Getting bugged by earwigs

Published 1:15 pm Saturday, July 10, 2010

Earwigs almost killed me.

Like lots of others in these parts, our household has spent the first half of summer battling earwigs, the soft-bodied insects that have been crawling indoors in unusual numbers. We’d never seen, or even heard of, earwigs until about June, when we started spotting them on the floor, on the walls, sneaking into the dishwasher, lurking in the sink drain strainer — and in even more startling places that I won’t go into here.

Earwigs, as you can read in our Page 1 story today, enjoy moist outdoor conditions. And when they’re partying in the damp outdoors, some — perhaps over-stimulated by the nice weather — apparently tend to stray indoors.

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Earwigs, as a species, have been around for a long time; the oldest known fossil earwig is 208 million years old. They say we should respect our elders, but I don’t feel that way about earwigs,

They seem to have an almost supernatural ability to appear in unexpected places. Look over at a bathroom wall, and there’s nothing there; glance up again 30 seconds later, and an earwig is perched right in the middle of the wall. How did it do that?

This ability to appear and disappear at will is kind of creepy. Add to that a pair of large, though suppsedly harmless, pincers, a tendency to break and enter, and you have a bug that it is hard to feel good about.

They love moisture, as previously noted, and so have tended to be thick around the basement drains. I’m good at pretending I don’t see things, so I mostly walk right on by the basement bugs. My wife, Tammy, is a much better noticer, so she almost always gets bug-removal duty. She’s not given to stereotypical squeamishness, and has approached earwig removal as just another thing to get done.

So I was not worrying too much about insects last Saturday. I was wandering through the living room, thinking about taking a nap, when Tammy let out a tremendous scream. She’s a singer, and has excellent volume, all of which she employed for this solo.

The shock of it just about stopped my heart, and I staggered backwards, free hand on my chest, like Redd Fox in the old “Sanford and Son” television show, eventually dropping onto the sofa.

“What?” I screamed back, once I’d somewhat recovered. “What’s wrong?”

“Earwig,” Tammy reported.

We’d been stomping on, scooping up and otherwise dealing with earwigs for weeks, so what was the big deal about this one, I wanted to know?

“It popped when I stepped on it,” Tammy said. “I had to scream.”

See? Almost killed me.

I wish that earwigs would take a page from the fireflies, which are a much nicer sort of insect. They stay outdoors, don’t bother anyone much and put on a beautiful light show at dusk. We’ve made a point of sitting on the porch about 9 p.m. just to see the fireflies flash. They are, I suppose, the silver lining in this year’s earwig infestation.

Come to think of it, there may be some kind of cosmic come-uppance going on, because as a kid I caught a lot of harmless fireflies and put them in Mason jars, an experience they mostly didn’t survive. Maybe the earwig heart attack was only my just desserts.

If so, I’ll accept that penalty. As long as the earwigs get out of my house.