Summer of bugs

Published 12:59 pm Saturday, July 10, 2010

Summer in southern Minnesota is often associated with warm weather, sunny skies and the general attitude among residents that all in life is well. But there is one aspect of summer living that most Minnesotans could do without: bugs.

Every year, it seems one species emerges as the summer’s villain, invading the comfort of homes and sneaking up on those enjoying the outdoors.

So what species claims the top spot this summer on the list of annoying insects?

“This year, it would have to be the earwigs,” said Jay Bruesch, technical director at Plunkett’s Pest Control in Minnesota.

The emergence of the earwig is somewhat of a new phenomenon for those living in the midwest. According to Jeffrey Hahn, an entomologist with the University of Minnesota Extension, the insect was first seen in the area 10 or 15 years ago. The reason for its move to the midwest is still unknown to Hahn and his colleagues in Minnesota and Wisconsin. But Hahn does know why this year is shaping up to be a banner year for the earwigs — it has been wet.

“They do like damper conditions,” he said.

Bruesch, who’s in the business of killing bugs, agrees.

Damp conditions, combined with an early, warm spring in Minnesota have created an ideal setting for the earwigs to thrive, according to Bruesch.

“Those are some things that earwigs love,” he said. “They love to be in moist surroundings.”

The earwig has been the impetus behind many calls Hahn and Bruesch have fielded this summer from troubled southern Minnesotans. As of early July, this summer has yielded an abundance of earwigs, causing a whole lot of panic from those discovering the creatures. Though Hahn admits earwigs may have a tough look , with a frame that includes what appears to be pinchers, he said the bug doesn’t pose a threat to humans.

“They’re harmless to people,” he said. “They feed on decaying plant matter and dead insects.”

While that may cause a problem for gardeners who could find them munching on flower petals, humans need not worry about being bitten by the earwig, Hahn said.

Contrary to an old wives’ tale that claims earwigs were given their name because of their propensity to crawl into humans’ ears in the middle of the night, Bruesch said that just isn’t so.

“They don’t crawl into your ear and dine on your brain while you sleep,” he said with a laugh.

Most earwigs stretch from one-half inch to five-eighths of an inch in size, with a reddish brown body and a set of pinchers.

Bruesch said that while many of the bugs are being found indoors, homes are not what earwigs prefer. Ideally, earwigs have their fun outdoors where it is dark and wet. Those found in homes have likely made their way in on accident while looking for a moist location outside.

“They’re only indoors accidentally,” Bruesch said. “An earwig is inside your house only because there are so many outside, some just stumbled in.”

When it comes to keeping the bugs at bay, Bruesch said focussing on the areas where earwigs may enter the structure is of utmost importance.

Depending on how heavy the infestation is, Bruesch said general practice is to apply insecticide to the little cracks around the perimeter of a foundation, treat the area where the siding meets the foundation and treat the area where the foundation meets the dirt. If a home has an area around the structure that includes mulch, that area will also be targeted. Bruesch said methods of getting rid of the earwig are generally successful.