What Do Silverfish Eat? Uncovering Their Diet Secrets

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Silverfish are insects that you may occasionally find lurking around your home, especially in dark and damp areas. These nocturnal creatures are often considered a nuisance, as they are known to cause damage to various household items. But what exactly do silverfish eat? Understanding their diet can help you get a better idea of why they’re attracted to your home and how to control their presence.

One thing to know about silverfish is that they primarily feed on carbohydrates and proteins. For example, they’ll consume items like dried beef, flour, starch, and even your breakfast cereal. Silverfish and Firebrats | University of Maryland Extension shows that their appetite doesn’t just stop at food; they can also cause significant damage to paper products, such as chewing holes in wallpaper or eating the paste underneath it.

Additionally, silverfish have been known to munch on other household items like bookbindings, papers, photographs, and starch found in clothing. Due to their eclectic diet and potential to cause damage, it’s important to keep an eye out for these insects and take the appropriate measures to prevent or eliminate their presence in your home.

Understanding Silverfish

Silverfish are small, nocturnal insects known for their fish-like appearance and movement. They are wingless, covered in scales, and usually have a distinct brown or grey color. Their antennae are quite long and thread-like, giving them a unique appearance among other insects. Let’s dive into the world of silverfish and learn more about them.

These insects are typically found in dark, damp environments such as basements, bathrooms, and kitchens. Since they are nocturnal, you may not notice them during the day, but they can become more active at night when they search for food.

Silverfish diet primarily consists of carbohydrates, proteins, and starches. They are known to eat a variety of items such as glue, wallpaper paste, book bindings, paper, photographs, and even some fabrics like cotton and linen. They can also be found munching on cereals, wheat flour, and starches in clothing. This wide range of dietary preferences makes them a common pest in homes, libraries, and museums.

Here’s a quick comparison table of some key features of silverfish:

Feature Description
Size Around 1/2 inch (12.5 mm)
Color Brown or grey
Antennae Long and thread-like
Habitat Damp and dark spaces
Diet Carbohydrates, proteins, and starches

To prevent silverfish infestations in your home, reduce humidity levels by using fans and dehumidifiers. Keep your spaces clean, vacuum regularly, and store food in airtight containers.

Now that you’ve learned more about silverfish, their habits, and diet, you can take the necessary steps to keep them at bay and protect your belongings.

Silverfish’s Natural Habitat

Silverfish thrive in specific environments that provide them with their basic needs. They prefer dark and damp places such as:

  • Basements
  • Attics
  • Bathrooms
  • Kitchens

These nocturnal insects often stay hidden during the day in small, tight spaces like:

  • Cracks
  • Crevices
  • Under debris
  • Between walls

In homes, silverfish tend to be found near sources of food. They feed on various items, including:

  • Wallpaper paste
  • Book bindings
  • Paper
  • Starch in clothing
  • Cotton and linen fabrics
  • Cereals

It’s essential to maintain a clean and dry environment to discourage silverfish from infesting your home. Regularly vacuuming, eliminating excess moisture, and sealing any cracks or crevices can prevent them from finding a suitable habitat in your living space. Remember, second person, friendly tone, and English are what’s required for this response. Stay on topic and keep the content accurate.

The Silverfish Diet

Starchy Foods

Silverfish are attracted to starchy foods. They love to munch on items containing carbohydrates and polysaccharides. Some examples include:

  • Cereals
  • Grains
  • Flour
  • Oats
  • Cardboard

If you’ve noticed damage to your cereal boxes or grains, it may be because of silverfish.

Insects and Proteins

Besides starch, silverfish also need protein. They get it by feeding on dead insects, spiders, and even their own kind. They have also been known to consume hair and dandruff. Make sure you keep your living spaces clean to reduce potential food sources for them.

Fabric and Belongings

Silverfish are attracted to various fabric materials. They can damage your:

  • Cotton clothing
  • Lace
  • Silk
  • Linens
  • Curtains

By eating fabric, they can leave holes or damage your personal belongings.

Sweet Treats

Silverfish enjoy feasting on sweet items. They are attracted to sugar, cereals, vegetables, and pet food. Make sure to keep these items properly stored and sealed to avoid attracting these pests.

Household Items

These pests don’t just stop at food. Silverfish will eat many household items, such as:

  • Wallpaper
  • Carpets
  • Book bindings
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Adhesives
  • Paint

Keep your home organized and clutter-free to avoid providing extra hiding spots and food sources for silverfish.

Water Consumption

Silverfish need moisture to survive. You might find them in areas with high humidity or water sources, like bathrooms and kitchens. To reduce their chances of thriving in your home, maintain proper moisture levels and fix any leaky pipes.

Silverfish Infestation

Silverfish are small, wingless insects that often infest homes, causing damage to various materials. They are particularly attracted to dark, damp environments such as kitchens, bathrooms, and closets1. They are known to feed on a variety of items, including paper, fabrics, and even food in pantries2. Handling a silverfish infestation can be frustrating for homeowners.

Dealing with these pests starts with identifying areas of infestation. Look for signs like damaged materials, stains, and shed scales3. Pay extra attention to common hiding places like your sinks, showers, and pantry shelves1 2. Once infested areas are located, it’s time to take action to prevent further damage.

Here are some steps you can take to combat a silverfish infestation:

  • Reduce humidity levels in your home by using a dehumidifier in damp areas4.
  • Seal up cracks and crevices around your home to prevent silverfish from entering4.
  • Store books, papers, and linens in sealed containers to protect them from damage4.
  • Keep your home clean and clutter-free, especially in areas where silverfish may thrive4.

By following these simple steps, you’ll be well on your way to managing the silverfish problem in your home.

Controlling Silverfish

To effectively control silverfish in your home, consider using a combination of methods. One common approach is to set up traps. You can buy specific silverfish traps or use DIY solutions like sticky traps.

Another method is to regularly vacuum all areas in your home. This helps remove silverfish, their eggs, and food sources. It’s essential to target areas where silverfish tend to hide, such as corners, cracks, and crevices.

A helpful way to make your home less inviting to silverfish is using a dehumidifier. Silverfish thrive in moist environments, so aim to keep the humidity below 50%.

Some common household tactics to prevent access for silverfish include sealing gaps around bathtubs and windows. This prevents them from entering your home.

It’s critical to store vulnerable items like paper and fabrics in airtight containers. This way, you protect them from silverfish damage.

In more severe cases, you can use boric acid as a chemical control measure. Apply it to areas where you’ve noticed silverfish activity. However, be cautious as boric acid can be harmful to humans and pets.

You can also try using essential oils like lavender, tea tree, or eucalyptus as a natural repellent. Apply them to entry points or mix with water in a spray bottle to cover larger areas.

Controlling reproduction is vital to managing silverfish infestations. Female silverfish lay around 100 eggs in their lifetime. Removing access to food sources and providing unfavorable living conditions can help slow down their reproduction rate.

Although similar, the firebrat requires slightly different control methods as they prefer warmer environments. However, maintaining a clean, dry, and less cluttered space can help control both silverfish and firebrats effectively.


  1. https://extension.umd.edu/resource/silverfish-and-firebrats 2

  2. https://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7475.html 2

  3. https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/silverfish-and-firebrats

  4. https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/silverfish-firebrats/ 2 3 4

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 found on pillow


Subject: Could you identify this for me?
Location: South east
February 16, 2014 10:58 am
Found this on my pillow. Please don’t tell me it’s what I think it is.
Signature: Thank you , Derek

Unknown Bug found on pillow
Unknown Bug found on pillow is a Silverfish

Hi Derek,
The southeast is a large region.  This one has us stumped.  Its legs are too short to be a Cockroach nymph.  We are going to try to contact Eric Eaton to get his opinion since we are not sure how to begin to classify this critter.  It is possible that as an immature insect, it does not closely resemble the adult.  It is not a Bed Bug nor a Louse.  Perhaps one of our readers will write in and supply an answer.

Eric Eaton supplies an identification
No problem.  This is a silverfish, or related insect, that is missing both antennae and all three tail filaments.  Plus, all the scales have worn off its body.

Thanks for the assistance Eric.

Letter 2 – Correction: Jumping Bristletail


Subject: What is this bug?
Location: Southern California
July 16, 2016 8:10 pm
These bugs are common in my house. They look like little crustaceans and they can jump and are tough. What is this bug??
Signature: From Arianna Kenig

Terrestrial Amphipod, possibly
Jumping Bristletail

Dear Arianna,
This one has us a bit stumped.  We are pretty sure it is not a Silverfish, which is pictured on BugGuide.  Furthermore, Silverfish do not jump and they are not tough.  They practically disintegrate when smashed.  This looks more like a Crustacean, and it appears to be a Terrestrial Amphipod, but it does not appear to be a Lawn Shrimp or House Hopper, a usual suspect.  Perhaps one of our readers will have a better idea.  How close are you to the shore?  Where in Southern California are you located?

Correction:  Thanks to Juliet who quickly directed us to Jumping Bristletails on Wikipedia.  We found this matching image on BugGuide.  According to BugGuide:  “short lateral styli (rudimentary appendages) on abdominal segments 2-9; able to jump up to 10 cm by snapping abdomen against ground.”  It was those lateral styli that led us to question if this might be a crustacean.


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Tags: Siverfish

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6 Comments. Leave new

  • Hello there, is there any way to find out the size of this little dude? If it’s extremely small, it looks like a male scale insect, maybe Coccidae. I know that sounds like a stretch, but the strange leg spacing is what’s pushing me in that direction. Usually, you’d see some wings as well, but they’re super fragile. That’s my best guess, but I’m far from an expert (working on it though)!

  • No, it’s not a scale, it’s a silverfish. The flat legs together with the flat, overlapping thorax segments are what indicates this. Also, it still has the bases of the filaments that silverfish have at the end of the abdomen. This particular silverfish appears to have been through the wars, though, because most of the filaments have been broken off.

    • Thanks for both of your comments. We contemplated Silverfish, but at the time, we had no idea this individual was so traumatized. Eric Eaton wrote back with that identification as well. So, traumatized Silverfish it is.

  • Isn’t it a bristletail?

    “The Archaeognatha are an order of wingless insects, also known as jumping bristletails.”

  • Thanks for the post. I found a bug, dead, just like this one, and it was right next to a healthy silverfish. I too was concerned about a bed bug situation and am happy to be able to link the two.


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