It is small and shiny. It wriggles. It has tiny hair-like antennae and hairy-looking little-jointed legs. And it is moving rapidly across your floor. Yuck! What is it?! More importantly, how do you get rid of it?
What you just saw is a common silverfish, Lepisma Saccharina for entomologists. The silverfish is a small silver-colored insect that seems to have a natural knack for hiding in the most unlikely places and wriggling out just when you are least in the mood to be surprised and grossed out.
Because silverfish enjoy the same kinds of habitats people prefer, once established, they can be pretty hard to get rid of. In fact, for residents in this state, silverfish have become one of the most persistent and pervasive household pests, coming in at number eight on Purdue’s list of the most “Common Household Pests.”
So now you know what you are dealing with. Ridding your home of silverfish for good is possible. But first, it can be helpful to learn more about them – what they like, what they don’t like, how to protect yourself and your pets and what kinds of damage to look out for.
5 Facts About Silverfish
In this section, learn five facts about silverfish that may reduce your “ick” factor as you work towards making your home as inhospitable to them as possible.
- Silverfish were living on this planet 100 million years before the dinosaurs arrived. You may not appreciate this fact (at least until the little suckers are GONE), but your kids will probably find it fascinating! The take-away here is that silverfish outrank most other species on the planet as true survivors. In other words, they are highly adaptable, creative and resourceful. They don’t have claws, jaws, poison spray, thick body armor, size, strength or any of the other things commonly associated with resilient species, and yet here they are, 400 million years and still going strong!
- Silverfish got their name from their wiggling walk. When a cute puppy wiggles its way across the floor to greet you, you probably can’t resist oohing and aahing and gushing and cuddling and all that good stuff. When a silverfish wiggles its way across the floor….well, not so much. The silverfish got its name from its signature crawling wiggle. The fact that their exoskeleton bears more than a passing resemblance to fish scales also factors into the name choice.
- Silverfish love humidity and damp weather. For this reason, you can often find silverfish in the same problematic places in your house, attic, basement, garage and outdoor storage areas where you are likely to find mold and mildew. They love dark, damp, dank, out-of-the-way places like corners and crevices and cracks and creases, which is what makes their “surprise!” factor so high when one suddenly slips out while you are rooting around in a little-used area looking for something.
- Silverfish love eating sugar and starch. Here it would seem a culinary preference for sugar, starch, carbohydrate and other simple sugar-based energy sources is nearly universal. Probably the only difference between pests and people in this area is that they aren’t quite so picky about what they eat. These insects enjoy bread, cereal, grains, flour….so far, pretty similar. Of course, they also eat newspaper, book binding glue, wallpaper and wallpaper paste, fabric, mold, dandruff, dead skin flakes, insect parts, paper and your favorite cherished family photographs.
- Silverfish are nocturnal. This is probably why, when you do suddenly encounter one of them during the daylight hours, they often seem as unpleasantly surprised as you are by the encounter. Night and any low light conditions are what these insects prefer. They tend to get quite active in their foraging and mating behaviors when the sun goes down.
But if you wake up in the morning and see very thin, filmy silver-ish scales and a thin yellowish oozing trail, you can know silverfish have been there. Perhaps this is how they earned their unofficial nickname, “fish moths.”
What Types of Silverfish are in Central Indiana?
According to our home state’s official entomologist, there are presently two species of this bug residing in the state as follows:
- Lepisma Domestica Pack. This is the species of silverfish that is native to Europe. As one of many “introduced” species, it has made itself at home pretty much wherever it has inadvertently found itself transported to (usually inside shipping containers where the damp wood fibers made for nutritious eating during the journey).
- Lepisma Saccharina Linn. This is the species of silverfish that is native to North America. It is somewhat smaller than its European cousin, but no less adept at settling into a new and favorable location.
What are the Health Risks of Silverfish to your Family and Pets?
These pests are not presently known to carry any transmittable disease that humans or animals can catch. So in this area, you can breathe a sigh of relief.
Where you can’t let down your guard is when it comes to sharing your food sources (or home furnishings) with them. Silverfish can transmit bacteria as they move from one food source to the next, contaminating your food and your pet’s food and leading to gastrointestinal distress and worse.
What Kind of Damage can Silverfish do to your Property and Home?
Silverfish can (and do) routinely destroy the items that matter most to you, like your expensive home furnishings, heirloom literature, precious photographs, favorite clothing and anything that contains paper or glue.
On a more serious note, left unchecked, Silverfish can live long lives and damage or consume quite a bit of the items that you purchased to add aesthetic appeal to your home, such as wallpaper, draperies, artwork and any area of your home where cracks and crevices are already present, since these small openings are where the females lay their eggs.
In fact, one of the most difficult aspects of successful silverfish treatment is locating and removing all of the small hidden caches of eggs.
By catching an insect infestation early and responding proactively with silverfish treatment, you can safeguard your health and your cherished possessions.