cockroaches because they’re bigger and have a tough exoskeleton. However, they might decide to munch on a roach’s corpse.
Do Earwigs Eat Springtails?
According to the University of Florida, springtails are part of the common earwig’s diet. Many other species of earwig have also been confirmed to feast on these common pests.
Do Earwigs Eat Termites?
There’s no proof that earwigs eat termites. Earwigs prefer smaller prey as a general rule. However, there’s never been an observed case of termites being on the menu.
Bonus: Are Earwigs Harmful to Humans?
We’ve mentioned earlier that earwigs are potential allies but they can also be a problem. The obvious benefit to humans is that earwigs are great for pest control. The downside is that they’ll go after many ornamental and vegetable plants when there are no prey pests.
But can they be harmful to humans beyond agricultural damage? Let’s do a quick Q&A:
- Do earwigs bite or pinch? Rarely, and there’s no real pain or damage done.
- Do earwigs carry disease? No.
- Do earwigs carry parasites? No.
- Do earwigs eat fabric? Sometimes.
- Do earwigs damage books? Highly unlikely.
- Will earwigs crawl in your ear? You have a better chance of being struck by lightning. Twice.
- Will earwigs damage wood? No.
So as you can see, earwigs are more of a nuisance pest than anything else. Beyond the risk to susceptible plants when there’s no prey around, these critters are quite harmless and won’t eat you out of house and home.