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Department of Entomology
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

SILVERFISH AND FIREBRATS

By: Patricia Alder and Michael Waldvogel, Entomology Extension

Insect Note - ENT/rsc-35

Description

Silverfish and firebrats are small, wingless insects. Their bodies are flattened, carrot-shaped, and most always covered with scales. Silverfish and firebrats are characterized by two long antennae attached to the head and three long tail-like appendages that project from the tip of the abdomen.

Adult silverfish are about ½ - ¾” in length with light gray, dark gray or silver-colored scales, depending on the species. Adult firebrats are about ½” in length and can be gray in color, but usually the scales are brown and mottled in appearance. The nymphs (immatures) look similar to the adults but are a whitish color. The flattened bodies of these insects allow them hide in very small cracks and crevices.

Picture of a silverfish adult

Biology and Behavior

Silverfish prefer cool, damp areas, and are often found in bathrooms, basements, and in bookshelves or other areas where rarely used items are stored. Firebrats favor habitats with high temperatures (90ºF and above) and humidity, such as around stoves, furnaces, fireplaces, hot-water heaters, and attics. Both silverfish and firebrats are active at night and hide in cracks and crevices during the day

A silverfish female may lay over 100 eggs during her lifetime. Eggs are laid singly or in small groups, hatching in three to six weeks. Young silverfish and firebrats resemble adults except being smaller and more white in beofre taking on the on the adult color in four to six weeks. Adults may live two to eight years. Firebrats lay about 50 eggs at one time in several batches. Eggs hatch in about two weeks under ideal conditions. Unlike other insects, silverfish and firebrats continue to grow and molt throughout their lives.

Feeding Activity

Picture of silverfish damage to a piece of paperSilverfish and firebrats feed on many types of paper and fabric. They are particularly attracted to glazed paper or material used in book bindings, which may include starch, glues, or other materials. These insects also feed on carbohydrates and foods high in protein, such as dried beef.
Often the first indication of a silverfish or firebrat infestation is the evidence they leave behind. Damaged paper (picturea at right) may have notched edges or holes throughout, depending on the severity of the infestation. Book bindings that are attacked by silverfish or firebrats may have ragged edges or markings on the bindings. Silverfish and firebrats may also leave cast skins, scales, and/or feces on attacked materials.


Management of Silverfish Infestations

Control efforts should be directed to those areas where infestations are present, as indicated by sightings of the insects or evidence they leave behind (e.g., damaged paper/fabric, contaminated food, or the presence of scales, cast skins or fecal spots).

Nonchemical Management

  1. silverfish caught on a sticky trapSticky traps (right) placed in areas of infestation(s) may provide some control for small populations of these insects.
  2. Reduce or eliminate excess moisture that may be attracting firebrats or silverfish. Dry out rooms or other areas with excess humidity using a fan or dehumidifier. Make sure ventilation fans in bathrooms or other rooms are working properly. Repair any leaky plumbing or other sources of moisture around sinks, laundry areas, roofs, and other areas.
  3. Seal up cracks and crevices that may be providing shelter or allowing entry into the home.
  4. Eliminate access to potential food sources, including books, papers, fabrics, and stored food products. Reduce clutter by removing or disposing of old newspapers, books, boxes or other stored items that may serve as food sources. Items that you want to store for long periods of time should be kept in air-tight plastic bags or sealable containers. Mothballs and similar products may help keep silverfish out of storage boxes and storage containers but read package labes about possible damage to any plastic items.


Chemical Management
Insecticide application may be necessary for severe infestations of silverfish and firebrats. Depending on the location of the infestation(s), residual spray or dust insecticides may be used. There are a few boric acid based bait products frequently used in museums and preservation facilities. Please refer to the NC Agricultural Chemicals Manual for a list of insecticides labeled for use against silverfish and firebrats. Fogging in areas such as attics rarely works because the chemical will not penetrate beneath insulation, boxes and other stored items where silverfish may be living. Liquid insecticides may be applied into cracks and crevices or as spot treatments in areas where silverfish and firebrats may hide. Dust formulations work well in areas it can remain undisturbed, such as attics, basements, storage closets, or other areas not regularly frequented by people or pets. Dusts also work well in wall voids or other such spaces, but this may require drilling small holes to get the dust where it needs to go. Carefully read and follow all label instructions.

Photo credits:
Silverfish - Joseph Berger (forestryimages.org)
Silverfish damage courtesy of Greg Baumann, NPMA



Pest information and control recommendations presented here were developed for North Carolina and may not be appropriate for other states or regions. Any recommendations for the use of chemicals are included solely as a convenience to the reader and do not imply that insecticides are necessarily the sole or most appropriate method of control. Any mention of brand names or listing of commercial products or services in the publication does not imply endorsements by North Carolina Cooperative Extension nor discrimination against similar products or services. All recommendations for pesticide use were legal at the time of publication, but the status of pesticide registrations and use patterns are subject to change by actions of state and federal regulatory agencies. Individuals who use chemicals are responsible for using these products according to the regulations in their state and to the guidelines on the product label. Before applying any chemical, always obtain current information about its use and read the product label carefully. For assistance, contact the Cooperative Extension Center in your county.

Distributed in furtherance of the acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age, or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation. North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.




Last updated - 01/31/07

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