Although silverfish and house centipedes both sport long antennae, they're easy to tell apart. They differ in size, color and number of legs. Of the two, silverfish cause more damage in the home because of their food preferences. If you find either of these invaders, contact an extermination professional to get them out of your house.
Silverfish, named for their silver-gray coloring, mature between one-quarter and one-half inch long. Their long appendages -- each the length of the body -- give them away. They consist of two antennae on the head and three bristles emerging from the abdomen. Juvenile silverfish look like smaller versions of the adults, with both young and older insects covered with little scales. Silverfish don't have wings. Their bodies are soft, oval and flat.
House Centipede Appearance
Centipede literally means "hundred legs." House centipedes actually have 30 legs, or 15 pair. The rear pair on female centipedes is especially noteworthy, as these two legs are almost twice her body length. Centipedes mature to between 1 and 1.5 inches long, but female centipedes appear about 3 inches long, including the antennae and legs. Their long, flat bodies are light brown or yellowish, with their multiple legs sporting dark and light bands.
What They Eat
Silverfish like any type of carbohydrates and sugars. That means they'll consume paper -- a silverfish favorite -- natural fibers, wallpaper, crumbs and dried food. House centipedes are bad news for silverfish, as they're known to feed upon these smaller insects. Centipedes inject small amounts of venom into their insect victims and they occasionally bite people. Such bites usually just cause a local reaction of swelling and slight pain. If you see centipedes in your house, especially in large numbers, that means you've got other insects infesting your property. In addition to silverfish, they nosh on spiders, termites, cockroaches, bedbugs and the larvae of carpet beetles.
Where They Lurk
Since silverfish and centipedes are nocturnal, you might not realize they're in your home unless you find a dead bug or see them scurrying when you turn on the light in a dark area. Both centipedes and silverfish move very quickly. Both species like damp, moist areas like basements, laundry rooms or kitchens -- which makes sense since silverfish are centipede's prey. Centipedes, who hail from the Mediterranean, usually enter homes when the weather gets colder. They can't live outdoors in subfreezing weather.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.