What Are Silverfish and How Can You Eliminate Them?

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Silverfish are incapable of swimming or flying, but can move very quickly. ullstein bild/Getty Images

If you’ve ever come across silverfish in your attic while rummaging through old boxes, you may be disgusted. But how did these insects get there in the first place? And are they dangerous?

You will be relieved to know that silverfish are not as harmful as other pests like termites, and they do not pose a threat to humans. Doug Webb, Terminix’s manager of technical services, explains in an email that “silverfish like to chew on things, particularly paper or fabrics that may have starch or sugar residues embedded in them, such as wallpaper with starch-based glue used to hold it in place.” “Another example would be clothing that has been starched. Silverfish chew on the fabric to get the starch, but in the process damage the fabric,” he adds.

Silverfish were previously common in books (since books are bound with glue), but not so much now. Years ago, most glues were made using animal byproducts or other natural substances that had a high starch, sugar, or animal protein content. “Newer types of glue are products of modern chemistry and would be of no interest to silverfish because they have no nutritional value,” Webb explains.

An Ancient Insect

Silverfish (Lepisma saccharina) have been scurrying around the world for over 400 million years and are still relatively unchanged from their pre-dinosaur era. “Other than size, they have evolved very little in that time,” writes Scot Hodges A.C.E., vice president of technical services with Arrow Exterminators in an email. “They are impressive survivors which may explain why they have had little need to evolve. Some sources claim they can live up to 6 months without food or water so long as they have one or the other.”

Silverfish have an appropriate prehistoric appearance. They are thin, with a round head and a pointed abdomen. In fact, they are often referred to as “carrot-like” in shape. They are shiny and gray, covered in tiny scales, which gives them a silver appearance. But that’s not the only way they resemble fish.

Silverfish eat a book back in 1944, when book glue was made with natural products.
Fritz Goro/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

“The common name ‘silverfish’ comes from the fact that they are gray to silver in color and wiggle as they run in a manner that looks like a fish swimming,” says Webb. They shed their skins well into adult life (you may have seen their scales lurking in your house.)

How to Get Rid of Silverfish

Unlike most other insects in the world, silverfish do not appear to have many redeeming traits. “They do not serve any beneficial purpose to man that I am aware of,” Webb says. So you shouldn’t worry about getting rid of them.

Silverfish tend to hide in areas that are rarely visited by humans, such as crawl spaces, attics, and unfinished basements, as they prefer dark and undisturbed places with high humidity. These areas are also where homeowners tend to store items that provide silverfish with food and shelter. Although they enter homes to avoid extreme weather conditions, they end up staying because they find the environment hospitable. It takes a long time for silverfish to reproduce to the point of infestation. To prevent infestation, it is important to limit or eliminate harborage by minimizing clutter. If silverfish are found, vacuuming them is the easiest way to get rid of them. Inspecting the home once a year is important to identify possible entry points for pests. To reduce humidity levels in the home, use dehumidifiers or other moisture reduction methods. Seek professional help if a silverfish infestation is already out of control. Despite not being able to fly, silverfish are fast and difficult to catch or squish.


1. What are silverfish?

Silverfish are small, wingless insects that are typically silver or gray in color. They have a distinctive, elongated body shape and are often found in dark, damp areas of the home, such as basements, bathrooms, and kitchens. Silverfish are known for their ability to move quickly and for their love of starchy, sugary foods, paper products, and other household items.

2. Why are silverfish a problem?

While silverfish are generally harmless to humans, they can cause damage to books, wallpaper, clothing, and other household items. In addition, they can be a sign of larger moisture problems in the home, which can lead to mold and mildew growth. Finally, silverfish infestations can be difficult to get rid of once established, so it’s important to take steps to prevent them from entering your home in the first place.

3. How do silverfish enter the home?

Silverfish are attracted to moisture and warmth, so they often enter homes through cracks and crevices around pipes, vents, and other openings. They can also be brought in on infested items, such as cardboard boxes or furniture. Once inside, silverfish can thrive in moist, dark areas of the home, such as basements and bathrooms.

4. What are some ways to prevent silverfish infestations?

To prevent silverfish from entering your home, it’s important to reduce moisture levels and eliminate food sources. This can be done by fixing leaks, using dehumidifiers, and storing food items in airtight containers. It’s also a good idea to seal up cracks and crevices around the home and to keep clutter to a minimum, as silverfish love to hide in dark, cramped spaces.

5. How can you get rid of silverfish once they’ve infested your home?

If you have a silverfish infestation, there are several steps you can take to get rid of them. These include using sticky traps, vacuuming up adult silverfish and their eggs, and using insecticides or natural remedies, such as diatomaceous earth or essential oils. It’s important to note that getting rid of silverfish can be a long and difficult process, so it’s best to take preventative measures to avoid infestations in the first place.

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