Silverfish might not swim in water like actual fish, but they certainly don't mind wet surfaces. They're not the most pleasant insects to have hiding out in your house -- but your home offers a lot of attractions for them, as it provides excellent conditions for their young to develop and more food than they could ever eat.
Silverfish are, as their name implies, silvery-gray with shiny scales. They typically mature at about 1/2 inch in length and are fairly thin, with slightly broader upper bodies than lower bodies. The insects have six legs and two antennae. Three filaments stick out from their backsides, one that shoots down the middle and two that shoot off diagonally. Firebrats look very similar to silverfish, but they typically take on a more brownish appearance and prefer different temperatures.
Silverfish love moist environments and need moisture to survive. Their young also need moisture to survive and properly develop. But don't think of moist environments as overly wet environments -- although silverfish can and do live in places where water accumulates. Anywhere that's damp and humid will work just fine, which is why, in the wild, they're often found under leaves and bark and in burrows. In houses, they prefer bathrooms, basements, closets, garages and cabinets.
Cool and Dark
Unlike firebrats, which enjoy hot environments, you probably won't find any silverfish in your attic in the cusp of summer. The insects have a hermitlike personality and are attracted to dark and cool to somewhat warm areas with very little light, which further explains the aforementioned living spaces they seek out. The University of Minnesota Extension website notes they prefer temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees.
Although moist, cool and dark places attract silverfish, these insects will likely vacate an area lacking a food source. They eat primarily sugar and starch, which explains one unique and interesting trait they possess: the penchant for eating almost anything in your house, including paper, wallpaper, bookbindings, clothing, pillow cases, leather, silk and other sources of sugar or starch, according to Minnesota Extension. Because of their size, they typically don't destroy things quickly. Small holes in your clothing and books and pieces of wallpaper missing are indications that you may have silverfish in your home.
Preventing silverfish from calling your home theirs is all about cutting off the things that attract them. Try to reduce moisture, through fans and dehumidifiers and by opening windows when possible. Keep on the lookout for and patch any leaks, especially in places that aren't immediately noticeable, such as under sinks. The University of California's Integrated Pest Management Program suggests cleaning regularly and moving books, magazines and stacks of papers to disrupt silverfish, and notes that keeping foods in containers with tight lids prevents silverfish from ransacking your cabinets. Silverfish typically do not result in an infestation, but if one develops, contact a pest control specialist.
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Located in Pittsburgh, Chris Miksen has been writing instructional articles on a wide range of topics for online publications since 2007. He currently owns and operates a vending business. Miksen has written a variety of technical and business articles throughout his writing career. He studied journalism at the Community College of Allegheny County.