Earwigs and Sowbugs

Sowbugs and earwigs get a bum rap. They are blamed for all manner of destruction in the vegetable and flower garden. In fact, they are beneficials in the sense that their primary function is to help with the decomposition process, translating organic material into humus or compost. So what happens is the slug, during the night, eats some chunks out of the almost ripened tomato. Since such a wound will start to decompose quickly, the sowbug or the earwig move in to do their job and guess who gets blamed for making the hole in the first place? Sometimes earwigs can become so numerous that in the early spring they can do some damage to very young tender seedlings. During the rest of the year those two overly maligned insects perform good works for our healthy landscape.

About Sowbugs
Sometimes called “pill bugs”, the sow bug looks like a tiny armadillo. Sow bugs are isopods and are related to lobsters believe it or not. They roll up into a little ball when alarmed. They are gray or brown or occasionally an electric lavendar, and never bigger than one half inch. They eat the tender roots and shoots of seedlings and like damp places. A flowerpot turned upside down will attract these bugs if you want to make a population check. The USDA does not even list the sow bug as a problem insect for field growers. In the garden, they serve as food for many beneficial insects when there are no other pests around to eat, aid in decomposition of organic matter, and help loosen the soil.

About Earwigs

Earwigs are a funny type of beneficial insect because people tend to dislike them about as much as spiders. Actually both are very good guys that destroy many bad guys during the growing season. Earwigs are big diners on aphids, fruit worms and spider mites. They are so good at killing predators, the European countries place shelters in their fruit trees to provide a safe haven so earwigs can multiply, because earwigs will control Aphis pomi, the aphid that attacks apples, plums, and pears. It also attacks ornamentals such as spirea, dogwoods, flowering crabapples, and flowering quinces.

Earwigs are regarded as night stalkers. If you want to do a population check lay a piece of garden hose, about 12 inches long, on the ground near mulch or a compost pile. The next morning you will have a sample of the earwig population.

For a complete description of earwigs go to the file Controlling Earwigs

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