the silverfish (Lepsima saccharina)


Seen these little things scurrying about in your tub? I thought they lived there in the tub, in the water pipes.

They don’t. They live in your house, and climb into the tub and can’t climb out.

They’re nocturnal insects that live on vegetable matter. Inside houses, they will eat “almost anything,” including “flour, starch, paper, gum, glue, cotton, linen, rayon, silk, sugar, molds and breakfast cereals.”

When I squish them in the tub, they leave an almost iridescent smear, like the dust from a moth’s wing. Their bodies are remarkably soft and crush easily.

Now that I know that they live harmlessly in the house eating paper and mold, I will catch them and put them out of the tub.

Lepsima saccharina has existed in its current form for 300 million years. Homo sapiens is believed to have appeared in the African savannah between 200,000 and 250,000 years ago.

Silverfish walked the earth for at least 299,750,000 years before the arrival of the showering primates who now so carelessly crush them in the tub.

(Thanks to Chet Raymo for the inspiriation for this post. According to Raymo, silverfish are “the most ancient insects that survive more or less unchanged into the present.”)

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