Sunday, 13 March 2011


Image via Wikipedia
It has recently come to my attention that quite a lot of people really hate silverfish. I have to say, I find this somewhat odd and couldn't disagree more. It's not like they bite or carry disease or anything like that, neither do they clamber around on rotting food and faeces before walking all over food we're just about to eat. Not much, anyway. In fact, I have always really liked silverfish. They are nocturnal, so I didn't often see them, but it was always wonderful when I did. I guess familiarity breeds contempt. So does the very act of creeping and crawling at the dead of night.

Another problem I'm sure, is that silverfish live in damp, humid conditions, in corners, crevices and niches of kitchens, attics and basements. These habits certainly don't render them endearing, even if it has allowed them to spread all over the world. They haven't changed much in some 300 million years so they could be justified in looking down on our attitude with some kind of benevolent pity. They might even assume that same gaze on almost all other insects in the world today since silverfish have hit on many features that have become primitive through sheer success.

First thing's first though, I simply find silverfish to be attractive little beasties. The "silver" comes from their beautiful metallic sheen. "Fish" refers to their fishlike shape and the wiggle in their walk which looks akin to the undulations of swimming fish. They reach about 1 centimetre to an inch in length so they are smaller than most fish, but not all.

Silverfish feed on carbohydrates, which seems to translate to "most things". Sugar and starch from sweet foods, pasta, rice, bread and flour is fair enough. But then we move onto paper, glue and various fabrics, meaning they eat books and clothes. Also dead insects and their own shed exoskeletons. They seem to eat just about anything that was at one time part of something alive, it's pretty damn impressive. Despite all that, it is still said that they can go about a year without food, which is all the more remarkable for a tiny creature that lives for 2 to 8 years or so. You might see how they've managed to stick around for so long!

Here's something interesting: silverfish don't have wings. In fact, they've NEVER had wings. Almost all insects in the world either have wings or had them and lost them. All the insects that have never evolved wings look quite a lot like silverfish and are closely related.

How about some silverfish romance? There's quite a charming little ritual involved. It starts with the male and female standing face to face with their antennae touching, before backing off and returning repeatedly. Then, the male runs off and the female gives chase. No doubt there is much giggling to be heard in the warm breeze, replete with pink blossoms and fluttering butterflies dancing gaily above sun dappled meadows, as the gentle babbling of a brook quietly applauds the lovers and murmurs in approval. Or whatever else you keep in your basement.

It is at this point that we get another look at ancient, insect life. Instead of copulating, the male simply drops a sort of bag called a spermatophore. The female picks this up to fertilise her eggs, which number 50 at most. They are laid in crevices and, once hatched, the little silverfish look almost exactly like their parents. Again, almost all other insects have larvae or nymphs that look at least quite different, if not completely different, from adults. Silverfish, on the other hand, will grow and moult and grow, reach sexual maturity, and then continue to grow and moult and grow.

So, there you have it. I can't stop anyone from despising anything, but I can at least note how unique and incredibly successful the silverfish is and perhaps even suggest that you RESPECT YOUR ELDERS!


Crunchy said...

They eat your books and you don't see why people hate them? I love my books! :(

mariamama said...

just came across your site and directly bookmarked it, love all your stuff, exactly what I enjoy to read, thank you so much for all the efforts to build up such a great blog

Unknown said...

@Crunchy: That's a good point. All the silverfish I've ever known were eating old newspapers and the cardboard they were in, and that was all under the house. I guess I'm biased, or maybe I lack everyone else's bias. I think they're great, so there! :P

@mariamama: Thank you very much for your kind words and encouragement. And welcome aboard! I hope you enjoy your time here.

Unknown said...

As with most humans we hate anything that encroches on our space, even though we are all renting. I find them interesting and a wonder to Darwinism. Good article

Unknown said...

Very true. Glad you appreciate the article!

David Lee said...

I have had one in my bathroom for years, only ever see one. I think he/she is awesome and I always say hi. I hope he/she makes a friend one day and I see two.

Unknown said...

Maybe YOU'RE his/her friend?

David Lee said...

Indeed I am. He/she is getting really old now. Moth season soon, yay! Had 2 poplar hawk moths fly in last year and loads of other cool ones.

Unknown said...

Cool! I love nice, big moths like that

Unknown said...

Nice article I just got a silverfish from Amazon, it was camping in the package of the book (uneaten) it took a look around my room and went under my bed, hope to see it grow. I keep my room clean but will keep a chip under my bed now n then lol

Unknown said...

Free pet, nice!

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