Silverfish: Where do they come from and how do you fight them?

Everyone has probably seen silverfish at home. The silver-gray, wingless insects are harmless, but often unwanted. What are silverfish? Where do they come from? And can you keep them in a terrarium? In this article you will learn everything you need to know about silverfish.

What do silverfish look like?

Silverfishes (Lepisma saccharina) are so-called primordial insects. They belong to the family of Lepismatidae and to the order of Zygentoma, which already populated the earth millions of years ago.

Relatives of silverfish are paper silverfish and Ctenolepisma calva (in German they're called ghostfish), which can also occur in homes.

A silverfish crawls on a white ceramic tile in a modern kitchen.
A silverfish on a tile

Silverfish are about one centimeter in size and have an elongated, flattened body. They are shiny silver and have six legs and five antennae. They have long, thread-like antennae on the head and three thread-like appendages at the end of the tail.

They are nocturnal and light-shy, which is why you hardly ever see them during the day.

Silverfish feel comfortable in warm, humid environments, which is why they are attracted to heated apartments or houses. Most often they are in the bathroom or kitchen. I think everyone has discovered a silverfish there.

They feed on hair, dust mites, dandruff and mold. So in themselves they can be quite useful. Rarely, they also eat paper, books, packaging materials as well as textiles or vegetable matter, which is then again rather disturbing.

Are silverfish harmful or beneficial?

Many people who discover the little animals at home wonder whether silverfish are harmful. In fact, they belong to the material and hygiene pests, through which in rare cases it can come to contamination of food.

However, they are considered harmless and are not health pests, which means they do not transmit diseases.

However, their appearance indicates excessive humidity or already existing moisture damage, which can be accompanied by mold. If silverfish occur only sporadically, however, you need not worry.

The positive side effect of a silverfish infestation is that the small insects feed on, among other things, house dust mites, which can trigger allergies. House dust mite allergy sufferers in particular may benefit from this.

A silverfish (Lepisma saccharina)
A silverfish viewed from above. Source: Christian Fischer, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Paper silverfish

Not all insects that we call silverfish really are. There is a similar species that is often confused with silverfish: the paper silverfish. These are in the same family as the silverfish, but they are slightly longer and have longer tail appendages. They also have gray scales with bristle combs, while the silverfish have a metallic sheen.

The most important difference between the two species, however, is their feeding behavior. While silverfish feed on organic waste such as dander or hair, paper silverfish primarily eat starch- and cellulose-containing materials such as paper, cardboard or glue. This makes them real pests that can destroy books, documents or wallpaper.

If you discover paper fish in your home, you should act quickly and fight them before they cause more damage.

A paper fish (Ctenolepisma longicaudatum).
Paperfish are bristlier and less shiny than silverfish
Paper silverfish (Ctenolepisma longicaudata) with clearly visible bristles
Here the bristles are very clearly visible. Source: Rene Sylvestersen, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Fighting silverfish

To prevent or combat an infestation of silverfish, it is important to keep rooms with high humidity clean at all times and to air them regularly.

Cracks and crevices with dirt, for example, the insects particularly like. In addition, you should avoid food or pet food standing around openly.

There are various means against silverfish on the market, such as sprays, traps or bait boxes. But you can also use home remedies such as potatoes or honey to attract the insects and remove them by hand.

  • Lavender: The scent of lavender is very unpleasant for silverfish. You can place lavender sachets or oil in the closets or infested areas to keep the insects away.
  • Potatoes: Potatoes are a favorite food for silverfish. You can place a halved potato on a plastic bag and leave it overnight. The next morning you will find the silverfish in the bag and can dispose of it.
  • Sticky traps: Sticky traps are a simple and effective way to actively catch silverfish. You can buy them in stores or make them yourself by spreading honey or sugar on a piece of cardboard and placing it in the infested areas.

These home remedies are not only environmentally friendly, but also inexpensive and easy to use. They can help reduce or permanently eliminate the silverfish population. At this link from you will find a great overview of different silverfish traps.

In addition to home remedies, chemical agents also work against silverfish, such as moth spray, moth balls or moth paper. These often contain toxic substances that not only kill the insects, but can also be harmful to humans and pets.

In addition, they can pollute the environment and cause allergies. Therefore, these agents should be used only in extreme emergencies and with caution.

Can you keep them in a terrarium?

Since we are here on the Terrarium Blog, we naturally also ask the question whether you can keep silverfish in a terrarium. Most people are probably wondering why, but I personally find the little insects actually quite cute.

The answer is: Yes, in principle it is possible to keep silverfish in a terrarium. However, you should think carefully whether you really want to do that.

Photo of a silverfish hiding under a leaf in a small terrarium
A silverfish under a leaf

Silverfish do not behave fundamentally different in a terrarium than other insects. However, they reproduce quite quickly and if you lose even a few of them, you will have a small colony of them in your home.

If you are looking for insects or other small animals for your terrarium, I recommend this article.

If you still decide to keep silverfish in a terrarium, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • The terrarium should be at least 30 x 20 x 20 cm and have a lid with ventilation slots.
  • It should be in a warm and humid place, for example, in the bathroom or kitchen. The temperature should be between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius and humidity at least 50 percent.
  • The terrarium should be covered with a layer of soil, sand or peat and offer various hiding places such as bark, stones or plants.
  • You should clean the terrarium regularly to avoid mold and odors.


Silverfish are small insects that are often found in homes. They are harmless, but often unwanted. To fight or prevent them, one should pay attention to good hygiene and ventilation.

You can also use various means or home remedies against silverfish. You can also keep silverfish in a terrarium if you meet some conditions. However, you should think carefully whether you really want to do that. Because silverfish are not typical pets and can quickly spread throughout your home.

If you liked the article and are interested in even more common insects, why not read the article about wasps and why they aren't as bad as everyone always thinks.

Silverfish: Annoying Pest or Fun Pets?
Article name
Silverfish: Annoying Pest or Fun Pets?
Silverfish are harmless, but often unwanted. Here you will learn how to fight them and whether you can keep them in a terrarium.

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