Rana Sarfraz: Getting rid of silverfish and firebrats is easy
We frequently encounter silverfish in residential and business buildings in British Columbia. These carrot-shaped, somewhat flat insects have two long slender antennas on their head and three long slender “tails” at the rear of the body. They do not have wings and do not fly, hop, or jump. They move quickly with a wiggling motion, often stopping for short intervals and then moving on rapidly.
Silverfish may be found anywhere in a house, but are most abundant in damp, warm places, preferring areas such as laundry rooms, and often live around sinks, bathtubs and other plumbing fixtures. They are mostly active at night. Sometimes they fall in sinks and bathtubs in an attempt to seeking moisture and are unable to climb up the slippery sides to escape.
Firebrats are also common in the area. Both silverfish and firebrats belong to the group of insects called bristletails. Firebrats are silverfish look-alike but they can be readily distinguished. For example, mature silverfish are covered with shiny silver scales that give the body a metallic sheen, but firebrats have mottled appearance and lack the silvery sheen. Unlike the silverfish that may be found in any part of a house, firebrats, as their name implies, thrive best in very warm, dry places, and are more common in attics and around furnaces, ovens, heating units, fireplaces, and water heaters.
Silverfish and firebrats are primarily nuisance insects and do not bite or sting. They feed on glue in book bindings or behind wallpaper as well as on paper, paper sizing, cereal grain products, starch, and dried meat. They can stain fabric, paper, books, wallpaper, or photos. They are not associated with the spread of any known diseases.
How can you get rid of them? Here are some tips.
Sanitation and exclusion
Silverfish and firebrats thrive best where they are undisturbed for long periods. Vacuum and clean your house frequently, and do not leave stored books and clothing undisturbed for long periods. Regularly clean around and behind appliances and machinery, inside cupboards, drawers, and pantries, and keep countertops clean. Also clean beneath sinks and other dark or humid locations. Repair leaky faucets and pipes, ventilate bathrooms, and dehumidify areas of excess moisture. Caulk cracks and crevices, including those found in baseboards, cupboards, and walls to limit harborages.
Small glass containers (e.g. baby food jars) can be used as traps, if the outsides are covered with a masking tape. No bait is necessary. The insects climb up the tape, fall into the jars, and cannot climb back up the slick sides. General sticky traps can also be used for the purpose.
- Dusts like diatomaceous earth or boric acid can be applied along baseboards and beneath and behind appliances to control silverfish and firebrats. As the insects crawl over the powdery dust, their outer waxy protection is scratched, causing them to slowly dehydrate and die.
- The majority of domestic insecticidal products available to homeowners for controlling bristletails contain propoxur. These chemicals do not kill the eggs, but are effective in reducing the overall numbers of silverfish and firebrats.
- For current chemical control options, consult your local pest control representative. Follow closely the directions and cautions on the label. Do not apply insecticides in a manner that allows direct contact with food, food preparation surfaces, or food utensils.
Rana Sarfraz is an entomologist and ecologist currently working at the University of British Columbia.