Bugs That Look Like Silverfish

Can you tell a silverfish apart from its lookalikes? Read on to understand these pests and some insects they're often confused with. Also, learn how to prevent silverfish infestation along with home remedies.

There are few insects as loathed as the silverfish. Their long, slender bodies and quick movements make them creepy enough to give even the bravest person the heebie-jeebies. But what's even worse is when you think you've gotten rid of them, only to find another scurrying across your floor a few days later.

If you have encountered this, don't despair. Likely, what you're seeing isn't a silverfish at all but one of the bugs that look like a silverfish. This article will help you identify some of the most common bugs that are often mistaken for silverfish and give you some tips on getting rid of them.

Silverfish and its Characteristics

Hardly a pleasant sight in any context.

Many insects resemble silverfish. But before we get into the imposters, let's review what silverfish are.

Silverfish are small, wingless insects, usually between 13 to 25 mm (0.5" to 1.0") long. They get their name from their silvery-gray color and fish-like shape. Plus, their movement looks like fish, and they are known to be very fast runners.

They hail from the order Zygentoma, which contains over 500 known species of insects. Talking about their origin, their ancestors were among the most primitive insects. Silverfish evolution can be traced back about 400 million years to the mid-Devonian period. Yes, they predate even the dinosaurs!

Let's explore some basic features of silverfish for an in-depth understanding.

Characteristics of Silverfish

Not everything that shines is silver(fish).

Here are the most notable characteristics of silverfish:

  • They have long, slender bodies with three pairs of legs extending from their thorax.
  • Their antennae are long and thin, and they have three long tails called "bristletails" that protrude from their hind end.
  • Silverfish feature scales like fish, and when they move, they wiggle like fishes. This attribute gets them the said name.
  • While they don't have wings, silverfish are excellent climbers and can easily scale walls and other vertical surfaces.
  • They go through about 17 to 66 molts in their lifetime, and hence you can find their bodies anywhere.
  • These insects have a lifespan of 2 to 8 years, comparatively longer than many insects.
  • Silverfish eat various things, but they are notorious for eating books, paper, and clothing. They're also known to eat dead insects, hair, and dandruff.
  • They are nocturnal creatures, so they're most active at night. During the day, silverfish hide in dark, humid places like basements, closets, and bathrooms.
  • These bugs can survive without food for weeks and up to a year, provided they get water.
  • While mating, they perform a certain dancing and running ritual.
  • A female silverfish can lay about 100 eggs in her lifetime.
  • It's very hard to get rid of silverfish as they are resistant to most insecticides.

These were some of the fundamental characteristics of silverfish. Now let's address some common questions about silverfish. These will give you more insight into them.

What Time of the Year Do they Come Out?

Silverfish are cold-blooded insects, which means their body temperature depends on the temperature of their surroundings. So, they're most active in warm weather and inactive in cold weather.

They will migrate depending on season and climate.

They tend to hide in warm, humid places like basements and attics during the winter. And in the summer, they move to cooler places like bathrooms and laundry rooms.

Do Silverfish Bite?

No, silverfish don't bite. They don't even have the mouthparts necessary to bite. However, they can cause irritation and skin rashes if they contact your skin. And if you have an allergy to their scales, you may experience hives or other allergic reactions.

Are Silverfish Harmful to Humans?

Don't worry! Silverfish are not harmful to humans. Silverfish don't carry any diseases, and they don't bite. However, as mentioned before, they can cause skin irritation and allergies in some people. Another concern can be them contaminating the food we eat.

While they don't carry any diseases, silverfish can contaminate food with their feces. So, it's important to store food in airtight containers and keep your kitchen clean to avoid silverfish infestation.

Are Silverfish Harmful to Pets?

Silverfish are very shy and are not ideally harmful to pets. However, your pet may develop an allergic reaction if it comes into contact with these insects. Since they carry bacteria, they can give cats and dogs severe stomach aches if ingested.

What Temperature Do Silverfish Thrive At?

As mentioned before, silverfish are cold-blooded insects. So, their body temperature varies with the temperature of their surroundings. They're most active in warm weather and become inactive in cold weather. Silverfish thrive in temperatures ranging between 21.7 to 32.2 °C (70 to 90 °F).

They are very adaptive and can withstand freezing temperatures but not for very long. When it comes to high temperatures, they can resist up to 37.7 °C (100 °F). This adaptive nature makes it hard to get rid of them in case of an infestation.

Do Silverfish Glow in the Dark?

Not essentially, but given their bodies have a metallic gray tint, they somewhat appear to glow in the dark. These are nocturnal insects that give off a soft glow at night. Even with this soft glow, they are hard to spot and even harder to catch.

Now that you are more informed about silverfish let's look at some of the bugs that people mistake for them.

Common Bugs that Look Like Silverfish

This segment will introduce some of the most common silverfish imposters and explain how they are similar or different from silverfish.


Acting kind of sus.

Firebrats come closest to resembling silverfish in appearance. They have a carrot-shaped body, and the color varies from gray to brown, with dark spots all over.

The firebrats' name comes from the fact that firebrats can walk on boilers, furnaces, and pipes because their legs are fire-resistant. The two main factors that make them potential silverfish imposters are their size and speed. They have a slender, elongated body with long antennae similar to silverfish. Firebrats are also very fast runners and can escape quickly if disturbed, like silverfish.

One of the main differences between firebrats and silverfish is that firebrats are active during the day, while silverfish are nocturnal. Firebrats prefer heat and high humidity, while silverfish thrive in damp spaces. Another difference is that firebrats have chewing mouthparts and silverfish don't


Might be tough determining the number of appendages when the delinquent is hurriedly scurrying away.

Another common silverfish imposter is the earwig. Earwigs have a long, slender body with pincer-like appendages at the end of their abdomen. However, earwigs have two appendages and not three like silverfish. They can grow up to about 25.4 mm (1") long and are very similar in size.

These insects have a lot in common, including their feeding habits, preferred habitat, and nocturnal behavior. Both earwigs and silverfish are attracted to damp places and like to hide in small, tight spaces. They're mostly active at night and come out to feed on organic matter. However, the most striking difference between them is that earwigs have a good working pair of wings while silverfish are wingless.

Jumping Bristletails

It's not quite the same, but definitely a relative.

Jumping bristletails are often mistaken for silverfish because of their long, slender body and jumpy nature. Silverfish are a subspecies of bristletails, which makes them an obvious imposter. They have various similarities, from appearance to habits. Like silverfish, jumping bristletails have three long bristles at the end of their abdomen. They're also quick to escape if disturbed and can jump up to 20 times their body length.

However, bristletails have agile legs that are more fleshy and longer than silverfish. Bristletails are mostly found in wooded areas, while silverfish can be found indoors and outdoors. Another difference is that jumping bristletails have chewing mouthparts while silverfish don't.


Imagine having to coordinate all those legs.

Millipedes are arthropods that have a long, segmented body with two pairs of legs on each segment. Although not similar in appearance, millipedes are often mistaken for silverfish because they have a similar diet. Both millipedes and silverfish feed on decaying organic matter like leaves, dead bugs, and other plant debris. They have similar colors as millipedes can strike a grayish tint. Both insects are also nocturnal and are mostly active at night.

What sets these insects apart is their appearance and choice of habitat. While silverfish have a slender, elongated body, millipedes have a cylindrical body with many segments. Also, silverfish prefer damp and humid places, while millipedes like to stay in moist areas with high humidity. You will hardly find millipedes inside your home as they are highly outdoor species.


Sharing silverfish habitat leads to mixups.

Centipedes are long, segmented insects with one pair of legs on each segment. Physically, there's not much similarity, but they are often mistaken for silverfish because of their wiggling movement, glistening bodies, and speed. Both insects are nocturnal feeders and like to stay in damp, dark places. Centipedes are mostly found outdoors, while silverfish can be found indoors and outdoors.

Even though they have a lot in common, there are some distinct differences between centipedes and silverfish. Their shape and number of legs are the obvious giveaways. And they might reflect similar tints, but they have different colors. Lastly, centipedes feed on silverfish, roaches, and ants.


Not silverfish, though finding these instead is hardly an upgrade.

Woodlice are small, wingless insects with a segmented body and two pairs of legs on each segment. They're also known as "booklice" because they often infest books. Woodlice are often mistaken for silverfish because of their gray color and segmented body.

Their body shape is different from silverfish as they have an ovate body while silverfish have a flattened body. They also have large, hard antennae and more legs than silverfish. Woodlice are also called barklice as they often live on tree barks and foliage, which is the opposite of silverfish.

Carpet Beetle Larvae

Getting into a hairy situation.

These insects are small, wingless, and have long, slender bodies that resemble silverfish. However, they have several species with variations in color and pattern, making a significant distinction between the two insects. Carpet beetle larvae can be white, brown, or black, with or without spots. On the other hand, silverfish are uniform in color and have a silvery sheen all over their body.

Both of them are wingless, but carpet beetle larvae don't have the speed of silverfish. However, it shares other attributes as they can attach to clothes or carpets and enjoy similar habitats. Like silverfish, they also love moist and damp places.


A bit of a generalization.

Isopods are small, wingless insects with a segmented body and two pairs of legs on each segment. The name "Isopods" is an umbrella term for different species of insects, including pillbugs, sowbugs, and rolly-pollies. They're often mistaken for silverfish because of their similar shape, color, and habitat.

However, they are comparatively smaller in size, plus their legs are shorter and stouter than silverfish. Isopods can roll into a ball when disturbed, while silverfish flatten their body. They like dark and moist places and are mostly found in the garden. This makes for another difference as silverfish prefer indoors.

How to Get Rid of Silverfish

Now that you know what silverfish look like and what other insects they're often mistaken for, it's time to learn how to get rid of them. Silverfish are adaptive creatures and can survive in a wide range of environments. This means that they can be difficult to get rid of and may require a multi-pronged approach.

However, the first and foremost thing is to identify their presence and the severity of infestation. You can do this by paying attention to some telltale signs of a silverfish infestation.

Signs of a Silverfish Infestation

It's best to be rid of them before they stake their claim.

Silverfish are an uncommon insect, and you might not spot them often. This is because they're nocturnal creatures that feed at night. Likewise, the chances of infestation are low but never none. In case you suspect an infestation, look for the following signs to identify a silverfish infestation:

  • The most common indication of a silverfish infestation is the presence of the insects themselves. You may find them in your bathroom, kitchen, or other damp areas of your home.
  • Another sign of their presence is small holes or tears in clothing, wallpaper, or books. Silverfish often eat paper and fabric, so you may find damaged items in your home.
  • They also leave small black or brown spots on clothing or linens. These spots are silverfish droppings and can be a sign of an infestation.
  • Yellow stains on clothing or linens can also signify a silverfish infestation. These stains are caused because of the skin they leave behind after molting.
  • You will also notice an excessive amount of dust in your home if silverfish are present. They often live in dusty areas, and their movements can stir up dust.

If you encounter these signs in your home, it's time to take action to get rid of silverfish. These signs may also be indicating a few much bigger problems. Since silverfish houses holes and crevices, it highlights the need to do the required repairs.

Other than that, since insects like millipedes and centipedes feed on silverfish, spotting them means you have a millipede or centipede problem as well. However, you can take preventive measures to keep silverfish away from your home.

How to Prevent Silverfish Infestation

While it's difficult to get rid of silverfish once they've infested your home, you can take some preventive measures to keep them away. Here are some tips to prevent silverfish infestation:

  • Keep your house clean and free of clutter. This will make it difficult for silverfish to hide and reduce the amount of food they have access to.
  • Make sure your home is well-ventilated. Silverfish thrive in damp and humid environments. By keeping your home well-ventilated, you can make it less inviting for these insects.
  • Repair any possible holes or cracks in your house. These insects can enter your home through small openings, so it's vital to seal any cracks or holes.
  • Utilize a dehumidifier in damp areas of your home. This will help reduce the moisture in the air and make your home less inviting for silverfish.
  • Keep food stored in sealed containers. Silverfish often eat left-out food, so it's essential to store food in sealed containers.

By taking these preventive steps, you can keep silverfish away from your home and reduce the risk of infestation.

Home Remedies to Repel Silverfish

If you already have a silverfish problem, there are a few home remedies you can use to repel them. It's hard to drive out this rigid insect, but these home remedies can gradually help you deal with them.

These are some effective remedies you can use:

Diatomaceous Earth

This is a natural substance that can kill silverfish. You can sprinkle it all around the perimeter of your home to keep silverfish away. Or spread it in the areas where these insects are often seen.

Cedar oil

This oil has a strong scent that silverfish dislike. You can make a spray with cedar oil and water and use it to repel silverfish. Sprinkling them directly on them or in places they niche can kill them in around 10 hours.

Peppermint oil

Useful *and* scented!

This oil also has a strong scent that silverfish can't bear. Mix peppermint oil with some all-purpose cleaner and spray the solution in the kitchen, bathroom, cupboards, pantry, etc.

Lavender oil

This oil has a calming effect on humans, but silverfish hate its smell. Make a spray by mixing lavender oil and water in a bottle and use it to keep these pests away.

Cucumber Peels and Cinnamon

Cucumber peels and cinnamon are among the most effective home remedies for silverfish. Place cucumber peels and cinnamon sticks in the places where you often see these insects. Silverfish can't tolerate them and won't bother entering your house.

Spicy Sachets

Spicy sachets are also a great way to keep silverfish away. They won't work immediately, but using a lot of spice sachets can overwhelm them and eventually keep them away. Place them in the cupboards, and they will work like a charm.


Not just for moths.

Mothballs are an effective home remedy for silverfish. Although they won't kill silverfish, their smell will ensure these insects stay away from your home.

Posted by Pavneet Lobana

Pavneet is a home and lifestyle blogger with a passion for creating beautiful and functional spaces. A self-taught chef, she also loves to cook and share her recipes with others. Whether you're looking to create a cozy reading nook or upgrade your kitchen, she has advice that will help you get the most out of your space.