Are Earwigs Dangerous to Humans?

Medically reviewed by Josephine Hessert, DO

The earwig is a type of insect. Its name derives from a folklore myth that the earwig crawls into the ears of sleeping people, where it lays eggs. However, there is no proof to the claim, and the insect is mostly harmless to people.

The earwig is a pincher bug that ranges in size from one-fourth to 1 inch. It has six legs and an antenna that measures about half its size. It also has a set of pincers that protrude from the back of the abdomen and give the bug its daunting look.

Despite its appearance, the earwig does not pose a threat to people. While it does not bite, the earwig can use its pincers to pinch if it is picked up and disturbed. Rather than harm people, the earwig is more likely to harm plants.

This article describes how earwigs interact with people. it also explains how to treat a scratch from their pinch and ways to keep them from invading your house.

<p>Paul Starosta / Getty Images</p>

Paul Starosta / Getty Images

Earwigs Don't Live or Crawl in Ears

The earwig gets its name from an old European myth that says that the bugs crawl into people's ears and tunnel into their brains while they sleep, causing fever and insanity. Other versions say that earwigs crawl into human ears to lay their eggs there. The term earwig is derived from Old English word "ēare," which means ear, and "wicga," which means insect.

There is no scientific basis for claims about earwigs seeking out human ears and causing insanity or other damage. However, emergency rooms often see patients who arrive with a bug in their ear, so the presence of any small bug in the ear canal is not unique to the earwig.

There is no evidence that earwigs seek out human ears to cause harm. When an earwig is found in a person's ear, it is likely that the earwig wanders there by chance.

Learn More: Can Flies Transmit Disease?

Where They Come From

The European earwig, which is the most common variety, was brought to North America from Europe around 1907. The insects rapidly spread across the United States.

Earwigs live outdoors in large numbers. During the day, they can thrive in moist soil or other damp environments. These bugs are commonly found near the house foundation in mulches, compost piles, trash, and wood piles.

Earwigs are active at night. They are drawn to lights, where they prey on small insects such as spiders and mites, both dead and alive. They also feed on algae, fungi, and moss.

Where Are Earwigs Most Common?

Earwigs can be found in all regions, though they prefer warm, humid climates. There are almost 2,000 species worldwide, existing everywhere but the North and South Poles.

Earwigs and Biting: What Happens?

With their sharp pincers protruding from the back of their abdomen, earwigs can appear intimidating. However, earwigs are a greater threat to the garden plants they attack than they are to people.

Earwigs use their pincers to aid in reproduction, hunt prey, and defend themselves. If picked up and agitated, an earwig is likely to pinch humans. While the pinch can be painful, it does not transfer venom or disease.

An earwig pinch typically doesn't break the skin. If the pinch goes deep, you may notice two red pinch marks. The pincers can break your skin, resulting in a small amount of bleeding.

If an earwig bite breaks your skin, treat the wound as you would care for a scratch. Since earwigs live in the soil, it's possible that germs can get into the cut from the earwig's pincers. To treat broken skin use the following first-aid treatments:

  • Use direct pressure to stop any bleeding.

  • Use soap and water to wash your wound. Try to rinse it under running water.

  • Use a washcloth to scrub out any dirt.

  • Apply a light layer of antibiotic ointment around your cut to kill the germs

  • Cover the cut with gauze or another type of bandage,

  • While rare, look for signs of infection, which can include redness, swelling, pain, or draining liquid.

  • If a scab forms, do not pick at it. Let it fall off when ready.

Learn More: Insect Bites: How to Tell What Bit or Stung You

What to Do About Household Earwigs

Earwigs typically enter a house by accident or when seeking shelter, usually when outside temperatures become too dry, hot, or cold. While they do not cause any harm or destruction, earwigs may produce a noticeable foul odor from their abdomen as a self-defense mechanism if they are disturbed.

When earwigs get inside your home, remove them with a vacuum or a broom and dustpan as you would remove other insects. However, since they are most active at night, you may not be able to find every earwig hiding in your house.

The following strategies can help you manage household earwigs and prevent new earwigs from coming in:

Use a dehumidifier and clean up unfinished basement floors. Earwigs may enter your home as they search for darkness and moisture. Once inside your house, earwigs often settle in dark, damp areas such as basements, garages, and bathrooms. Reducing the moisture in your house can help get rid of earwigs.

Seal points of entry. Caulk and repair cracks or gaps around the outside of your home at ground level. Pay special attention to areas around doors and windows and the point where the siding meets your foundation.

Reduce areas of moisture near your home. Keep areas around water faucets, air conditioners, and vents clean and dry. Eliminate damp conditions near your house by channeling water from rain gutters and spouts away from the building foundation.

Remove places where earwigs like to hide. Clear leaf piles, mulch piles, and other vegetation from your property. Consider moving objects like firewood piles and logs away from your home to create a perimeter around your house that is free of organic material.

Design your landscaping to create a clean, dry border around the foundation. Add gravel or ornamental stones to create a barrier against earwigs and other pests. This setting may be unattractive to earwigs because they enjoy moist conditions. Earwigs are more likely to congregate around homes with mulched areas near entrances because of the damp environment it creates.

Check for bugs on everything you bring inside. This includes lawn furniture, laundry, flowers, vegetables, firewood, and houseplants. Earwigs often gain entry into a house when they are brought inside as they hide among the petals or leaves of plants or inside fruit.

Use traps to reduce earwig populations around your house. These strategies include:

  • Make traps from rolled-up corrugated cardboard or newspaper; cardboard tubes or short lengths of hose, canvas, or pieces of burlap. Place the traps near damaged plants in mulched areas. Earwigs will hide in or under the traps. You can shake them into a pail of soapy water to drown them.

  • Fill shallow containers with vegetable oil or soapy water. Bury the containers up to their rim in your garden, where earwigs will drown in the liquid.

Consider using insecticides if earwigs persist despite nonchemical steps. Earwigs can remain a nuisance despite nonchemical treatments. Several insecticides are considered safe for earwig control. Follow product directions carefully. Pesticide use entails:

  • Apply powders and sprays around baseboards, under cabinets, and around other hiding places at the ground level.

  • Apply perimeter treatments to a 3- to 6-foot area around the building, adjacent to the foundation. These treatments can also be applied to crawl spaces, flower beds, turf, or mulch in the late afternoon to prepare for earwigs when they emerge at night.

  • Plants can be treated with the following pesticide sprays when you notice damage from earwigs:

  • Permethrin

  • Deltamethrin

  • Acetamiprid

  • Carbaryl

Learn More: Is the Pesticide Residue on Fruits and Veggies a Health Concern?


The earwig is an insect that prefers moist and damp places. It can be found under potted plants, leaves, and other objects outdoors. While they mostly live outside, earwigs can make their way into houses and become a nuisance.

Despite the way it looks, earwigs are not harmful to people. Their threatening pincers are used to grab onto objects and defend themselves. You may get squeezed by its pincers if you threaten it, but the effect causes no more than a scratch. A reaction or other problems are rare.

Managing earwigs involves taking steps to avoid their access to your home. Controlling earwigs outside may require trapping to achieve results. As a last resort, insecticides can help you get relief from earwigs.

Read the original article on Verywell Health.