Silverfish are an annoying indoor pest, while firebrats are a similar insect, and people often get them mixed up. If you've had it with silverfish or firebrats in your home, check out our guide. You'll learn the difference between silverfish and firebrats along with how to get rid of them.

What Are Silverfish and Firebrats?

Silverfish are wingless, long-bodied insects named for their silver bodies and somewhat wavy walking patterns, reminiscent of a fish. Unlike many pests, which serve as decomposers first, silverfish are pickier and prefer a diet plentiful in sugar, starches, and other carbohydrates. Firebrats are in the same family as Silverfish, only their bodies are usually a darker color.

What Do Silverfish and Firebrats Look Like?

Image via Flickr by Nick Goodrum Photography

Silverfish, as their name implies, have a silver color and a long, narrow body. If you look closely, you'll see dark lines running down the length of their tops. Both insects have exceptionally long antennae for their size, plus three long appendages at their rear end that serve a similar function. For these, their order of insects is often called bristletails.

Both silverfish and firebrats are quite small, with adults ranging from a half-inch to one inch long. Firebrats are more consistent at one-inch long. Because of their thin, minimalist appearance, some find silverfish more unnerving to look at compared to other insects, although they are one of the less problematic insects you could see in your home.

Where Do Silverfish and Firebrats Live?

Silverfish and Firebrats typically live outdoors anywhere they can find food and are distributed through most of the world. Because they can survive on old vegetation and dead wood, they're commonly found under rocks and in rotting logs. Indoors, they can eat paper goods, already-damaged and rotting building materials, or garbage.

Silverfish like mildly damp but cool places the best, making them especially common in bathtubs and sinks. Firebrats, on the other hand, usually prefer higher temperatures and humidity. For this reason, you'll more often see them in restaurants or near other sources of heat and moisture, such as boilers and furnaces. Both silverfish and firebrats prefer to come out and feed at night, and they're not seen as often during the day.

Problems With Silverfish and Firebrats

Both insects shed their skins many times as an adult, and in excessive indoor populations, this can leave unpleasant scales. It's technically possible for these insects to contaminate food by carrying and spreading diseases, although it is not nearly as likely as cockroach contamination. In some cases, their residue can stain clothing as well, and they are known to eat natural clothing fibers if available. This can cause them to eat old clothes stored far away from regular activity, like in attics or deep in the corner of a closet.

Firebrats are arguably worse than silverfish. Their preference for heat means they often infest attics, leaving many dots of feces and chewing small holes in any old wood. While not as threatening as termites, firebrats can make a trip to the attic far less pleasant.

Silverfish/Firebrat Control Solutions

  • Moderate Temperatures and Humidity: Silverfish prefer cooler and slightly moist locations, whereas firebrats prefer warm and fully humid locations. Neither enjoys cool and dry places, like the average room temperature environment. Adding a dehumidifier to bathrooms and other places could help, as will letting steamy bathrooms fan out quickly after a shower. Don't leave any standing water as well, such as pet bowls or overfilled plant pots.
  • Do Your Laundry: Silverfish are attracted to the smell of human sweat and perfumes. Don't leave your clothes lying around unwashed longer than necessary. Do the laundry as often as you can and store the clean clothes in a place with more light and activity, such as the very front of your closet. Avoid shoving clothes into drawers and leaving them there.
  • Seal Up Cracks: Both insects are quick, thin, and agile, able to move their flat bodies into tiny cracks. Sealing gaps in window frames, installing door guards, and otherwise removing entrances from outside will all help keep silverfish and firebrats out.
  • Airtight Containers: Silverfish are particularly fond of dry foods like cereals and grains. Keep these, and especially dry powders like flour and sugar, in airtight containers. Also, keep your counters and other surfaces clean of flour, sugar, etc.
  • Keep Your Home Clean: Silverfish will look anywhere to find food; even along your floor to find crumbs. Vacuum and clean up regularly to limit their options.

Silverfish and firebrats are difficult to remove entirely. They are usually so infrequent that you almost never see them, however. If you're seeing them too often, some form of professional chemical control may be more effective.

Common Silverfish and Firebrat Questions

What Can Silverfish and Firebrats Eat?

Both insects prefer food that has plenty of carbohydrates while also offering protein. This can lead them to dry dog food in particular, as well as human foods found in the garbage or left lying around. They can also survive on paper, fabrics, and even glue.

How Old Are Silverfish and Firebrats?

The order of insects, Zygentoma, is one of the oldest, and silverfish are believed to have come first, about 100 million years before dinosaurs. While many other insects developed winged flight since that time, silverfish have remained crawlers.

Do Silverfish and Firebrats Have Any Use?

Silverfish and firebrats commonly eat dead wood and other plant materials. Because of this, both insects, along with termites and other wood-eaters, are being researched for use in biofuel production. Their stomachs are well-designed to process cellulose into fuel, so some scientists are trying to mimic how their digestive systems function on a grander scale to more efficiently produce biofuel.

If you're having trouble figuring out how to get rid of silverfish in your home, or if firebrats are the issue, the pest control experts at Bulwark are here to help. Our team will hear your story and find the solution that makes the most sense for you, your family, and your property. Try our home assessment page now and fill us in on the silverfish or firebrats in your home.

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