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May 2016 - Earwig Menace

The Earwig Menace was on the minds of many in the city in early 1922. The Commissioner of Health, the Superintendent of Streets and Sewers, the district horticulture inspector, and the director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture all wrote to the City Council emphasizing the severity of the problem and asking for help in eradicating it.

However, the letter most descriptive of the menace may have been the one from Queen Anne resident George Cowell, who wrote to share his own observations of the pest. He noted that until three years ago, he had never even seen an earwig, but that he then began finding them in his flower garden, and their numbers grew exponentially.

"Last year, in spite of my constant warfare on them of the year before, my property was simply over-run with them... I found them by hundreds in the edge of the sod... I opened the ashes clean-out in the base of my fire-place chimney out-doors; and there were thousands in there! I closed the iron door quickly, and filled a nasal atomizer with gasoline out of the tank of my auto, and sprayed them in their hiding-places with that...

"One of the worst infested places I found was the Queen Anne Play-field! There were thousands and thousands of them there! I sprayed gasoline with my atomizer into the cracks of telephone-poles around the Play-field; and into crevices around the tennis-court back-stops; and I killed hat-fulls of earwigs... I found the saw-dust in the crib, filled with it for the children to play in, full of - simply alive with - earwigs, old and young! They evidently breed in the saw-dust.

"Now I submit that the City cannot begin too soon to fight this pest to a finish. It is the biggest nuisance of any I ever came into contact with; and it will over-run the entire region, if not curbed, and curbed quick.

"I even found where it had been eating cherries on the trees!

"One night I went out with an electric torch, and saw hundreds of earwigs on the sides of my house. I took an old case-knife, turned its edge at an angle, and smashed them, one at a time. I killed, on that first foray, more than six-hundred of them, by actual count! The next night I killed, by actual count, over the very same ground, more than five-hundred!"

Mr. Cowell stressed, however, that even extraordinary efforts like his would not eliminate the problem if others were not also doing their part. He called for an immediate city-wide response to the infestation. "If you yourself have not had experience with them, thank your lucky stars, and hope that organized warfare on them will wipe them out before they invade your district as they did mine."

City Council did indeed appropriate money for the eradication of the pest.