Silverfish & Firebrats

- Primitive insects that can damage paper -

Summary: Both silverfish and firebrats (also called fishmoths and bristletails) can damage papers, books, magazines that are in storage, and can infest stored food products as well. Silverfish normally occur in damp areas like basements whereas firebrats seek out drier and hotter areas like attics.

Jack DeAngelis, PhD
OSU Ext. Entomologist (ret.)

This page will help you identify and get rid of silverfish and firebrats. These primitive, wingless insects are minor household pests that can damage stored papers as well as starchy foods. Both insects are identified by long antennae and three long "bristle tails" at the rear end. In fact, an old common name for them is "bristletails".

How to identify silverfish & firebrats

Silverfish and firebrats are 1/2"-3/4" long when fully grown. Silverfish are somewhat shiny and silver-grey in color while firebrats are dull, mottled and grey-brown. Firebrats also have more stiff "hairs" along the body (see lower photo at right). Both feed on paper and starchy materials which may lead them to damage books, stored papers, pictures, and wallpaper. They will even get into stored foodstuffs like cereal, grains and dried meats.

common misspellings and alternate names: fishmoths, silver fish, fire brats, bristle tails


Silverfish (top) and firebrat (bottom), about 1/2" long. Note three "tails" at rear end (left in top image; right in bottom image). The bottom photo is black & white.

Control of silverfish and firebrats

Silverfish prefer cool, damp habitats like basements and crawlspaces while firebrats tend to occur in hotter, drier areas like attics. For example, our own damp crawlspace, which has a dirt floor covered with plastic sheeting, produces a regular of supply of pesky silverfish.

Control of silverfish can usually be accomplished by reducing water sources. Insecticide treatment, if absolutely necessary, should be restricted to non-inhabited areas of the house such as attics and crawlspaces. Firebrats can be managed with insecticidal dusts, including botanical dusts, that are placed in dry areas where these insects are found (see Related Articles below). Remember to protect boxes of valuable books, and other paper documents, by sealing with tape.

Safer botanical insecticides

New plant oil, or so called botanical insecticides are among the few products that can be safely used indoors for a variety of pests including silverfish and firebrats. The dust formulations are especially useful in dry environments, while the wettable powder (WP) sprays can be used anywhere. See label instructions for these applications and as with any insecticide, please read and carefully follow these instructions (see Using Botanical Insecticides)

Related Articles

Safely Using Insecticidal Dusts

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