The Part-time Gardener #6: Quick pest identification (earwigs)

Bugs!

They gross most people out. And I think most of us have an inclination to want to stamp them out immediately when we see them in our gardens. Maybe we rush out to buy an insecticide. Maybe we smush them. So how do we know what to do when see a bug in our garden? How do we know if it’s really a pest and not beneficial in some way? First, we have to figure out who they are…

I recently saw one of these little guys in my lettuce:

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Unidentified bug (generic photo, not from my garden)

At the time, he wasn’t eating anything, just sort of wandering around. So I ignored it, even though I did see some nibbles on my lettuce. A couple of days later, I saw him (or one of his friends) on my mint, which also had some holes. Could this be the culprit? I looked at the leaves for eggs and excrement (that might be indicative of caterpillars, which I’ve had problems with before). I didn’t see anything of the sort. Hmmm.

Maybe most people immediately recognize this bugger, but it was my first time to see him in the garden. My first step was to check out the University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management System’s List of Agricultural Pests by Crop. I highly recommend this site, as in the past it has helped me to ID pests QUICKLY. I also like it because the guides are developed with Southern California in mind. I looked under lettuce, but nothing described this particular bug.

My next bet was a straight up Google search of “bug with pinchers at back end.” This brought up the earwig. I went back to IPM website and searched for “earwig.” Sure enough, I found an extremely detailed description of earwig management. Β Here I learned that:

  • The most common in California gardens is the European earwig, Forficula auricularia.
  • They can have a beneficial role in the landscape, as they are omnivores and can eat harmful pests like aphids.
  • If they’re feasting on plants, you’ll find numerous irregular holes or are chewed around the edges.
  • They love moisture. If the climate is warm and dry, they can find themselves in irrigated beds where there’s hiding spots and water.
  • The striped earwig, Labidura riparia, occurs in Southern California and doesn’t damage plants.

Given the damage to the edges of the lettuce, seeing as I saw a few, and seeing as I have mulch (aka hiding spots) in my beds, my guess is the European earwig is to blame:

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My romaine lettuce chewed around the edges.

The IPM site recommends some simple fixes, such as reducing the amount of hiding area in the garden. They also advise organic solutions such as setting a low can into the ground at soil level, then filling with 1/2 inch vegetable oil and a drop of bacon grease or juice.

We didn’t have any cans or vegetable oil so I used a low plastic broccoli sprouts container, filled it up with some bacon grease and olive oil and set it out overnight. The next day I found a couple earwigs in there. I guess we can say this simple fix works!

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Bacon grease and vegetable oil trap

Time will tell if the earwigs will continue to be a problem but one thing is for sure, the IPM website is a great website for Southern California home gardeners.

Have you seen these guys in your garden? What’s your remedy, or do you let them be? Leave a comment below!

With hands to soil,

Erin

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