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Silverfish and Firebrats

Silverfish and firebrats (also known as bristletails) are wingless insects with flat, carrot-shaped bodies. Silverfish and firebrats are very fast runners, so they are often seen when their hiding places are disturbed. Most active at night, they feed on a variety of foods, such as flour, cereals, dust, dead insects, and certain fungi. They also eat starchy substances like cotton, linen, silk, wallpaper, and glues used in book-bindings and cardboard boxes.

Silverfish prefer damp and cool places, such as basements, attics, garages, laundry rooms, closets, and storage areas with boxes and/or books. On the other hand, firebrats prefer very warm, moist places. They are found around ovens, heating units, fireplaces, and hot water pipes. The presence of silverfish or firebrats indicates too much moisture in the area. An Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach may involve moisture control, cleaning, and structural modifications like replacing broken windows and/or leaking pipes, and possibly the use of insecticides.

Control tips:

  • Identifying the pest will narrow down the areas to inspect. Consult your local Cooperative Extension Service for help identifying your pest.
  • Thoroughly inspect areas where silverfish or firebrats are suspected to be coming from, noting any excessive moisture and cluttered conditions.
  • Seal holes or spaces around pipes and conduits to eliminate entry points.
  • Remove any outside hiding places, including debris and lumber piles, or move them away from the house.
  • Remove and properly store any old stacks of papers, books, magazines, or fabrics.
  • Keep cereals, flour, meal, pasta, and pet foods in airtight containers.
  • After sealing entry points and reducing moisture levels, consider trapping any stragglers. Cover the outside of a lidless glass jar with masking tape and leave it in a place the bugs will find it. They can climb in, but they cannot get out.
  • If you decide to use a pesticide, always read and follow label directions. Make sure the pesticide is intended for silverfish and firebrats.

Tips for reducing moisture in your home:

  • Repair leaking pipes, seeps, and eliminate standing water.
  • Use fans to ventilate closed rooms, basements, and attics.
  • Consider using a dehumidifier in closed spaces such as bathrooms, basements, garages, and attics.

If you have questions about this, or any pesticide-related topic, please call NPIC at 1-800-858-7378 (8:00am - 12:00pm PST), or email us at npic@ace.orst.edu.

Last updated November 14, 2017

Silverfish

  • Silverfish and firebrats can be easily confused. Identify the pest in order to plan your strategy.
  • Silverfish like cool, moist places. Eliminate moisture sources in your home.
  • Fix any leaks, and improve air circulation.
  • Try using a dehumidifier where appropriate.
  • Insulate pipes that have water droplets on the outside.
  • Seal cracks and crevices that serve as entry points.
  • Remove cardboard and newspaper that provide shelter. You can also store these items in airtight containers.
  • Cover the outside of a lidless glass jar with masking tape to make a trap. Silverfish can crawl inside, but they can't get out.

If you choose to use a pesticide, read the label before you buy. Try a lower toxicity product first.

If you have a pesticide product in mind, have your label handy and click here for information about that product.

County Extension Offices

Through its county agents, the Cooperative Extension Service gives individuals access to the resources at land-grant universities across the nation. These universities are centers for research in many subjects, including entomology (the study of insects) and agriculture. Each county within the United States has an Extension office, which is staffed with agents who work closely with university-based Extension specialists to deliver answers to your questions about gardening, agriculture, and pest control. You can find the phone number for your local county extension office in the local government section (often marked with blue pages) of your telephone directory or by clicking on the map below.

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Additional Resources:

Related Topics:

What are pests?

Learn about a pest

Identify a pest

Control a pest

Integrated Pest Management

What are pesticides?

Herbicides

Disinfectants

Fungicides

Insecticides

Natural and Biological Pesticides

Repellents

Rodenticides

Other types of pesticides

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