All silverfish have the characteristic carrot- or teardrop-shape and three caudal appendages. Silverfish antennae are threadlike, and can be as long as the body. At maturity, silverfish may be about one-half inch in size, and with the tails can reach almost an inch. There are 13 silverfish species in the United States, though only a few are pests. 

Silverfish Pest Species

  • The Common Silverfish, Lepisma saccharina, is dark gray with a metallic sheen 
  • The Fourlined Silverfish, Ctenolepisma quadriseriata, is dark gray with four lines running the length of its body with three pairs of styli (small projections that resemble the tails) on the rear of its abdomen
  • The Gray silverfish, Ctenolepisma longicaudata (Escherich)


The common and the gray silverfishes reside mainly indoors, while the fourlined silverfish also will live outdoors in mulch or under bark.


The common silverfish lays one to three eggs almost daily, while the gray silverfish lays eggs in clusters of two to 20 and places them in cracks and crevices. The fourlined silverfish is thought to have similar egg-laying habits to the common species.

Silverfish do not undergo metamorphosis - the young look like the adults, and adult silverfish can molt even after they are mature. One species is reported to have up to 59 molts in a lifetime.

The scales that give the silverfish its gray, metallic appearance develop after the third or fourth molt. Usually, it takes three to four months for a silverfish to reach maturity, but in cool environments, it can take much longer to develop - sometimes several years.

Food Sources

Silverfish like to feed on objects that contain proteins and carbohydrates. Different species of silverfish prefer different ratios of the two - the common silverfish prefers proteins to carbohydrates, and the gray silverfish feeds on carbohydrates and proteins, but prefers foods with high cellulose content.

This affinity causes them to target fabrics, such as artificial fabrics and cotton, and linen, but not wool or real silk, paper products (wallpaper, cellophane, facial tissue, etc.) and stored dried foods. The fourlined silverfish and the gray silverfish are able to consume cellulose-rich foods - the former because it produces the enzyme cellulase, and the latter because its mid-gut contains cellulose-digesting bacteria and enzymes.

Damage caused by silverfish can be etchings (like someone has scraped the surface with their fingernail), holes or notches. Yellow fecal stains and discarded scales also are telltale signs.

Once they find a food source, silverfish tend to remain close to it. Though they can go for weeks without food or water, they often are discovered in sinks and tubs, where they become trapped, having crawled in searching for a source of moisture. Room temperature and high humidity are preferred, but silverfish can be found in any room of a house or in the mulch or leaf litter around a house.


Millipedes, sowbugs, roly polys, pill bugs and centipedes. These are all multi-legged non-insect type creatures that inhabit the same type of wet, highly mulched areas around the home.

In the spring and summer these creatures sometimes migrate by the thousands, marching toward and into your house. No one knows for sure what causes these migrations. The best guess is that it's a combination of temperature and humidity. Millipedes and their kin like secluded damp areas where they can feed on decaying plant material. But too much or too little moisture in their environment can make them leave these areas in huge numbers.

Natural Control

  1. De-thatch lawns Millipedes thrive in the dense upper thatch of grass.
  2. Mow lawn close This allows the lawn to dry out.
  3. Remove debris Millipedes live under boards, rocks, mulch, etc.
  4. Water the yard in the early morning This lets the yard dry before night.


House Mouse

(Mus domesticus)

Habitat Generally indoors, preferring dry nesting locations. Limited home range, with foraging activities rarely above several meters from nest site. Nests are usually situated in close proximity to food sources and are generally made from shredded paper and other materials present in the local environment.

Pest Status Widespread and relatively cosmopolitan, this species is a frequent pest of homes and industrial sites. Urinating frequently, feeding from multiple sites, food spoilage and the spread of disease is closely associated with M. domesticus.

Control The combined use of monitoring equipment, baits and physical control methods where appropriate is recommended. Bait formulation is an important factor, due to the high specificity of food selection by this species.


The Common Rat

(Rattus norvegicus)

Habitat Often found beside water, on the banks of streams and ditches. Sewers also provide habitat, and access to street level feeding areas, particularly in cities.

Pest Status Increasingly important in urban areas, this species has adapted readily to environments with close proximity to large human populations. Also problematic when newly introduced on small islands.

Control Usually involves use of well protected anticoagulant bait. Other means may be used, such as acute baits, or physical control methods. Monitoring is also critical for successful management of common rat populations


Brown Recluse Spider

Araneae: Loxascelidae, Loxosceles reclusa 

Brown recluse spiders belong to a group of spiders commonly known as violin spiders or fiddlebacks. This is because of a characteristic fiddle-shaped pattern they have on their head region. The spider is golden brown with the fiddle being dark brown or black. This spider is not hairy and the fiddle pattern is often shiny. They are about 1/4 to 3/4 inch long. Members of this small family are known for their poisonous venom. They have six eyes in three pairs. The cephalothorax is rather flat above and has a conspicuous, lengthwise furrow in the midline at the rear third. Each foot has two claws. Many of the wolf spiders are similar in appearance and have similar markings as the brown recluse. They are large, robust, hairy, and therefore they can be distinguished from the brown recluse.

Brown Recluse spiders spin small, irregular webs under bark, stones or other secluded areas. Their venom is especially poisonous to people; those bitten often become ill and find that the wound does not heal quickly. Both male and female brown recluse spiders, as well as their spiderlings, are capable of injecting venom which may result in serious lesion formation or systemic reactions. The severity of the bite may vary. The symptoms may vary from no harm at all to a reaction that is quite severe. Usually, the brown recluse spider bite is not felt and the pain sets in from six to eight hours later. A typical bite area may resemble a pimple, postule or blister formation within six to 12 hours later. Mild to severe pain accompanied by swelling may occur during this interval. The surrounding tissue begins to darken, is irregular in shape with sharply raised edges resulting in a sunken area which may be several centimeters in diameter. Often there is a systemic reaction within 24-36 hours characterized by restlessness, fever, chills, nausea, weakness, and joint pain. Where the bite occurs there is often tissue death and skin is sloughed off. In some severe cases, a wound may develop that lasts several months. In all cases, a physician should be notified. If at all possible, kill and take the spider to the physician for positive identification. Individual spiders can be crushed underfoot or sprayed with an aerosol spray.

Brown recluse spiders are found primarily in the Midwest. Many cases of bites are reported from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Texas, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. They are suspected of being in other states as well. The edge of its range just reaches the tip of western Virginia, but it occurs rarely in this state. The spider commonly lives in basements, attics and garages of houses and often hides behind boards and boxes. Bites often occur when the spiders hide in towels or old clothes left in those areas. The Brown Recluse has adapted quite well to indoor habitats. They are commonly found in the storage areas of residences, including areas such as attics, closets, bedrooms and other dark recesses. This spider frequently inhabits clothing, toys, books, boxes, furniture as well as transport trucks, tool sheds, tree houses and little used or abandoned dog houses.

The brown recluse spider is nocturnal and prefers food such as firebrats, crickets, cockroaches and other soft bodied creatures. Earning their name well, the brown recluse spider ceases its wanderings at first light. People are most commonly bitten in bed, while changing clothes, or cleaning storage areas. Not only will this spider hide in cracks and crevices of the home, they will often climb into clothing or shoes that someone has laid out to wear the following day.

A female deposits eggs in off-white silken cases about 1/3 inch in diameter in sheltered, dark areas. Spiderlings emerge in 24-36 days and abandon the egg case. Development is slow, influenced by weather conditions and food availability. They reach maturity in 10 to 12 months and can survive long periods of time without food or water. Immature spiderlings resemble adult brown recluse spiders but have lighter coloration. Adult males and females will vary from light tan to dark brown.



Black Widow Spider

Araneae: Theridiidae, Latrodectus mactans 

The male black widow's abdomen is more elongate than that of the female, with white and red markings on its sides. The female's abdomen is almost spherical, usually with a red hourglass mark below or with 2 transverse red marks separated by black. The legs of the male are much longer in proportion to his body than that of the female. The female is the most easily recognized, her shiny black body giving great contrast to the red hourglass marking on her round abdomen.

The black widow's range is from Massachusetts to Florida and west to California, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. Although they can be found in almost every state (and some portions of Canada), this spider is most common in the Southern locales of the United States. Black widow spiders are common around wood piles, and are frequently encountered when homeowners carry firewood into the house. Also found under eaves, in boxes, underneath unused construction materials, inside wooden toy boxes, firewood boxes, outdoor toilets, meter boxes, and other unbothered places.

The female black widow spider rarely leaves her web. The web she constructs is an irregular, tangled, criss-cross web of rather coarse silk. The core of the web is almost funnel shaped, woven into a silken tunnel in which the female spider spends the majority of her daylight hours. This web is altered and rebuilt in a regular basis and is capable of capturing rather large insects. The female wraps any captured prey with her silk, repeatedly turning her victim with her legs as she applies more silk. After her victim is covered in silk, the spider kills her prey by injecting her venom. The prey might be eaten immediately or reserved for a later feeding. After the prey is fed upon and the body fluids are sucked from the victim, the carcass is cut loose and allowed to drop to the ground. The female black widow is most often found hanging upside down in her web, where she spends most of her daytime hours. She stays close to her egg mass, defensively biting anything that disturbs her or her egg sac. After laying her eggs, the female black widow is hungry and more likely to bite a human. The female black widow stores sperm, producing more egg sacs without mating. Some females live more than three years.

Egg sacs are pear shaped (or oval), brown, papery and about ½ inch long. They hold from 25 to 900 or more eggs, which have an incubation period of 20 days. The spiderlings disperse shortly after emerging, tearing an opening in the egg sac and stay near the sac. After several hours, these second instar spiderlings balloon to the ground and scatter. Growth requires two to three months, with older females dying in autumn after egg laying.

Of all spiders, the Black Widow is the most feared. The female's venom is especially poisonous to people. Despite its reputation, this spider often attempts to escape rather than bite, unless it is guarding an egg mass or if it is cornered and pressed. The male black widow will not bite you. After mating, the female sometimes eats the male (remember, she only has to mate once in her life), earning the name "widow." During the period shortly following mating and laying of eggs, the female black widow can be a little cranky and hungry. After this period (if he lives through it!) the male lives quite comfortably, eating prey captured by the female. The development of his venom sacs stop and become inactive as the male matures, thus making him less of a potential problem than his female counterpart.

The bite of the female black widow spider may not always be felt at first and besides slight local swelling, there is usually little evidence of a lesion. Two tiny red spots can sometimes be observed in the center of the swollen area. Most of the time, pain at the site of the bite occurs immediately and becomes most intense after about three hours. An overall aching of the body, especially the legs, are common reactions. Headache, elevated blood pressure, nausea and profuse perspiration may occur in severe cases. The condition is self-limiting and in most cases symptoms disappear in two or three days. Calcium gluconate is used intravenously to relieve and relax muscle spasms produced by black widow venom.

Be very careful when working around areas where black widow spiders may be established. Take proper precautions, wear gloves and pay attention to where you are working. Black widow bites are sharp and painful, and the victim should go to the doctor immediately for treatment.

Other Common Spiders

Wolf Spiders

Wolf Spiders are large, hairy spiders that hunt for their prey by running it down and capturing it. Although VERY scary they are harmless and can be ignored.

Sac Spiders

Sac Spiders are very small spiders with irregular webs and small egg sacs. These spiders are poisonous and should not be allowed to multiply inside the home.


American Cockroach

(Periplaneta americana)

Habitat In temperate climates,  the American Cockroach is limited to heated buildings and port facilities. Distribution in warm climates is wide. Drains, sewers bins and refuse areas provide habitat in these areas.

Pest Status Due to its need for heated conditions in temperate zones, the American Cockroach is generally limited to animal houses, zoos, greenhouses and other constantly heated premises. In warmer areas, no such restrictions apply, although in the United States the German Cockroach is the main pest.

German Cockroach

(Blattella germanica)

Habitat Widespread distribution in temperate climates. Generally a pest of warm indoor environments, and in particular, galleys, kitchens and institutional heating systems. Its common name "Steamfly" is said to originate from it's frequent infestation of ships engine rooms.

Pest Status This pest is the major cockroach species in Europe and North America. Highly versatile and cosmopolitan, its small body size and breeding strategies make it a highly successful pest. Large institutions e.g. hospitals, hotels, prisons are particularly at risk.


Cockroach Control

Controlling cockroaches requires an integrated approach involving the use of monitoring traps, insecticidal baits and well-targeted contact insecticides. Night time inspections may be necessary in difficult to control infestation situations in order to identify key harborage areas. Harborage denial and proofing are also effective.


Carpenter Ants

Carpenter ants are large (10 mm or more) black or brown ants often found in wooded areas. However, they are known to enter homes also, especially in the spring. These ants are most often seen one at a time, and they are by far the largest ants seen on the property. In the spring, you may find large numbers of flying ants. These are the reproductive members of the colony. They indicate the presence of a mature colony nearby, and this is cause for concern. This colony must be found and destroyed immediately because carpenter ants are capable of doing severe structural damage if left untreated. The good news is that can do your own carpenter ant control at a fraction of the cost of professional treatment to take care of this dangerous and costly pest!

Carpenter Ant Control

  • Trim all trees and bushes so no branches touch or come close to any part of the house. This is helpful to distance their habitat from your home.
  • Correct any moisture problem such as leaking roofs, chimneys or plumbing. Clean out your gutters. Make certain there is good ventilation in the attic and crawl space areas. Like all insects, carpenter ants thrive on moisture.
  • Replace or repair all water damaged wood and eliminate all wood to earth contact.

To find the carpenter ant colony look for the following signs:

  • Sawdust Wood shavings, dead ants and old ant cocoons are often piled up outside of the nest.
  • Windows Small slit-like openings that carpenter ants cut into damaged wood.
  • Swarmers A lot of large, winged flying ants, usually but not always found in the spring. The nest will be found nearby.
  • Workers Solitary ants wandering aimlessly, most active at night.
  • Clicking If you get close enough, you can actually hear the colony chewing through wood inside your walls.
  • Water Damage  When you find the leak, the carpenter ants are usually there also.

Fire Ants

Anyone who has lived in the South during the summer months has already had the unpleasant experience of being stung by fire ants. Fire ants are here to stay, but you don't have to put up with them in your yard or house.

BIOLOGY Fire ants are social insects consisting of a queen, workers, eggs and larvae. The queen lives in a protected nest which may be several feet deep. There may be several satellite nests near the main nest and some nests may have more than one queen. Fire ants usually have two flying swarms each year. After mating the fertilized queen begins a new colony.


Human Flea

(Pulex irritans)

Habitat The primary host for this parasite is man, however it has been noted to occur on domestic and some wild animals. Widely distributed, although far less prevalent in recent years due to rising standards of hygiene.

Pest Status A pest of principle public health importance. The presence of human fleas is the cause of great distress and certain discomfort. Both sexes will bite and are capable of biting multiple times.

Control Vacuuming with a suitably filtered machine is a good way to physically remove many of the insects before beginning treatment with a suitable insecticide. Good results may be achieved with a range of products, however some products containing insect juvenile hormone are renowned for their efficacy.


The Subterranean Termite Colony

The termites most likely to attack your home are subterranean termites. All are social insects that live in large, underground colonies. Although they could number in the millions, you might never see them or any evidence of them — until you discover that they've done serious damage to your home.


King and Queen

At least one king and queen are at the center of every termite colony. The queen's sole purpose is to reproduce. Some live for as long as 30 years.


Queens can lay thousands of eggs every year. Eggs hatch into nymphs.


While in the nymph state, termites diverge into different castes: 

  • Workers
    Workers are blind, wingless termites that maintain the colony, build and repair the nest and tubes, forage for food, and care for the other termites. They are the most numerous caste and the most likely to be found in infested wood.
  • Soldiers
    Soldiers are sterile, wingless, and blind. Their sole function is to defend the colony.
  • Winged Reproductives
    These termites will eventually leave the colony as adult swarmers. After swarming, they shed their wings and pair up. Each male-female pair attempts to start a new colony.
  • Supplementary Reproductives
    These termites help increase the population of established colonies and can serve as replacements for the king or queen if they should die.

Those "Ants" Might Be Termites

termites verse ants differencesLike ants, subterranean termites live in the ground and often move in single file, but there are differences, and it's important to know them:

  • Both ants and termites have two pairs of wings, but ants' wings are different sizes while the termites' wings are all the same size.
  • Ants have elbowed antennae while termites have short, straight antennae that resemble strings of beads.
  • Don't be fooled by color or size. Ants can vary in size, and winged termites can be brown or black.