What Is the Difference Between Silverfish and Firebrats, and Are They Both Controlled in the Same Way?

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Israel Alvarez

Owner @ Insight Pest Management

Table of Contents

Silverfish and firebrats are two groups of closely related insect pests that frequently establish infestations within homes and buildings throughout the US. Silverfish and firebrats are often nothing more than a nuisance when large numbers gain access into homes and buildings. However it is not uncommon for silverfish and firebrat pests to consume human foods like cereal, pasta and pet food, as well as paper, cardboard, glue in bookbinding, and other materials that contain cellulose, which is the primary substance that makes up the hard cell walls in plant matter. During the daytime, these pests remain hidden in dark spaces, but at night silverfish emerge to seek out food sources.

Given their taste for paper and cardboard, silverfish and firebrats often establish daytime harborages where books and other paper materials are kept, such as storage closets, beneath book cases, basements, and sometimes, attics. Due to being among the most primitive types of insects in existence, silverfish and firebrats have a bizarre appearance that is often described as being more akin to marine organisms than insects. Although silverfish and firebrats look nearly identical to most homeowners, they thrive in different conditions.

The common silverfish (Lepisma saccharina) is shiny with a silver or grey exterior, and they are around ½ an inch long, but they are known for growing as large as ¾ of an inch in length. The common firebrat (Thermobia domestica) is the only species of its kind in the US, and they, along with multiple silverfish species, are common indoor pests in Ventura County. The firebrat is ½ an inch long with a grey body speckled with black dots, and both silverfish and firebrats have slender shell-like bodies that gradually taper toward the rear. Unlike the short antennae of silverfish, firebrats possess antennae that reach down to their abdomen, and they both possess a tail-like appendage, which is why both pests are often referred to as “bristletails.”

Within homes, silverfish and firebrats prefer to rest in moist locations, but both are relatively resistant to dry environments. Silverfish travel greater distances to seek food sources, while firebrats generally remain within a small foraging area near doorways. Both silverfish and firebrats are well adapted for indoor life and both are capable of establishing reproductive populations within homes and buildings. These differences are minor and both silverfish and firebrats can be controlled by reducing moisture in areas where they establish harborags, and severe infestations may require professional pest control intervention.

Have you ever encountered firebrats within your home?

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