(Barnes 2005; Houseman 2007; Klass 1981)
- Barnes, J.K. 2005. Arthropod Museum Notes: Silverfish. University of Arkansas Arthropod Museum. Last Modified 1/23/2008. Retrieved Sept 15, 2011 from http://www.uark.edu/ua/arthmuse/silfsh.html
- Houseman, R.M. 2007. "Silverfish and Firebrats" Division of Plant Sciences, University of Missouri Extension. Accessed Sept 15, 2011 from http://extension.missouri.edu/publications/DisplayPub.aspx?P=G7376l
- Klass, C. (1981; updated 2008). "Silverfish and Firebrats", factsheet. Cornell University Cooperative Extension, Insect Diagnostics Laboratory. Retrieved as pdf September 15, 2011 from http://www.entomology.cornell.edu/cals/entomology/extension/idl/idlfactsheetlist.cfm
Silverfish are found commonly as human commensals worldwide. They are thought to be endemic to the Palearctic.
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Introduced ); palearctic (Introduced , Native ); oriental (Introduced ); ethiopian (Introduced ); neotropical (Introduced ); australian (Introduced )
Other Geographic Terms: cosmopolitan
Silverfish are wingless insects that have a carrot-shaped, flat body with silver and grey scales. They are 0.8 - 1.9 cm long. They also have three tail-like appendages and two antennae on their head. Each of the tail-like appendages are almost as long their body. Two point to the sides, while the other one is in the middle, pointing backwards.
Range length: 0.8 to 1.9 cm.
Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; heterothermic ; bilateral symmetry
- Houge, L., 1993. Insects of the Los Angeles Basin. Los Angeles, CA: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
- McGavin, C., 2000. Insects: Spiders and other Terrestrial Arthropods. New York, NY: Dorling Kindersley.
- Caron, M., 1997. "Silverfish and Firebrats" (On-line). Accessed October 29, 2000 at http://bluehen.ags.udel.edu/deces/hyg/hyg-11.htm.
Natural habitat is hidden in leaf litter, under rocks and logs, and in other natural crevices. When silverfish live indoors, they are most commonly found behind furniture, in books, near sinks or in basements. They prefer temperatures that are 70 to 80 degrees.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest
Other Habitat Features: urban ; suburban ; agricultural
- 2000. "The Bug Clinic" (On-line). Accessed October 28, 2000 at http://www.bugclinic.com/Silverfish_firebrat.htm.
- Sanders, P., 1999. "Silverfish and Firebrats" (On-line). Accessed October 30, 2000 at http://www.muextension.missouri.edu/xplor/agguides/pests/g07376.htm.
Common silverfish prefer to eat materials that come from plants because of the carbohydrates and protein. They eat foods such as glue, wallpaper paste, bookbindings, paper, photographs, starch in clothing, cotton, linen, and rayon fabric. They also eat damp textiles and organic material. Although they prefer organic material, they also eat non-organic material. This species also likes dried foods and human foods such as sugar, flour, and breakfast cereal. (The Bug Clinic 2000, Sanders 1999).
Life History and Behavior
When silverfish mate, the male silverfish puts his sperm on a silk thread on the ground and then the female silverfish picks it up. The fertilized eggs are then laid in cracks and crevices. At a temperature of 22 - 27 degrees C, female silverfish can lay approximately 100 eggs in their lifetime. They lay one to three eggs at a time in small groups and may lay several eggs over a period of weeks. The eggs hatch in three to six weeks; the length of time depends on the temperature. Rate of growth also depends on temperature. Females do not have a certain season when they lay their eggs. They usually lay eggs in secluded places like behind books or closet shelves. After hatching, all the life stages are similar in appearance, except for their size. (Caron 1997, Washington State University 1997, Sanders 1999)
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Economic Importance for Humans: Negative
Silverfish are generally considered nuisance pests. They have no effect on human health. They usually do relatively little damage, but will feed on paper, book bindings, wallpaper, rayon drapes, starched cotton, linen, and silk (Washington State University 1997).
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
Lepisma saccharina, frequently called a silverfish or fishmoth, is a small, wingless insect in the order Thysanura. Its common name derives from the animal's silvery light grey and blue colour, combined with the fish-like appearance of its movements, while the scientific name (L. saccharina) indicates the silverfish's diet of carbohydrates such as sugar or starches.
Silverfish are nocturnal insects typically 13–25 mm (0.5–1 in) long. Their abdomens taper at the end, giving them a fish-like appearance. The newly hatched are whitish, but develop a greyish hue and metallic shine as they get older. They have three long cerci at the tips of their abdomens, one off the end of their body, one facing left, and one facing right. They also have two small compound eyes, despite other members of Thysanura being completely eyeless, such as the family Nicoletiidae.
Like other species in Apterygota, silverfish completely lack wings. They have long antennae, and move in a wiggling motion that resembles the movement of a fish. This, coupled with their appearance, influences their common name. Silverfish typically live for two to eight years.
Silverfish are a cosmopolitan species, found in Africa, the Americas, Europe, Australia, Asia, and other parts of the Pacific. They inhabit moist areas, requiring a relative humidity between 75% and 95%. In urban areas, they can be found in basements and attics.
Reproduction and life cycle
The reproduction of silverfish is preceded by a ritual involving three phases, which may last over half an hour. In the first phase, the male and female stand face to face, their trembling antennae touching, then repeatedly back off and return to this position. In the second phase the male runs away and the female chases him. In the third phase the male and female stand side by side and head-to-tail, with the male vibrating his tail against the female. Finally the male lays a spermatophore, a sperm capsule covered in gossamer, which the female takes into her body via her ovipositor to fertilise the eggs.
The female lays groups of less than 60 eggs at once, deposited in small crevices. The eggs are oval-shaped, whitish, about 0.8 millimetres (0.031 in) long, and take between two weeks and two months to hatch. Silverfish usually lay fewer than 100 eggs in their lifetime.
When the nymphs hatch, they are whitish in colour, and look like smaller adults. As they moult, young silverfish develop a greyish appearance and a metallic shine, eventually becoming adults after three months to three years. They may go through 17 to 66 moults in their lifetime, sometimes 30 in a single year, which is much more than usual for an insect. Silverfish are among the few types of insect that continue to moult after reaching adulthood.
Silverfish consume matter that contains polysaccharides, such as starches and dextrin in adhesives. These include glue, book bindings, plaster, some paints, paper, photos, sugar, coffee, hair, carpet, clothing, and dandruff. Silverfish can also cause damage to tapestries. Other substances that may be eaten include cotton, linen, silk, synthetic fibres, dead insects, or even its own exuvia (moulted exoskeleton). During famine, a silverfish may even attack leatherware and synthetic fabrics. Silverfish can live for a year or more without eating.
Silverfish are considered a household pest, due to their consumption and destruction of property. Although they are responsible for the contamination of food and other types of damage, they do not transmit disease.
The scientific name for the species is Lepisma saccharina, due to its tendency to eat starchy foods high in carbohydrates and protein, such as dextrin. However, the insect's more common name comes from the insect's distinctive metallic appearance and fish-like shape. While the scientific name can be traced back to 1758, the common name has been in use since at least 1855.
Together with jumping bristletails, the predecessors of silverfish are considered the earliest, most primitive insects and one of the first animals to colonise dry land. They evolved at the latest in mid-Devonian and possibly as early as late Silurian more than 400 million years ago. Some fossilized arthropod trackways from the Paleozoic Era, known as Stiaria intermedia and often attributed to jumping bristletails, may have been produced by silverfish.
Other similar insect species are known as silverfish. Two other silverfish are common in North America, Ctenolepisma longicaudata and Ctenolepisma quadriseriata. Ctenolepisma urbana is known as the urban silverfish. The Australian species most commonly referred to as silverfish is a different lepismatid, Acrotelsella devriesiana. The firebrat (Thermobia domestica) is like a silverfish but smaller and with darker markings of brown and black.
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