The night I found an earwig crawling across my leg in bed, I knew we had a problem.
The invasion started slowly but steadily gained momentum. First, one would turn up while I was clearing out the winter mulch. There was an occasional sighting while planting seeds. But once they found the lettuce, it was all over. They moved in and started breeding like… earwigs, I guess.
My squeamish husband objects to having them fall on his head while picking apricots. I’ve reassured him that that their name is misleading (multiple sources confirm that they do not actually crawl into your ears), but after some of the places I’ve found them, I’ve stopped voicing this opinion with confidence. From drowned earwigs in pots of soaking dishes to healthy earwigs in sealed dishes of food in my refrigerator, I’ve lost my sense of innocent surprise when I stumble across one. Last summer, they burrowed underneath corn husks and slotted themselves into cracks in my tomatoes. I could shake at least a few from between the bracts of every artichoke I harvested.
Earwigs are sprinters with cat-like reflexes. When I set a basket of lettuce on the kitchen counter, they scurry out of their hiding places so quickly that I have trouble hunting them all down. And while they can’t seem to figure out how to hurt something bigger than an insect, the pincers on the end of their abdomen look like they should be able to do some real damage, given that they must be proportionally bigger than a saber-tooth to its tiger.
But revulsion aside, earwigs are actually a complicated mix of good and bad in the garden. Some species of earwigs are predators, eating garden pests like aphids. Most species eat rotting things in addition to plants, helping to release nutrients into the soil. While these are definite pluses, eating and living in vegetables are minuses, probably leaving the balance at just below zero.
I’ll acknowledge that my tolerance may be slightly higher than that of the median gardener: during graduate school, I sorted gallons of dead arthropods collected from the rotting bodies of cow carcasses. If my plants are happy, I’m generally happy with what’s living in the garden (minus creatures with fur).
But I do enjoy an earwig-free night’s sleep. If only I had an outdoor sink to pre-wash vegetables… that may need to be our next garden installment.