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Summer of the earwig

A bumper crop of earwigs seems to be enjoying the weather in Southern Oregon this year
Local exterminators say they've received more calls than usual this summer about earwigs. [123rf.com]

Some gardeners and homeowners in Southern Oregon have been battling invasions of earwigs, but the onslaught may be selective, according to exterminators and Oregon State University Extension Service.

“There is a ton more earwigs this year,” said Nathan Rohan, an exterminator with Bug Zapper Pest Control in Medford.

Rohan, who works throughout Southern Oregon, including Douglas County, Josephine County, Eagle Point, Ashland, Medford and Jacksonville, said he’s never seen earwigs like he has this year.

“I would say this is the first year we’ve gotten quite this number of calls that are earwig specific,” he said.

Danny Lovemark, sales manager with All Natural Pest Elimination in Medford, said he’s noticed the increase too.

“I’ve effaced more earwigs than normal; I’ve received more calls than normal,” he said.

Ants usually are the principal pests at this time of the year, Rohan said, but this year they’re being overwhelmed by earwig calls.

Earwigs come out at night, when the heat of the day passes, he said. That’s when they come out of their cool hiding places looking for food and water.

“They’re like cockroaches; they can just keep multiplying and live on top of each other,” he said.

Lovemark said he believes the increase is due to the late spring rains followed by the heat of summer.

“We don’t get the summer heat until July, and then it lasts into October. Fall doesn’t begin until winter,” he said, chalking up the boom in earwigs to climate change.

Rick Hilton, senior faculty research assistant and agricultural entomologist at the Oregon State University Research and Extension Center, said he has not noticed any large population boom of earwigs.

“We have had earwig invasions in the building, but not this year,” he said, but he conceded that it could be happening in pockets of Southern Oregon.

The OSU Master Gardener hotline staff also reported no uptick in complaints about the bugs.

Gail Langellotto, statewide coordinator for the Master Gardener program at OSU, said it’s normal for earwigs to go through boom and bust cycles. When the conditions are right, like the late spring rains and high heat of this summer, the population can explode.

Then the earwigs will drop off as they are eaten by predators and compete with each other and other insects for resources, she explained.

Langellotto advised against using pesticides in the garden — for the overall health of a garden’s complex ecosystem and because earwigs are a double-edged sword.

Earwigs eat plants, but they also eat smaller insects, including pests such as aphids.

“They can eat pretty much anything that would be small enough for them to handle, any soft-bodied insects,” she said.

The pincers on earwigs can do no harm to people, Langellotto said. Those mean-looking appendages are for mating, she explained.

To control them in the garden, trapping is key she said.

“I’ve worked on research projects where we needed to collect thousands of them at a time, and we used corrugated cardboard,” she said.

Earwigs enjoy tight spaces, and corrugated cardboard does the trick if it’s rolled up into a tube, she explained. Left in the garden overnight, the tubes will fill with earwigs, which can then be disposed of in sealed plastic bags.

Any tube-designed trap will work, she said, including rolled-up newspapers.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at mrothborne@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.