Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

April 11, 2010

Carpet Sharks in the Bathroom

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 10:05 pm

There are some critters that couldn’t care less about the advent of spring. For those select few, the ups and downs of the outside thermometer mean nothing as long as the inside thermostat is set at a tropically consistent 70 degree F. No, I am not talking about teenagers or cats, I am talking about those carbohydrate munching creatures variously called carpet sharks, paramites, or bristletails but more commonly called silverfish. These insects are a part of the inner fauna of nearly every home, yet they are little seen and never acknowledged. I was forced to acknowledge a few when I flipped on the bathroom light on the other day.

There, exposed to the blinding light, a few silverfish circled about randomly on the tile floor before dashing for cover. My eyes had barely adjusted to the light before I sprang into action. One silvery form, slower than the rest, was obliged to pay the price for his fellow fish and die for the cause. I didn’t squash it -that would be non-scientific and stain generating -but instead I corralled it with a plastic cup and popped it into the freezer. I wanted a closer look at one of these unique little co-habitants. Dead silverfish are easier to study than live ones.

If you are a member of the Silverfish Preservation Guild, by the way, I ask that you do not write me and complain about this act. I also would ask that you seek help while you still can!  Actually I have the deepest respect for silverfish. If I were a hat wearing man, I’d tip my chapeau and if I were a drinking man, I’d raise my glass to the lowly Lepisma saccharina as among the most successful creatures on earth. As it is, I am a twinkie eating man who doesn’t know what kind of acknowledgment to perform with this product. You don’t raise a twinkie, or tip it for that matter, but I guess you could pinch it a few times.

The pictures I bring you are of this dead little silverfish. Unfortunately, this one was not the best representative of his kind.  Both antennae, which normally are quite long, are busted and all of the tail bristles were cut off. This fellow was a stubbytail rather than a bristletail (there are normally three long bristles sticking out of the posterior end). The lack of “tail “probably explains why he was so slow out of the gate. To his credit, and another pinch of the Twinkie, he does display the silvery scales and almond shape that earn the common name of the tribe.

Admit it, he’s kinda cute isn’t he (see above and detail here). The entire body is covered with oval scales – making the sleek fish-like shape even sleeker looking. Since the scales detach so easily, it is likely that these are defensive paraphernalia meant to leave a predator with a mouthful of scaly dust. A pair of tiny compound eyes and six stout little legs are classic insect characteristics, however, a complete lack of wings or an easily discernible head-thorax-abdomen combo put silverfish into the “primitive” category. Keep in mind that primitive doesn’t mean backward or unsuccessful. They are found all over the planet.

Silverfish are chewing bugs that feast on carbohydrates such as starch and sugar. In the home, this can mean paper, glue, book bindings, or all that extra dandruff and hair you leave lying around. As much as I hate to admit it, Twinkies are fair silverfish food as well.

None of these eating habits endear them to us, but they don’t care. You could eliminate all the silverfish in your house by turning your furnace off in the winter and tearing out all your bathrooms and sinks (they are attracted to such moist places). You’d also have to move north, stop reading books, eating Twinkies, and growing hair in order to rid your home of carpet sharks. In short, you’d have to be a hairless moron living in an igloo in order to beat these bugs.

Chances are, your crack at this deprived state of living would be very short and you’d have to give it up before a month was over.  You’d move back into your home thinking that at least your prolonged absence had driven the hidden pests over to the neighbor’s ranch house. Unfortunately, the silverfish will wait you out. They can go without food for over a year. Besides, that one Twinkie you accidentally left way back under the stove will last over 25 years – enough to feed thousands of Silverfish generations. Silverfish: 1  Humans: 0.


  1. Oy. I spent my high school and college years working summers in Special Collections in a library, and although that was many years ago, the sight of silverfish still makes me twitch. I did appreciate the close up shots, though – suddenly I see the remarkable resemblance to, well, a fish. Except with legs. And antennae. And an appetite for books.

    Comment by Holly — April 13, 2010 @ 11:16 am

  2. It’s a sign! I saw a silverfish zip across the garage floor over the weekend. Not a Twinkie in sight.

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