This project is open for 2023
The latest projects from the Buzz Club, Earwi'GO focuses on
a beneficial but often maligned insect group: earwigs. As part
of both the pest control and (probably) pollinator communities,
earwigs are very valuable in garden ecosystems, but have
tended to suffer from bad press due to their omnivory. They
can nibble on soft plant parts like petals and young leaves,
but the damage they do is minor, and the biological control
they provide by munching through aphids is much greater.
So why are we focusing on earwigs? Well, one of the Buzz
Club's main project themes is making homes for overlooked
types of garden insects. As Hoverfly Lagoons has shown, making new spaces can really boost the numbers of insects in green spaces - and help us all get more familiar with our tiny neighbours.
Earwigs would certainly benefit from a little help. They are 'univoltine', which means they only produce one generation per year, so are hit particularly hard by harsh conditions or damaging events, as they struggle to replace lost egg clutches and young. They also do not travel very far (a Belgian study showed disperal distances of ~30m!), and tend to aggregate together where they are present. Due to their historical reputation as pests, a lot of information about 'managing' garden earwigs is about their control, with earwig 'traps' taking advantage of their tendency to seek out tight spaces to rest in during the day. A similar method is used for catching earwigs for ecological sampling, using rolled up cardboard placed on trees.
Earwi'GO! is taking these techniques, and using them to create earwig housing.
Year(s): 2021 -
Focus? Earwig habitat
Status? In development /
Project lead contact:
European earwig. Photo by 'Hedera.balitica', 2019, Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0
The first step of this project is to find out what kind of hotels our garden earwigs like best, how to make them, using them to monitor how many earwigs are found using them in your garden / green space. Further details on the current project is below.
Earwig hotels set up on a garden apple tree.
This project will run from June to October.
Earwigs start to emerge from their overwintering nests in summer as nymphs (not adults yet - they are smaller, paler, and have no wings). They are mostly active at night and will seek out cosy shelter during the day, which i where our hotels come in.
We want to test out two fillings for our earwig hotels: cardboard and short bamboo canes. We also want to compare two positions in the garden: on the ground in a flower patch, and up on a stick. The basis for both types will be a plant pot (recycle a plastic one, or use teracotta if it is not too heavy for your stick).
You will need to make three hotels in total.
Using folded cardboard /rolls to make cardboard tubes for the earwigs to cosy down in.
You will need two of these.
Using short pieces of bamboo cane, hollowed out. These should not stick out of the pot.
(A bit like an upside-down bee hotel!)
You will need one of these
Location, location, location - for the hotels
Hotels should be placed in a flowery area of the garden (since damage to flower petals from earwig grazing can be particularly noticeable).
They should be in as much shade as possible within that space (earwigs like it cooler); particularly for the hotel on a stick, as it may heat up a lot if standing above everything.
Since you will need to take the hotels down to count the residents, please don't put them somewhere hard / dangerous to reach!
Ground hotel (card)
Cardboard hotel placed at base of the plants, to see if earwigs seek shelter lower down in flower / veg beds.
Ground hotel (bamboo)
Bamboo hotel placed at base of the plants, to see if earwigs seek shelter lower down in flower / veg beds.
Stick hotel (card)
Hotel raised off the ground to mimic a ‘tree’ (or at least provide ‘up’ for earwigs to climb).
To work out which hotel style earwigs like best, we need to count how many visitors you get to each one by emptying out the hotels into e.g. a large tray. These counts will be done once every two weeks starting two weeks after you begin. While we are focusing on earwigs, it would also be interesting to find out what other kinds of inverebrates might be using the hotels - so you will need to count everything. Only identify everything else to a level you are comfortable with - 'spider' and 'beetle' are fine! (Photographs are always useful to us if you can take them.)
Alternative counting options for if your earwigs are too energetic or numerous to count easily:
1)Tip the earwigs into a tray and take a photo of them quickly
before they escape, then count from that.
2)Do an approximate count. Ideally use categories of:
5 or less; 6 – 10; 11 – 20; 21+. E.g.:
Identifying earwigs should be easy - there are very few other insects that look anything like them! Adult males and females can be told apart by the shape of the cerci (pincers) on the end of their abdomen. Males have curved pincers, females have straight ones; nymphs (juveniles) have straight ones as well but are smaller and paler overall. Adults also have wings that are folded up very neatly by their 'shoulders' - looking like a small cloak.
A particularly fiesty earwig might try to pinch your finger, but the cerci are very weak and not sharp or venomous!
Snapping a quick photo means you can count earwigs later from a static image.
Adult male European earwig (Forficula auricularia). Photo by 'Hedera.balitica', 2018, Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0
Adult female European earwig (Forficula auricularia); top. Nymph, below. Note colour difference and wing cases. Photo by Judy Gallagher, 2020, Flickr. CC BY 2.0
The difference between adult male (eft) and female (right) earwig cerci / pincers. Image from Wisconsin Agriculture.
Frequently Asked Questions - Earwi'GO!
1. I wasn't able to start in June / only just found this project / missed a count.
Is this a probem?
Nope! While we would ideally like as many records over the full time period as possible,
we recognise that this might be a big ask. Do what you can, and just make sure to fill in
the dates on your recording sheet.
2. About the 'going in your ear' thing...?
A myth, and a silly one! While earwigs show 'positive thigmotaxis' (a fancy term for liking to be in small spaces, and clustered together), your ear really isn't a good hotel. Too warm, too waxy, too loud and - unless you are prone to going to sleep with your head stuck in a tree - not very accessible!