Let’s hear it for Earwigs.

 I did go out on my bike and enjoyed every turn of the wheel. I have been travelling around all the back streets of every town and village I visit, in the search for skips, containing wood for toy making, for the days are drawing in and I need a stockpile of timber for the winter months. Flat-pack wardrobes are good, in fact, most furnisher so long as it is not made from chipboard of fibreboard, most toys are left out in the garden so have to be able to stand a bit of rain and abuse. In St Andrews, the best time to collect such material is when the students go off at the end of their courses, all the old fittings and fixtures end up out at the dust bins or awaiting collection by the council. Also, this is the time that contractors come into renovating before the new intake.

Now if there is one thing guaranteed to get my dander up it is crop spaying, especially in gardens. We actually had a policy on our allotment that no one would use a spray to control “pests”.

As you approached my mother front door, you passed a strip of land that ran alongside the path, it was crammed full of Wallflower. The multi-coloured display was a sight to behold. They did however attract earwigs, by the score. Even shaken, to within an inch of their life, before bringing them into the house, you would still see, from time to time, the odd earwig scurrying across the sideboard where a vase of Wallflowers would sit when in season.

Now take the humble Earwig, no matter how long and hard you search the internet, you will be hard-pressed to find an Earwig Preservation Society, however, I would like to try and enlighten you and possibly ask you to make friends of the earwigs in your garden if I may.

Most of their bad press comes from lurid stories told by (mainly boys) in the playground, how earwigs climb into one’s ears and lay their eggs. The young earwigs, when they hatched would dance around in your ear drives you mad, even how the mother burrows into your brain to feed her young.

So let’s be clear earwigs do not climb into your ear, although I am not saying that one never ever climbed into a human ear. As for those fierce-looking pincers are actually quite feeble when you consider that humans, lbs for lbs, are about 750,000, the size of an earwig.

Did you know that female earwigs have straight punchers

female earwig

and males curved?

Male earwig

The males use their pincers, not only to fight off beetles that may like to eat them but also to pinch the females bum to get her in the mood, (foreplay for earwigs) the male also has two penises, although he only uses one at a time.

Earwigs have only one generation per year, they will mate in autumn, then the female earwig will lay her creamy, oval eggs in a burrow in the ground as winter approaches. She will tend her eggs constantly until they hatch into nymphs, by rolling them in her forelegs and removing any traces of fungus and generally keeping them clean. When they hatch, she will mother hen them until they are able to make their own way in the world.

But why am I singing the praises of the earwig? I hear you cry. Well because they are a good friend to the gardener and in particular orchard owners. Earwigs have been estimated to eat as many aphids each year in apple orchards as could be killed by three rounds of spraying with insecticides. They are also voracious predators of almost all other insect pests found in apple orchards and in our allotments and gardens.

Given that each spray might cost £60 per hectare, and that there are 14.5 thousand hectares of commercial apple orchards in the UK, that makes the humble earwig potentially worth about £2.6 million to the economy each year. And of course not only in apple orchards. Here at City Park, our roses this year were covered in aphid, but alas there is little hope of any earwig surviving in our garden when the topsoil is scared with hurricane-force leaf blowers every other week.

It is difficult to get any kind of data on pesticide use in the UK, (possibly because it would scare the shit out of the customers of apples and many other fruits and vegetables). But in 2004 the DEFRA (Department for the environment, food and rural affairs), did publish some data, on pesticide use on Cox apple orchards in the UK. The average orchard received thirteen fungicide sprays, five plant growth regulator sprays, five sprays of insecticides, two herbicide sprays, and one spray with urea.

The main insecticide used was chlorpyrifos, a compound that belongs to a chemical family known as the organophosphates that are known to damage the nerves irreversibly and impair brain development in foetuses and young children even at very tiny doses and globally are currently estimated to cause acute poisoning symptoms in about three million people per year.

Thankfully non-organic UK apple orchards were taking measures to encourage biological control agents such as earwigs or ladybirds as an alternative to chemicals. Spraying crops becomes a vicious circle, you spray and kill off the earwigs and all the other pests, but the pest populations quickly recover, and before long the pest problem is worse than it would have been if the farmer had not sprayed (technically this is known as “Pest resurgence”). Red spider mite, for example, is rarely a pest in unsprayed, organic orchards, but its population explodes when you decimate the predictor of the red spider mite, by spaying. If a farmer wipes out the earwig, lacewings, hoverflies and beetles that might otherwise have been disposing of the pests for him, for free, he is locking himself into a cycle of spraying, that is difficult to escape from. Aphid,s for instance, do not lay eggs but produce young, so they are active from day one and will multiply far quicker than an earwig with only one generation per year.

So, folks, let’s hear it for earwigs, they do not deserve such bad press.

Keep safe.

2 thoughts on “Let’s hear it for Earwigs.

  1. Love earwigs. I have a very large collection of them living in the rim of the bin lids that go on the hen food bins. They’re all welcome in my garden, even if a few do find their way into my peaches. Did you ever read James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl? All true.

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  2. NO, I never did, clearly, I lost out on my early education, still trying to catch up. most of these writers, like Roald Dahl and Beatrix Potter, did write about everyday occurrences that they saw around them, Like the silly duck, taken in by the fox, who would show her where she could “safely” layaway.

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