Pest Identification: Bristletails
Most Common Types
Bristletails are referred to as fishmoths, tasseltails, fringetails, and jumping bristletails. Two look alike types of insects are silverfish and firebrats, and are often referred to as bristletails, but they are different.
What They Look Like
Bristletails are named so because of the three tail-like appendages that protrude from their abdomens, which silverfish and firebrats display as well. Silverfish are metallic in appearance with silvery scales covering their bodies. They have flattened, elongated bodies, less than half an inch long, with extended, curved antennae. Silverfish have six long legs and wriggle in a fish-like manner as if they were swimming. Firebrats are similar in size and shape to silverfish but are usually mottled brown in color.
Where They Live
There are at least 370 species of silverfish and firebrats and they can be found all over the world. There are around 35 species living in North America.
Where They Nest
Silverfish and firebrats may be found in homes. They live for three years or more and each female produces around 50 offspring. Firebrats are attracted to warmth and nest near heat sources such as warm vents, furnaces, hot water pipes, fireplaces, stoves, and clothes dryers. Silverfish prefer cooler temperatures and high humidity areas and can often be found in basements. Bristletails dine on sugars, starches, and protein found in an average home including glue used in book bindings and on wallpaper, paper, plaster, dried meat, sugar, coffee, carpeting, and clothing.
Steps to Prevent
Managing silverfish and firebrats is difficult because they can survive 300 days without food if there is water available. However, it is best to deprive bristletails of food by keeping cereals, flour, meal, pastas, and pet foods in airtight containers. In basements, reduce dampness with proper ventilation and a dehumidifier.
Are They Harmful?
Silverfish are not harmful to humans; they don’t bite and they are not disease vectors like cockroaches. They can cause minor property damage by nibbling on walls and household items. Unless there is a rare, major infestation silverfish are mainly nuisance insects.