A reader recently asked us to help her with an insect problem. She wanted to know how to deal with silverfish.
A silverfish is a slender, cigar-shaped, shiny, silver or pearl gray, wingless insect about one-third to one-half inch long. They are found in damp areas like under the sink in the kitchen or near the shower or toilet in the bathroom. They travel along edges, and can be caught beside baseboards, the corners of cupboards and along the back edges of shelving.
The reason we don't often come into contact with them is because they are nocturnal in habit. They hide during the day and feed at night. We get to see them once in a while trying to escape from a sink, bath or basin because they can't climb the smooth surfaces.
Silverfish tend to damage starched cotton, linen and silk, as well as bookbindings, wallpaper or rayon drapes. The damage often appears as irregular patches of glaze removed from wallpaper or irregular and notched edges on wallpaper or other paper products. Scales, excrement or yellowish stains on paper or fabric also can indicate their presence.
They seldom damage fibers of "animal" origin such as wool or hair. But, they can damage other cellulose items, such as photographs, mementos and valuable papers. Silverfish also feed on carbohydrates.
Silverfish lay their eggs in cracks and crevices, so caulking these areas can reduce their existence. Remember that cracks and crevices can include the area between a cabinet and the wall, between the baseboard and the wall -- even between an adjustable shelf and the inside of a cabinet.
A closely related species, the firebrat, is flatter and speckled, without the metallic appearance. It favors hot, dry situations but can still be eliminated in the same way as the silverfish.
Prevention isn't a breeze, but it is a reasonably manageable task. All you have to do is clean up areas where wood, cardboard boxes, old papers or books are stored, and where the insects are noticed. Spray or trap in areas where silverfish or firebrats are seen, in cracks and crevices. Don't forget closets, shelves, under and around sinks, around steam pipes, baseboards, window casings, and places where pipes go through the walls. In addition, firebats often can be found near heat pipes and stove or furnace areas.
There are many pesticides under many brand names. Select one labeled for use against silverfish or firebrats with directions for the situation in which they have been found. Dusts are frequently more desirable than sprays. Be careful not to use oil-based sprays around electric motors, gas pilot flames or other places where they might start fires. A light mist of residual insecticide spray can be applied to corners and both sides of infested draperies.
If pesticides aren't your cup of tea, a search on the Internet or a quick trip to your local home center or hardware store (even your grocery store) is all you need to do to find a silverfish trap. The trap captures adult and nymphal stages of silverfish, bristletails, firebrats and other insects. The trap works by intercepting running insects searching for food in your home.
Finally, remember that frequent cleaning, vacuuming and disposal of old papers will assist considerably in reducing your silverfish problem.
Keep in mind that long term use of silverfish traps will reduce troubling infestations but probably not eliminate them.
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