Earwig vs Silverfish: Unveiling Key Differences and Control Tips

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Earwigs and silverfish are two common household pests that can be quite a nuisance. Although they may appear similar at first glance, these insects have distinct differences in their physical appearance and behavior.

Earwigs are reddish-brown insects that are about 5/8 inch long and have a pair of strong pinchers (cerci) at the tip of their abdomen. These nocturnal creatures are known to be attracted to damp and humid environments and can potentially cause damage to houseplants and garden plants source. On the other hand, silverfish are silver-grey in color and measure around 1/2 inch in length. They have a tapered, carrot-shaped body with three thread-like tails at the end. Preferring a similar damp and humid environment to earwigs, silverfish can cause damage to paper material, such as books, wallpaper, and stored documents source.

Some key differences between earwigs and silverfish are:

  • Appearance: Earwigs have pinchers at the tip of their abdomen, while silverfish have a carrot-shaped body and three thread-like tails.
  • Diet: Earwigs are omnivorous and can feed on both plants and other insects, while silverfish feed primarily on carbohydrates and proteins found in paper materials.
  • Damage: Earwigs may damage plants and flowers, while silverfish can cause damage to books, wallpaper, and documents.

Earwigs and Silverfish: A Comparison

Physical Features

Earwigs:

  • Belong to the order Dermaptera
  • Size varies from 5 to 50 mm in length
  • Reddish head, banded legs
  • Outer covering is shiny and dark-colored
  • Pincers at the end of their abdomen
  • Two pairs of wings1

Silverfish:

  • Belong to the order Thysanura
  • Size ranges from 12 to 19 mm in length
  • Silvery light-gray color
  • Scales covering their body
  • Tapering body resembles a fish
  • Three long tail-like appendages2
  • No wings

Diet and Habitat

Earwigs:

  • Mostly herbivorous
  • Prefer moist and musty habitats3
  • Occasionally creep into homes attracted to light

Silverfish:

  • Feed on starches, sugars, and cellulose materials4
  • Prefer dark, damp environments
  • Often found in basements, attics, and bathrooms

Behavior and Infestations

Earwigs:

  • Nocturnal creatures
  • Females lay 20 to 50 eggs in a chamber5
  • Can cause damage to plants, leaves, and flowers
  • Trapping is an effective management method6

Silverfish:

  • Nocturnal creatures
  • Seen as pests due to their diet damaging books, papers, and clothing
  • Can survive for long periods without food7
  • Difficult to control due to their secretive habits

Here is a comparison table of Earwigs and Silverfish:

Feature Earwigs Silverfish
Order Dermaptera Thysanura
Size 5-50 mm 12-19 mm
Appearance Pincers, shiny, dark Scales, silvery-gray
Wings Yes No
Diet Mostly herbivorous Starchy materials
Habitat Moist, musty environments Dark, damp areas
Infestations Damage plants and flowers Damage books and paper

Home Infestations

Damp and Dark Environments

Earwigs and silverfish both thrive in damp and dark environments. They are commonly found in:

  • Basements
  • Bathrooms
  • Attics

These insects prefer indoor habitats with high moisture levels, such as those caused by:

  • Leaking pipes
  • Wet cardboard
  • Starchy materials

For example, damp basements with leaking pipes might attract both earwigs and silverfish.

Damage to Home and Possessions

Earwigs and silverfish can cause different types of damages to our homes and possessions.

Earwigs:

They are mainly outdoor insects that are harmless to humans but can be occasional nuisances when they invade indoor spaces. Common indoor hiding places for earwigs include:

  • Bathrooms
  • Cardboard
  • Cluttered areas

Silverfish:

They are likely to cause more harm to our possessions, as they feed on a variety of material such as:

  • Paper
  • Books
  • Clothing

For instance, silverfish can damage important documents, precious books, and even clothes stored in damp environments.

Earwigs Silverfish
Preferred Habitat Damp and Dark Environments Damp and Dark Environments
Damage Minimal to none, mostly harmless but may be a nuisance in large infestations Can damage paper, books, and clothing, especially if left unchecked

To keep both earwigs and silverfish at bay, consider implementing the following strategies:

  • Dehumidify damp areas
  • Fix any leaks that may cause moisture buildup
  • Store important documents and clothing in airtight containers
  • Clean up clutter and debris to minimize potential hiding spots

Identifying and Preventing Infestations

When it comes to dealing with household pests like earwigs and silverfish, prevention and early identification are key. Both insects are nocturnal and thrive in moist, dark environments. In this section, we’ll discuss outdoor and indoor measures to effectively prevent and control infestations of these pests.

Outdoor Measures

Earwigs and silverfish both prefer damp, dark places with abundant vegetation. Here are some outdoor measures to reduce their habitats and discourage their presence:

  • Keep gardens and outdoor spaces clean; remove fallen leaves, debris, and excessive vegetation.
  • Maintain proper drainage to avoid wet or damp areas around your home’s foundation.
  • Seal cracks and gaps in your home’s exterior to prevent the pests from entering.

While earwigs and silverfish share some common traits, they are distinct in appearance and behavior:

Feature Earwig Silverfish
Size 5/8 inch 1/4 – 1/2 inch
Color Reddish-brown Silver-gray
Wings Short wings No wings
Forceps Strong pinchers at the abdomen N/A

Indoor Measures

Once indoors, both species seek out humid areas and dark places. Implementing the following measures can help prevent infestations and ensure a comfortable living environment for humans:

  • Use a dehumidifier to maintain indoor humidity levels below 50%.
  • Regularly clean basements, cupboards, and storage areas to reduce potential food sources.
  • Seal any gaps and cracks near windows, doors, and plumbing to prevent entry.

Remember that earwigs and silverfish are attracted to damp environments, so addressing moisture issues inside your home not only prevents these pests but also contributes to a healthier living space.

Human Health and Safety

Potential Dangers

Earwigs (Dermaptera)

  • Nocturnal creatures
  • Generally not harmful to humans
  • Can cause damage to plants and paper products

Silverfish (Thysanura)

  • Nocturnal hunters
  • Not venomous nor carry diseases
  • Known to infest damp areas, which can promote mold growth
  • Can cause damage to human possessions, e.g., books, fabrics

Both earwigs and silverfish are not directly dangerous to human health but may cause indirect harm through their presence and activities in households.

Managing Risks

Earwig Risks

  • Reduce damp areas: Keep surroundings dry and clean
  • Employ traps: Place numerous traps near shrubbery, fences, and ground cover plantings

Silverfish Risks

  • Maintain low humidity: Use dehumidifiers or fans in humid areas
  • Store susceptible items correctly: e.g., use airtight containers for rolled oats and other food sources
  • Clean clutter and seal off entry points: Prevent easy access and hiding spots

Here is a comparison table for managing the risks of both earwigs and silverfish:

Earwigs Silverfish
Reduce damp areas Maintain low humidity
Employ traps Store susceptible items correctly
N/A Clean clutter and seal off entry points

In summary, both earwigs and silverfish are nocturnal insects that are not directly harmful to humans, but can cause damage to possessions and promote unfavorable conditions in homes. Managing their risks involves maintaining clean and dry households, storing susceptible items properly, and employing traps and other preventive measures as necessary.

Dealing with Earwigs and Silverfish

Pest Control Methods

There are different pest control methods to deal with earwigs and silverfish.

Earwigs:

  • Insecticides: Common insecticides such as permethrin and bifenthrin are effective in earwig elimination.
    • Pros: Quick and efficient.
    • Cons: Chemical exposure, harmful to beneficial insects.

Silverfish:

  • Insecticides: Pyrethroid-based insecticides are used for silverfish removal.
    • Pros: Efficient and easy to apply.
    • Cons: Chemical exposure, potential risks to human health and environment.

Natural Remedies

Here are some natural ways to get rid of earwigs and silverfish:

Earwigs:

  • Traps: Oil-filled, low-sided cans serve as excellent traps for earwigs.
    • Pros: Inexpensive, chemical-free.
    • Cons: Requires regular monitoring.

Silverfish:

  • Diatomaceous earth: Powder made of crushed fossils, kills silverfish by dehydrating them.
    • Pros: Non-toxic, safe for humans and pets.
    • Cons: Requires reapplication if wet.
Comparison Earwigs Silverfish
Size About 5/8 inch long 0.5 to 1 inch long
Damages Garden plants, vegetables Starch-based items, books, wallpaper
Lifespan 1 year 2-3 years
Disease/venom No No

Features:

  • Earwigs:

    • Strong pinchers (cerci).
    • Attracted to damp, dark environments.
  • Silverfish:

    • Three long bristles on rear.
    • Prefer cool and humid habitats.

Characteristics:

  • Both pests:
    • Nocturnal.
    • Fast-moving.
    • Do not transmit diseases.

Keep in mind that early detection and removal are essential to prevent potential damage to your property by these nuisance insects. Regular inspection, proper sanitation, and prompt action will ensure a pest-free living space.

Footnotes

  1. Earwigs: Identification; Biology; and Control

  2. Silverfish: Facts, Identification & Control

  3. Earwig Crawling in the Ear: Myth or Truth

  4. Silverfish: Diet, Habitat, and Control

  5. Earwigs in the Landscape

  6. Earwigs Management Guidelines

  7. What Do Silverfish Eat?

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Silverfish

 

silverfish photo
After thoroughly searching your website, it seems I have silverfish in my apartment (although this is the first one I have seen). Just thought you might need another photo to post, as most of the pictures of silverfish seem to be from the top angle. I live in Richland, Wa (south-eastern part of the state), and this silverfish was moving slowly across the carpet, and would repeatedly jump away if I got too close to it. It did not seem to be a fast runner, as my shoe was still able to get the better of it. Thanks for your site, it has been very helpful!
Melanie L.

Hi Melanie,
In addition to the angle, your image shows the silver coloration nicely.

Letter 2 – Silverfish

 

Subject: Several in my apartment
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
February 19, 2014 3:35 pm
I’m a little concerned about what these are since there are so many in my apartment. I’m assuming it isn’t a cockroach – there’s no food in the apartment. I’m not currently living there. There are holes in many of my clothes and I’m wondering if it’s a carpet beetle. I caught 4 in about 10 minutes. Some are more pale that this one. I’m attaching the photo of the live one, but can also add photos of the ones I collected. Please help… It’s got me pretty freaked out how many there are.
Signature: Liza P

Silverfish
Silverfish

Dear Liza,
You’ve got Silverfish, a common household pest.  They are quite resourceful, and they will eat a wide variety of organic materials found in the typical home that are not generally considered food, including the starch in wallpaper glue and book bindings.

Letter 3 – Silverfish

 

Subject: Bug identification please
Location: San Francisco, CA
July 26, 2014 3:04 pm
I live in San Francisco in the near the corner of Tennessee and 18th street and found this bug. Can you please help me identify it? There does not seem to be an active infestation, but I wanted to know for future reference.
Best,
Signature: Alex

Silverfish
Silverfish

Hi Alex,
This looks like a Silverfish in the order Zygentoma to us.

Silverfish
Silverfish

Thank you for the Email.  That looks correct and is a big relief.
Best,
Alex

They are considered household pests.

Silverfish
Silverfish

Yes, I understand.  We have seen a few silverfish around, but compared to when I thought it was a bed bug it seems better to me.

Yes, much better than Bed Bugs.

 

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts
Tags: Siverfish

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