Tasmania – Silverfish

2014 February 5

Here’s another one that I probably didn’t really have to go to the other side of the planet to find, but that we just don’t seem to have up in Houghton: the ever-popular silverfish!

I’d been noticing that some of my parents’ books have insect damage, mostly to the edges of the pages. Like we see here (which is, fittingly, a page of a book that includes articles about insects)

And when I mentioned that I’ve never seen a silverfish in Houghton to photograph, my mother very kindly offered to find me one. She said that they normally could be found on the edges of the Encyclopedia Brittanica,[1] so we went through until we found one (we checked about 20 volumes, so it’s not as if they have a lot of silverfish, but they are there).

So, now it is time to introduce another new insect order, Zygentoma, which is a group of completely wingless insects that have this characteristic teardrop shape with the long filaments at the tips of their abdomens.

Specifically, I think it is probably the Common Silverfish, Lepisma saccharina, a cosmopolitan species that lives in human habitations worldwide. They don’t actually eat paper, but they do like starch-based glues and paper coatings. Which means that they will chew up certain grades of stiff, glossy paper (like the chewed page that I showed in the first photo), and will eat glues out of certain books until all the pages fall out.

It appears that the best way to keep them out of your house is to maintain dry conditions. This is probably why we don’t have them back in Houghton – our indoor humidity routinely drops below 40% in the winter[2], which dries a lot of small arthropods to death. At my parent’s house, on the other hand, I doubt the humidity ever gets much below 60%.

[1] They have a hunger for knowledge.

[2] Air in houses tends to get dry in the winter, because cold air can’t hold as much moisture as warm air. So when cold air comes in from outside and warms up, it suddenly can hold a lot more moisture, and its relative humidity (humidity relative to the maximum that it could hold at that temperature) drops. The colder it is outside, and the better your house is ventilated, the drier the inside air tends to get.

One Response
  1. Carole permalink
    February 5, 2014

    Silverfish are a problem here in Florida. Running a dehumidifier 365 days per year limits them to the bathroom where I don’t know what the eat. The scales are protection against enemies catching them, they slip right away.

Comments are closed.