Although Minecraft players might encounter silverfish mobs in strongholds, you are most likely to encounter a silverfish after turning on the lights in your bathroom at night or after opening a cardboard box that has been stored in a damp basement.
Meet the silverfish
Despite the name, silverfish aren’t fish at all—they are insects. Here are a few fun facts about silverfish.
- Their scientific name is Lepisma saccharina, but their gray and bluish-silver color and fish-like movement inspired the name silverfish
- Silverfish are shaped like carrots and range from 13–25 mm long (that’s 0.5–1.0 inches long for those of you who don’t know the metric system)
- Silverfish have two long antennae up front and three long “bristles” at the rear
- Silverfish are incredibly fast—the Usain Bolt of the insect world—but only on horizontal surfaces
- Silverfish are nocturnal, prefer warm areas with high humidity, and can be found all over the world
- Silverfish predate the dinosaurs. Scientists have found silverfish fossils dating back to the Paleozoic Era
Now that you know a little about silverfish, let’s answer the question at hand: “What do silverfish eat?”
Silverfish eating habits
Here’s the good news first: silverfish do not bite humans or spread disease. Now for the bad news: silverfish eat a wide range of foods—preferring sugars, starches, and protein-rich foods. If there were an equation describing silverfish, it would look something like this:
Moisture + starch = silverfish
Below is a list of where you might find silverfish in your home, what they might be eating there, and helpful tips for preventing damage and protecting your home.
In the kitchen
Silverfish are attracted to dry goods, such as:
- dry pet food
Be aware that silverfish could hitch a ride into your house inside a cardboard box containing one of these foods. If they do, you may find yourself with an infestation on your hands because silverfish reproduce rapidly and will establish themselves where they can find food.
Helpful Tip: Store dry goods in air-tight plastic containers.
In the living room
If you have a living room with wallpaper, a full bookcase, and silk curtains, you’ve hit the silverfish trifecta! Add in some carpeting, and you’ve got a silverfish party on your hands.
- the glue in book bindings and wallpaper
- paper (like the pages of your books)
- silk (and other fabrics such as rayon, linen, and cotton)
- If you have a valuable book collection, be sure to keep it in a dry room with controlled humidity. Carefully inspect any acquisitions before bringing them home to ensure the pages and bindings don’t have silverfish damage or silverfish hiding in the book
- Vacuum your carpet and upholstery regularly to pick up crumbs that might attract silverfish
In the bathroom
Silverfish love warm, humid areas, so bathrooms are a common hangout. After all, bathrooms provide an ideal environment and silverfish snacks such as:
- human hair and dandruff
- cotton towels
Dropping your damp clothing on the floor makes it an easy target for silverfish. Another reason to listen to your mother and pick up your clothes!
Helpful Tip: Control humidity by installing a quality bathroom fan and using it during and after showers or baths.
In the closet
Many people ask: Do silverfish eat clothes? If by “eat clothes,” you mean create small irregular holes and leave behind yellowish stains, then yes … silverfish eat clothes. If you collect vintage clothing, you are at a higher risk as silverfish may hitch a ride home on a new acquisition.
Silverfish are particularly attracted to:
- clothes stained with sugary spills
- clothes that have been starched
In times of famine, silverfish have even been known to eat leather!
- Store “high target” clothing (e.g., silk, cotton, rayon, linen) in sealed packages or containers made for garment storage
- Vacuum your closet regularly
- Control the humidity level in your closet
In the basement, attic, crawl space or garage
Basements, attics, crawl spaces, and garages are notorious hideouts for silverfish because these places tend to be dark, warm, humid, and filled with lots of silverfish snacks. These areas can be the site of the worst silverfish infestations because they are low traffic areas where silverfish can set up a stronghold, reproduce, eat, and live undisturbed for long periods of time.
Plus, people tend to have items that silverfish love to eat in these areas, including:
- cardboard boxes
- Reduce clutter by recycling old newspapers, magazines, and boxes
- Keep important documents and family photos secured in air-tight plastic containers. Silverfish don’t view your photos as something to be treasured and preserved—they see them as dinner.
Minimizing silverfish infestations
Although we’ve shared helpful tips for protecting your food, clothes, and goods from silverfish throughout this article, you may want to take further steps to protect your home—particularly if you live in a warm and humid area. Here are more ways to minimize the presence of silverfish in your home.
- Control humidity as much as possible by using dehumidifiers, especially in areas or rooms most susceptible to silverfish. If you live in a particularly humid area, you may want to consider a whole house dehumidifier
- If you don’t already have them, install ridge vents in your roof to allow damp, warm air to escape from your attic and protect your insulation
- Install and use vent fans in your kitchen and bathroom
- Use a plastic vapor barrier to cover dirt floors in crawl spaces
- Seal air, duct, and pipe leaks
- Fill your house with plants that absorb moisture from the air (e.g., Boston fern, peace lily, reed palm, English ivy, tillandsia)
- Keep the drip pans and drain lines for your air conditioning clean and unobstructed
- Keep moisture away from your house by keeping your gutters and downspouts clean
If you suspect you have silverfish in your home, employ DIY pest control methods like using a silverfish spray. Or consult with a pest control professional, who will be able to assess your home for problem areas and suggest the best methods for eliminating silverfish.