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biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Zygentoma (silverfish, fishmoths)

[= Thysanura]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Ecdysozoa > Panarthropoda > Tritocerebra > Phylum: Arthopoda > Mandibulata > Atelocerata > Panhexapoda > Hexapoda > Insecta (insects) > Dicondyla


Ctenolepisma longicaudata (family: Lepismatidae) - eats your books!


Fishmoths fall within two families, the Lepismatidae and the Nicoletiidae. The former family contains the most familiar-looking species and these have compound eyes. Ctenolepisma longicaudata is the most common species found in homes in South Africa where it consumes paper, glue of bindings, starched clothing and dry foods. This species was introduced to South Africa prior to 1900. The nicoletiids are only found in ant and termite nests and have no eyes.

Controlling fishmoths

Fish-moth bait

  • 5 parts gum Arabic
  • 5 parts sodium fluosilicate
  • 4 parts flour
  • 6 parts sugar
  • 40 parts water (enough to make a thick paste)

Let the gum Arabic stand overnight in water to soften so it will mix easily with other ingredients the next day. Sodium fluosilicate does not dissolve easily and needs to be stirred constantly. Once mixed, dip strips of card into the paste, hang up to dry. Label poison and place in affected areas. Replace yearly.


  • Irish, J. 1985. Order: Thysanura. In: Insects of Southern Africa (Eds C.H. Scholtz and E. Holm). Butterworths, Durban, pp. 31-32.

  • Skaife, S.H. 1979. African Insect Life. C. Struik, Cape Town, pp. 31-32.


  • The Thysanura Home Page. A scientific site covering Thysanura at a world level. Includes their classification, distribution and literature database. Still being worked on extensively. At present (August 2001) no information on their biology.

 Text and photos by Hamish G. Robertson