16 November 2013

Lepisma saccharina aka silverfish

We are being bothered by silverfish at home.  It is damaging our books and clothing.  It is an incredibly hard insect to try and kill as it is nocturnal and if one does happen to see one during the day, these insects are incredibly mobile and move with astonishing speed.  To the naked eye, they sort of resemble a drop of mercury but with six legs.  Having said that, in the above photograph which is under magnification it looks more like a cone seashell with legs.

We are trying to eradicate them by using natural and chemical measures.  There are a number of natural deterrents against silverfish these are as follows: bay leaves, whole cloves, sage leaves and cinnamon quills.  Spice sachets can be made by putting these into small pieces of muslin cloth and tucking them inside wardrobes and bookcases.  Apparently, cedar shavings are also a deterrent as well as citrus spray, lavender oil and cedar oil.  The sprays and oils can be diluted in water and put in a spray bottle and sprayed inside drawers, cupboards and wardrobes.  One website I looked at suggested making traps by mixing a small quantity of baking soda with some honey and spreading this on a piece of cardboard and leaving it out overnight when the silverfish are active.  They also suggested putting  some masking tape on the outside of a jar and placing a piece of bread inside the jar so that the silverfish could climb into the jar to eat the bread but would be unable to climb out of the jar.  Another suggestion was to sprinkle baking soda on carpets and leaving it for several hours then vacuuming the carpets.  Apparently, baking soda kills silverfish and their eggs which may be hidden in carpets.   Then there is also chemical measures such as leaving naphthalene balls inside cupboards and bookcases.  Naphthalene is a solid white substance made from crude oil or coal tar with a strong smell.  The toxic gas which is released kills insects.  (Please be careful when handling naphthalene as it is a pesticide and should be treated with caution.  Keep out of reach of small children and pets).  More useful ideas of how to deter silverfish can be found on the following website:
Despite the fact that they are proving to be a great nuisance to us at this time, I was still fascinated to learn about the ecology of this insect.  Apparently, they are an ancient insect and "are considered the earliest, most primitive insects and one of the first animals to colonise dry land. They evolved at the latest in mid-Devonian Period and possibly as early as late Silurian Period more than 400 million years ago".
The detailed photograph above was on the internet taken by a person called Soebe in northern Germany I thank them for putting their photograph on the internet under a GNU Free Documentation LicenseI tried to take a photograph of a silverfish myself but it is difficult when the subject matter is so small and one does not have a powerful magnification lens.
For what its worth, here are a couple of photographs of my own trying to capture an image of this small insect using a Nikkor 18X Wide Optical Zoom lens.  Unfortunately, it is a very grainy image and not very clear which is why I am grateful for the person in Germany to enable people to copy and share their image.

Lepisma saccharina, frequently called a silverfish or fishmoth, is a small, wingless insect in the order Thysanura. Its common name derives from the animal's silvery light grey and blue colour, combined with the fish-like appearance of its movements, while the scientific name (L. saccharina) indicates the silverfish's diet of carbohydrates such as sugar or starches.
Silverfish are nocturnal insects typically 13–25 mm (0.5–1 in) long.  Their abdomens taper at the end, giving them a fish-like appearance. The newly hatched are whitish, but develop a greyish hue and metallic shine as they get older. They have three long cerci at the tips of their abdomens, one off the end of their body, one facing left, and one facing right. They also have two small compound eyes, despite other members of Thysanura being completely eyeless, such as the family Nicoletiidae.
Like other species in Apterygota, silverfish completely lack wings. They have long antennae, and move in a wiggling motion that resembles the movement of a fish. This, coupled with their appearance, influences their common name. Silverfish typically live for two to eight years.
Silverfish consume matter that contains polysaccharides, such as starches and dextrin in adhesives. These include glue, book bindings, plaster, some paints, paper, photos, sugar, coffee, hair, carpet, clothing, and dandruff. Silverfish can also cause damage to tapestries. Other substances that may be eaten include cotton, linen, silk, synthetic fibres, dead insects, or even its own exuvia (moulted exoskeleton). During famine, a silverfish may even attack leather ware and synthetic fabrics. Silverfish can live for a year or more without eating.
Silverfish are considered a household pest, due to their consumption and destruction of property. Although they are responsible for the contamination of food and other types of damage, they do not transmit disease.  Earwigs, house centipedes, and spiders are known to be predators of silverfish.

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