Your Ultimate Guide to Silverfish and How to Get Rid of Them

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Silverfish are tiny, wingless, and nocturnal insects from the order of Zygentoma. This unusual and small pest got its name because of its silvery, fish-like body and movements. The silverfish is fast, resilient, and long-living compared to many other similar insects.

They adapted well to urban surroundings and can find a food source in almost every place. They are, however, sensitive to humidity changes in the air and stay far away from dry places.

Even though silverfish are 0.5 to 1 inches long, they can cause substantial damage to all items in homes and buildings that contain sugar or starches. Considering they can last up to one year on just water, elimination of these pests is a process that will take some time and persistence.

What Does Silverfish Eat?

Silverfish are notorious for their big appetite and will eat almost anything cellulose-based in your home to survive. On the menu of an adult silverfish you can find:

  • Books
  • Book bindings
  • Carpets
  • Coffee
  • Glue
  • Hair
  • Paints
  • Paper
  • Photos
  • Clothing
  • Plaster
  • Sugar
  • Cotton
  • Other insects
  • Silk and linen
  • Leather
  • Synthetics

The Silverfish development phase seems never ending, and they are one of the rarest insects that moult even as adults. To make things even stranger, there are certain silverfish species that eat the exoskeleton they moulted.

While silverfish are considered a pest in homes and buildings because of the damage they can cause to property and valuable items, they are not known to carry any viruses, diseases, or pathogens. 

In addition, they are not known to bite humans or animals, so apart from their unusual and sometimes scary looks, they are only dangerous to your books and furniture.

What Do Silverfish Look Like?

As the name suggests, silverfish look a lot like tiny and shiny fish.

This nocturnal insect is up to one inch long with a silvery exoskeleton and has long antennae in the front. Smaller specimens and newly hatched silverfish are whitish or gray and develop the shiny coating later in life.

The silverfish species is without wings, but they can run fast and they are quite agile. The movement they use to get around resembles fish movements, thus the name perfectly describes them.

Silverfishes also have two long cerci and one terminal filament in the back thus some people know them as “bristletails” and they are all able to regenerate if the insects lose any body parts.

It takes up to four weeks to grow new antennae and cerci, but considering the insect lives up to three years, it’s not too long for complete regeneration.

Various Silverfish Species:

The Zygentoma order has similar-looking insects such as silverfish and firebrats. This is one of the reasons why so many people confuse the two insects, but in case you see something similar to silverfish in your boiler room or other room with high temperatures, it’s most likely the firebrat.

There are three common species of silverfish found in American households such as:

  • Common silverfish (Lepisma saccharina)
  • Gray silverfish (Ctenolepisma longicaudata)
  • Four-lined silverfish (Ctenolepisma quadriseriata)

All silverfish species look similar, and even the firebrat is often confused with this insect. Apart from slight variations in colors and perhaps size, there are no other differences that an untrained eye can spot.

The silverfish can be found all around the United States, but also in Africa, Australia, Eurasia, and parts of the Pacific. But, the preferred habitats have humidity levels between 75% and 95%.

Common Treatments for Silverfish

Silverfish are very small and nocturnal so you might never see a specimen around your home even if there is a serious infestation. This is why so many people first notice feeding marks left on books, papers, holes, and along the edges of furniture.

Even if you catch a bug, you might mistake them for very similar firebrats.

In case you notice feeding patterns, yellow stains, scales, or tiny pepper-like pellets (feces) around your home, you are most likely facing a silverfish infestation. 

Considering they thrive in a moist environment the first line of defense is to use dehumidifiers that will dry the air. In addition, clear out your attic and basements from all the things the silverfish might eat, including your books, and old clothes, and keep your food in containers.

Some natural repellents can help you reduce the number of silverfish specimens in your home like cinnamon, citrus, and lavender-based smelling products. But, if you are not able to manage the infestation and the damage is getting substantial, it’s a good idea to call professional exterminators.

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