Is it a silverfish or one of the many bugs that look like silverfish? To answer this important question, you first need to know: what do silverfish look like?
We’re going to cover exactly what silverfish look like in all their life stages. You’ll also learn quick tips so you can tell them apart from the house bugs that look like silverfish.
It can be tricky because these insects move quick. To add to the confusion, they have similar eating and living habits. But once you know what to look for, you’ll be an expert in differentiating silverfish from silverfish looking bugs. Now that’s a party trick that will make you popular.
Let’s get started, shall we?
What are silverfish?
Let’s start at the beginning. Just what are silverfish? The more observational among you will have noticed that there aren’t any large bodies of water in your home – so the humble silverfish clearly isn’t an actual fish.
Silverfish are fairly conventional little insects, nocturnal in nature, which get their name due to the way they look and the strange fish-like shifting pattern of their walk.
Fun fact: they’re actually believed to be one of the oldest insects on the planet, existing for somewhere around 400 million years in their current form!
What do silverfish look like?
Conventional wisdom would have you believe that they look like very, very small fish; and they do at a glance. Look a little closer, however, and you’ll see that the critters are not unlike some more common leggy insects or arachnids.
Their abdomens taper into a fine point towards their back legs and the silverfish skin color tends to orbit around a light blue-ish, silver shade, which obviously gives them their name. That said, how many fish have you seen with antennae?
How big are silverfish?
Average sizes for silverfish are between half an inch to just under an inch, when fully grown. But hey, a small insect can cast a large shadow for the squeamish out there.
Of course, the actual size for a silverfish depends heavily on what stage of the life cycle they’re in. So on that note, let’s take a deep dive into the stages of a silverfish’s life.
What is the silverfish life cycle?
The silverfish life cycle consists of just three stages: egg, nymph, and adult. The actual life cycle of the average silverfish goes like this…
So how long does this entire process take? The average time of maturation for silverfish can be anywhere from three months to two years. The birth dates and rates of the eggs can change depending on a number of different aspects such as environmental temperature and the species of the silverfish itself.
In general, though, the ideal conditions for silverfish eggs to hatch and develop into healthy, home-destroying creepy crawlies are dampness and warmth. Specifically, silverfish thrive when temperatures are between a pleasant 71° to 90°F and humidity levels are above 75%.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these life stages.
Unlike the majority of insects, female silverfish are able to lay eggs all year round, without having to wait for a specific time of the year. When you add to that the fact that they can lay several eggs per day, a problem can quickly arise in the right environment.
What do silverfish eggs look like?
Silverfish eggs have a shape that’s between a circle and an oval. They are soft and white when first laid but the oxidation from the air soon turns them tougher and a more yellowish color.
At around 1 millimeter in length, they are big enough to be visible to the naked eye. But just barely so.
Where do silverfish lay eggs?
All silverfish begin their lives as eggs which are lovingly laid in very hidden, quiet, and sheltered spaces. This is precisely why searching for silverfish eggs is an almost impossible errand. Not only are these eggs incredibly small, but female silverfish literally go out of their way to make sure their eggs will evade detection.
Another thing to keep in mind about silverfish eggs is that they will typically be laid in cramped locations that are dark, warm, and damp – the damper, the better.
So what makes an ideal temperature? 50 degrees Fahrenheit seems to be the make or break number for the babies. Any lower than this temperature and the eggs may delay their hatching until hotter weather swings around. But if temperatures and climate are ideal, the eggs can take as little as a few weeks to hatch.
This means that colder months could be a better time to try and eradicate any silverfish issues you may have.
Although there is one tricky aspect: when silverfish find a dark, damp, hidden crevice that is safe to lay their eggs, they can send out aggregation pheromones to let other mamas know there’s safe harbor nearby.
The clustering that occurs can create the dampness and warmth necessary for these eggs to hatch, winter or not.
Now we’ve entered the nymph stage. Meet the silverfish baby. Sounds almost cute, until you realize that even silverfish nymphs can cause massive damage to your household belongings.
What do silverfish nymphs look like?
After hatching, the babies are sort of like lobsters, in that they don’t grow their protective silvery scales for a few weeks, but once that takes place, they basically resemble the adult insects. Just a lot smaller.
Despite their size difference, silverfish in the adolescent nymph stage are really just as prolific and damaging as the adults when it comes to eating your published works and fine clothing.
I found a baby silverfish bug, are there more?
If you’ve found a baby silverfish bug, it’s time to worry. Spotting even one silverfish baby means that your home provided the conditions necessary for silverfish eggs to hatch.
And when you consider that eggs are not laid one-by-one but rather in bulk clusters, that means there are many more silverfish babies lurking around.
Soon, they will mature into full-grown silverfish ready to mate and create new families of their own.
And of course, all bad things come to a grisly end: adulthood, in this case. Not much changes in the interim between nymph and adult, apart from the fact that they can now stop molting.
Again, the actual length of time it takes to mature into full adulthood can differ depending on environment and temperature issues.
6 Bugs That Look Like Silverfish
Now that you know what silverfish look like in every life stage, you’re much better equipped to identify the difference between silverfish vs bugs that look like silverfish.
But here’s the thing: silverfish are a very common household pest. And there are a lot of them – 120 species worldwide, to be exact. That leaves a lot of room for confusion.
Luckily, less than two dozen silverfish species are found in North America. And the most common household silverfish, Lepisma saccharina, is the only species in its genus within the United States.
That somewhat simplifies things. Except for the fact that there are bugs that look like silverfish and have similar living and eating habits. Let’s take a closer look at these silverfish looking bugs. It’s easy to tell them apart once you know how.
Firebrat vs silverfish
Firebrats are the most silverfish looking bug you’ll ever see. That’s because they belong to the same family and are very closely related.
As such, they both have similarly-sized, similarly-colored, carrot-shaped bodies that taper at the ends. The antennae also look very similar and they are both wingless and incredibly speedy.
To further complicate things, firebrats and silverfish have very similar diets. Like its cousin, the firebrat likes to feast on high protein and carbohydrate options like books, papers, envelopes, photos, wallpapers, as well as dry pantry items like flour and cereal.
How to tell firebrat vs silverfish apart? Silverfish like it warm. But firebrats? As it indicated in their name, they like it hot. Equipped with special fire-resistant feet, firebrats prefer temperatures of above 90°F, which means their favorite hiding places will be around ovens, boiler rooms, hot water pipes, fireplaces, and furnaces.
If you can get close enough for a long enough amount of time, another way to tell apart silverfish and firebrats is by their color. Silverfish are thus called because of the silvery grey color of their bodies. Firebrats, on the other hand, are a more reddish-brown and have mottled markings on their back.
Earwig vs silverfish
This is a case of mistaken identity that has resulted in some serious accusations, namely that silverfish crawl into human ears and lay their eggs there.
The truth is that silverfish, as bad as they are, rarely do this. There have been anecdotal accounts of people having silverfish in their ears, but these cases are few and far between.
So which pest actually does make a nest of human ears? Earwigs. Earwigs get their name from an old wives’ tale that they crawl into ears and burrow into brains to lay their eggs.
This tale is now mostly considered to be a myth but in fact, there have been medical reports of earwigs doing exactly this. So if it is indeed an earwig problem that you’re facing, it’s a good idea to get that handled. ASAP.
How to tell earwig vs silverfish apart? If you can look at a silverfish and an earwig side by side, you’ll wonder how anyone could ever confuse the two. Silverfish are silver-colored and carrot-shaped. Earwigs are brownish-red and oval-shaped.
But you don’t even need to compare coloring – earwigs are very recognizable due to the pincers that protrude from their rears. You literally cannot miss them. In addition to this, earwigs, unlike silverfish, have wings.
Jumping bristletail vs silverfish
Bristletails and silverfish are very difficult to tell apart. And that’s not surprising considering they are from the same family. Silverfish are actually a subspecies of bristletails.
How to tell bristletail vs silverfish apart? Silverfish may be fast runners but they do not have the ability to jump. But jumping bristletails can. In fact, these silverfish looking bugs can jump as far as 10 centimeters! So if the specimen you find jumps instead of quickly slivering away, it’s most likely a jumping bristletail, not a silverfish.
But it’s unlikely that you’ll encounter a jumping bristletail at home. These creepy crawlies rarely choose to venture into homes and they typically won’t reproduce indoors. Instead, bristletails prefer to live outdoors, especially in piles of leaf litter, bark, rocky crevices, and seashores.
So if you see something that looks like a silverfish or a bristletail in your house, it’s most likely a silverfish.
Booklice vs silverfish
As far as bugs that look like silverfish go, booklice don’t look very similar. Whereas silverfish have a carrot-like shape that tapers off at the end, booklice have a more bulbous bottom generous enough to be approved by Meghan Trainor.
But both booklice and silverfish do tend to prefer the same sort of living environment: undisturbed spaces with lots of moisture and humidity. That’s why both of these pests can be found in places like kitchen cupboards, inside and around books and magazines, and in dark, humid spaces like the garage and attic.
How to tell them apart? Despite both being small and grey-ish, booklice and silverfish have very different shapes. On top of that, booklice move much more slowly than silverfish.
Despite the name, booklice also prefer to eat mold. So while they may live around books and bookcases, they are more likely to munch on any mold or fungi growing on poorly kept books rather than the actual paper.
So if you find damage to the pages of books, it’s most likely silverfish.
House centipede vs silverfish
If you capture and compare them side-by-side, you can easily tell that the centipede is not a silverfish looking bug. These two don’t look alike at all.
For starters, silverfish only have six legs. Centipedes can have anywhere between 15 and 177 pairs of legs. In fact, that’s the first thing you’ll notice about a centipede – that it has a disturbingly unnecessary abundance of long, creepy legs.
On top of that, centipedes are much larger than the average silverfish. Even the healthiest, biggest silverfish will max out at barely an inch long. Centipedes, on the other hand, can grow as long as six inches.
So how could one ever confuse the two? Well, both silverfish and centipedes are incredibly fast. When you’ve only spotted a long, slivery thing disappear into a crack, your mind may be genuinely confused.
How to tell them apart? If you happen to actually see one for a good length of time, you’ll easily be able to tell apart a centipede from a silverfish. But both of these pests are incredibly skilled at the art of evasion. So in that case, look for clues in the damage they can cause.
A silverfish infestation can cause a lot of damage to pantry items, books and papers, wallpaper, and even clothing. Centipedes don’t cause much damage at all. They are predatory carnivores that eat insects like spiders, roaches, crickets, and even silverfish. They have no appetite for your household belongings.
Carpet beetle larvae vs silverfish
Here’s another pest that likes to live in secrecy while munching its way through much of your household belongings: the carpet beetle larvae.
These small caterpillar-resembling bugs covered in tiny bristles don’t actually look like silverfish. But if you’ve been noticing holes in your carpet and fabrics or small, slithery bugs in your shoe cabinet or horror of horrors – on your bed, it’s easy to mistake one for the other.
How to tell them apart? The easiest way to tell carpet beetle larvae and silverfish apart is to look for little hairs. Carpet beetle larvae are covered in tiny bristles whereas silverfish have smooth, scaly bodies.
And there you have it. The lineup of bugs that look like silverfish and exactly how to tell them apart. Now go forth and identify what is plaguing your home.