House Centipede vs Silverfish: Uncovering the Differences and How to Deal With Them

House centipedes and silverfish are two common household pests that may seem similar at first glance, but they have distinct differences and characteristics. Both creatures are often found in damp and dark areas of the home, such as basements, bathrooms, and closets. However, understanding their individual traits can help homeowners effectively manage and prevent infestations.

House centipedes are predatory arthropods with long, slender legs and a brownish-gray body, which allows them to quickly move through your home in search of prey. They primarily feed on other pests, such as silverfish, firebrats, and even cockroach nymphs, making their presence an indicator of other pest issues in the house. On the other hand, silverfish are wingless, moisture-loving insects with a silvery-gray appearance and a tapered body. They scavenge for food, primarily consuming starchy materials like paper, glue, and certain textiles.

Some key features of each pest include:

  • House centipedes: predatory, have 15 pairs of long legs, fast-moving, and may signify a larger pest issue
  • Silverfish: scavengers, wingless with a tapered body, silvery-gray appearance, and feed on starchy materials

In summary, house centipedes and silverfish share some similarities in their habitat preferences, but their roles within the home ecosystem and their individual features set them apart. Understanding these differences can be helpful in managing both pests and maintaining a healthy living environment.

House Centipede and Silverfish Basics

Appearance

House Centipede

  • Yellowish-brown
  • Three dark longitudinal stripes
  • Cylindrical body

Silverfish

  • Gray or silver
  • Teardrop-shaped body
  • Scales

Color

House centipedes have a yellowish-brown color with three dark stripes on their backs, while silverfish are gray or silver in color.

Size

House centipedes can grow up to 1.5 inches long, while silverfish are generally smaller, ranging between 0.5 to 1 inch in length.

Legs

House Centipede

  • 15 pairs of legs
  • Long, almost thread-like

Silverfish

  • 3 pairs of legs
  • Small and thin

Antennae

House centipedes have very long, slender antennae, while silverfish have two slender antennae at the front of their head.

Body

House centipedes have a cylindrical, flattened body with one pair of legs per segment. Silverfish have a teardrop-shaped body covered in scales.

Habitat

House centipedes tend to live in high-humidity areas such as basements, storage rooms, and bathrooms, while silverfish thrive in damp, dark places like attics, basements, and closets.

Comparison Table

Feature House Centipede Silverfish
Appearance Cylindrical, elongated body Teardrop-shaped body
Color Yellowish-brown Gray or silver
Size Up to 1.5 inches 0.5 to 1 inch
Legs 15 pairs 3 pairs
Antennae Long and slender Two slender antennae
Habitat High-humidity areas Damp, dark spaces

Understanding the Differences

Diet and Eating Habits

House centipedes and silverfish differ mainly in their diets. House centipedes are carnivorous and feed on various small insects, such as silverfish, firebrats, carpet beetle larvae, cockroaches, and spiders1. On the other hand, silverfish have a more plant-based diet and consume carbohydrates, including sugars and starches, as well as cellulose found in materials like paper and clothing2.

Here’s a simple comparison table:

House Centipedes Silverfish
Diet Insects (e.g., cockroaches) Carbohydrates and cellulose
Eating Habits Carnivorous More plant-based

Nocturnal or Diurnal

Another key difference between house centipedes and silverfish is their activity patterns:

  • House centipedes are nocturnal3, meaning they are active at night and rest during the day. This is when they hunt for prey.
  • Silverfish are nocturnal too2, so they share this characteristic with house centipedes.

In summary, house centipedes and silverfish are more different in terms of their diet and eating habits, but they are both nocturnal creatures.

Indicators of Infestation

House Centipede Infestation Signs

House centipede infestations become apparent when you frequently spot these creatures crawling on surfaces in your home. They favor damp, dark areas, and are commonly found in:

  • Basements
  • Bathrooms
  • Damp closets

Some indicators of house centipede infestations include:

  • Eggs: Small, oval-shaped, and whitish in color
  • Molting: Shed exoskeletons around
  • Presence of prey: Increased sightings of insects like cockroaches and spiders, which are their food source

house centipede vs silverfish comparison table

Feature House Centipede Silverfish
Appearance Long, slender legs Flat, carrot-like
Moisture and humidity levels Prefer high humidity Require moisture
Common areas of infestation Damp, dark spaces Basements, paper storage
Damage potential Very low Can damage paper items

Silverfish Infestation Signs

Silverfish prefer cool, damp, and dark spaces, and they are often found around:

  • Basements
  • Kitchens
  • Bathrooms
  • Paper storage areas

Signs of silverfish infestation include:

  • Damage to paper items: They feed on starches and can cause damage to books, wallpaper, and other cellulose materials
  • Eggs: Tiny, whitish capsules hidden in cracks and crevices
  • Pepper-like fecal matter: Small, dark specks found near infested areas
  • Shed skin: Tiny, shiny exoskeleton casings

Remember to keep an eye out for these signs to catch infestations early, and take action to control house centipedes or silverfish in your home.

Pest Control and Prevention

Natural Methods

One effective way to control house centipedes and silverfish is by using natural methods. For example, you can:

  • Use a dehumidifier to reduce humidity in your home, as both pests thrive in damp environments
  • Seal gaps and openings in your home with caulk to prevent their entrance
  • Remove clutter and debris, which provide hiding spots for these pests
  • Keep natural fibers clean, as silverfish are attracted to fibers like cotton or linen

Chemical Treatment

In addition to natural approaches, chemical treatments can also be used. Boric acid is a common insecticide for treating both house centipedes and silverfish infestations.

Pros:

  • Effective in killing pests
  • Generally low toxicity to humans and pets

Cons:

  • May take longer to eliminate larger infestations
  • Repeated applications may be necessary
Pest Natural Control Methods Chemical Treatment
House centipede Dehumidifier, cаulk, clutter removal Boric acid
Silverfish Dehumidifier, cаulk, clean natural fibers Boric acid

Remember, both natural and chemical treatment methods have their benefits, and it’s essential to determine the best approach for your specific situation.

Impacts on Your Home

Property Damage

House centipedes and silverfish can both cause damage to your home, albeit to varying extents. House centipedes are mostly harmless, as they feed on other small arthropods, such as spiders and cockroaches. Although they can be an indicator of greater pest problems, their impact on property damage is minimal.

Silverfish, on the other hand, can cause more significant damage. They feed on materials containing starches, such as:

  • Wallpaper
  • Books
  • Paintings
  • Fabrics

As a result, a silverfish infestation can lead to damaged belongings and costly repairs.

Health Concerns

Regarding health concerns, house centipedes are relatively benign. While they can deliver a mildly venomous bite in self-defense, such bites are rare and usually pose no serious health risks.

Silverfish, however, can be a potential allergen source. Their molted exoskeletons and feces can trigger allergies in some individuals.

House Centipede Silverfish
Property Damage Low impact High impact
Health Concerns Rare bites, usually harmless Allergen source

In summary, house centipedes have less potential to cause property damage and health issues compared to silverfish. However, the presence of either in your home may indicate an underlying pest problem that needs to be addressed.

Footnotes

  1. Penn State Extension – House Centipedes

  2. Orkin – Silverfish 2

  3. University of Arkansas – House Centipede

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

 

Bug in Italy
Location: Milan Italy
March 4, 2012 9:09 am
I have seen this bug twice in my apartment in Italy, once in my closet and again today on my window sill. Is it a roach? Also, is this something I could be allergic too or bites? I have been incredibly itchy at night since I have moved into this apartment a few months ago!
Signature: Creeped out

Silverfish

Dear Creeped out,
This is a Silverfish and it is a common household pest found in many parts of the world.  Silverfish will eat stored foods, but they also feed on a variety of organic materials not considered to be food, including the glue in book bindings and wallpaper.  To the best of our knowledge, they do not bite.  Silverfish are reported to be very difficult to eradicate.

Letter 2 – Silverfish

 

Bug problem
Location: Minnesota
January 12, 2012 9:22 pm
Hi, there is a bug that my fiance and I have seen in our apartment a few different times now. We’ve lived here since November and spotted it originally the first week we were here. Then we haven’t seen it since then, until today (1/12/12). We saw one crawling on the wall in the bedroom and took a picture of it then attempted to smash it, except it escaped under the carpet. Then a little bit later (probably 10 minutes) we saw what appeared to be a smaller (maybe a baby?) version of the same bug crawling on the same wall. So I’m hoping you can help identify what it is and if we should be concerned about an infestation or anything else. Thank you.
Signature: Jeremy W

Silverfish

Hi Jeremy,
You may have a Silverfish problem.  They are household pests that eat a wide variety of organic items in the home including the glue in book bindings and wall paper.  Interestingly, when we tried to name your photo, we found that last January we received an email from someone named Jeremy who moved into a new apartment with his wife and found they had Silverfish.  Coincidence or not?  We wonder.

That was not me last January, but interesting coincidence. So what do I do about a silverfish problem?

Hi again Jeremy,
We do not give extermination advice, however,  it is our understanding that they are extremely difficult to eradicate.

Letter 3 – Silverfish

 

Help
Location: Atlanta, GA
January 20, 2012 10:06 pm
What is this bug? I keep a clean house and though I love nature I don’t like it skurring though my house. Since it’s got cooler here in Atlanta I’m seeing these guys more and more no matter how much I clean.
Signature: Sir. Arke

Silverfish

Dear Sir. Arke,
You are being pestered by Silverfish, common household intruders that are extremely difficult to eradicate.

Authors

    by
  • 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.

  • 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.

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