Silverfish belong to the Order Zygentoma (formerly Thysanura).Size:
- 2 mm – 18 mm in length
- Column-like, tear-drop or spindle-shaped.
- Often hairy, with tufts common between eyes.
- Appears hard and covered in scales.
- Have tiny styli (soft finger-like projections) coming from the underside, some of the abdomen segments.
- Thread-like, with many segments.
- Longer than half the body length.
- Absent or small, berry-like and well separated.
- For chewing.
- Held in front or downwards at rest.
- Six legs, short and stocky.
- Three tails (two cerci and one middle filament), thread-like, and similar in size; at rest the two outer tails are directed at an angle away from the body.
Where are silverfish found?
- Under bark, rocks or among leaf litter.
- In soil or within caves.
- In the desert, as some are capable of absorbing water from the atmosphere.
- Living in ant and termite nests.
- In houses, where they favour areas of high humidity like bathrooms.
What do silverfish do?
- They often group together around food sources.
- When disturbed they remain still, run for cover or hop.
- They feed on fungi and plant material. In the home they may feed on starchy substances such as wallpaper glue, book bindings and photographs.
- They are normally active at night, if active during the day generally found in dark places.
What looks similar?
- Bristletails are easily confused with Silverfish. The difference between the two is that bristletails have large eyes that touch; their long middle tail, which is considerably longer than the cerci and they jump when disturbed.
Is it a Rat?
People may think that they have seen a baby Ring-tailed Possum or a native rat species. Unfortunately, in many cases it turns out to be a Black Rat, which is an introduced species and an age-old pest in and near human habitation.
How can I tell whether I’ve seen a Black Rat or some other small mammal?
The first thing to look at is the animal’s behaviour:
- Is it active during both day and night and is it relatively fearless around humans?
- Is it an agile climber, often seen in fruit trees, scaling fences, electrical wires or the roof of a house?
- Have you found a nest in your roof, made of shredded materials such as paper, insulation and other debris?
- Have you seen evidence of it feeding on grains and discarded foods, as well as fruit and even pet food?
All of these traits combined are characteristic of the Black Rat, which is often called the Roof Rat for its nesting and climbing habits. Native rats, such as the Bush Rat, are much more reserved animals, and are not found in places where human traffic is frequent – they prefer to nest in dense forest understorey, sheltering in short burrows under logs or rocks and they line their nests with grass. In fact, native rats such as the Bush Rat, have not been recorded in the inner city for many years. Possums nest in roofs, but are mainly active at night, and although they are agile climbers, they are heavier than rats in their movements. They may eat fruit and other human leftovers but tend to feed on native vegetation and are not found as often as rats are scavenging indoors and/or ransacking stored foodstuffs.
The next thing to look at is its tail. Is it?
- Long in relation to the body, sparsely haired, scaly and not used to grip branches when climbing?
It is a Black Rat.
- Shorter than the body length?
It is a Bush Rat.
- Long, with a white tip, furred on the upper surface, naked underneath and used to grip or hold branches with the end slightly curled?
It is a Ring-tailed Possum.
Size, shape and colour
Lastly, the overall size, shape and colour of the animal should be looked at:
- Black Rats are about 16 cm to 20 cm long, and are charcoal grey to black or light brown above, cream or white below, with a sleek smooth coat. They have big thin ears and quite a round face.
- A Ring-tailed Possum of similar size would still be in its mother’s pouch or on her back, and would not be fully furred. An adult possum is much larger than a rat, reaching about 30 cm to 35 cm in length. The coat colour is quite variable, the ears are short with a white patch behind and the prehensile (gripping) tail has a white tip.
- The Bush Rat is charcoal grey to black or light brown above, cream or white below; has a sleek smooth coat, is grey to grey-brown or reddish above, grey or cream below and has dense soft fur. The ears are rounded.
What about other small native mammals? One animal that is sometimes seen and mistaken for a rat is in fact a small carnivorous marsupial – the antechinus. While there are several species of antechinus in Australia, they share several traits in common which, taken together can set them apart from rodents such as rats and mice. These include:
- Their front teeth:
- Rodents have one pair of distinctive chisel shaped incisors that have hard yellow enamel on the front surfaces.
- Antechinuses have four rows of small sharp incisors.
- Their ears. Many antechinus species have large thin crinkly ears that have a notch in the margin, although not all will have this notch.
- Their tail. Antechinuses have a sparsely haired tail, which is the same length as the body or shorter (65-110mm).
- Their habits. Antechinuses are mainly nocturnal insect eaters, which are found in forest habitats and are not found often in urban areas. They shelter in spherical nests in hollow logs or crevices, but can sometimes be found nesting in furniture, bush areas or farms.
There are over 1,500 species of native bees in Australia.
Bees belong to the insect Order Hymenoptera, which includes wasps, ants and sawflies. In Australia there are four main bee families: Apidae, Colletidae, Halictidae and Megachilidae.
Some Australian bees are solitary nesters, while others may share a nest and some are fully social species.
Although some bees sting, they are not considered to be pests. They play an important role in the Australian environment as key pollinators to many native plant species. Indigenous people have used both honey and the nests of native bees as valuable sources of food and wax, for many years.
Features of bees:
- They are vegetarian throughout their life cycle, eating nectar and pollen.
- They are generally furrier than wasps and have feathery or branched hairs.
- Some native bees use a special pollination technique called ‘buzz pollination’, which certain native flowering plants require for pollination.
- Stingless bees (Trigona and Austroplebeia species) are the only native bees that do not possess a sting.
- The females of all the other native bees have a sting but many are too small to deliver an effective venom dose to humans.
- Although not aggressive, the largest native species can deliver a painful sting.
For enquiries relating to these insects in the Australian Museum collection, please contact the Collection Manager.
CSIRO Entomology. 1991. The Insects of Australia. Melbourne University Press.
Dollin, A., M. Batley, M. Robinson & B. Faulkner. 2000. Native Bees of the Sydney Region: A Field Guide. Australian Native Bee Research Centre.
Hadlington, P. & Johnston, J. 1998. An Introduction to Australian Insects. UNSW Press: Sydney
Zbrowski, P. & Storey, R. 1995. A Field Guide to Insects in Australia. Reed Books: Sydney
Fleas belong to the Order Siphonaptera.
What do fleas look like?Size:
- 0.5 mm – 10 mm in length but most are shorter than 5 mm.
- Very thin as if pressed from the sides.
- Covered with hairs and spines directed backwards, some in comb-like formations.
- Appears hard.
- Very short, held in a groove hence, often difficult to see.
- Never longer than body.
- Very small or absent.
- For piercing and sucking.
- Six legs.
- Hindlegs enlarged and modified for jumping;
- Have claws modified for clinging to feathers and hair.
- Cerci (tails) absent.
Where are fleas found?
- On mammals and birds (rarely) among hairs or feathers.
- Few are found on semi-aquatic animals such as the platypus, but never on marine mammals.
What do fleas do?
- Fleas are external parasites. They can be found alone or in large numbers on suitable hosts.
- When disturbed they jump. They can jump incredible distances.
- They feed on blood.
- They are active during the day.
What looks similar?
- Flies that do not have wings can be mistaken for fleas. Unlike fleas, wingless flies are never thin as if pressed from the sides.
- Lice differ from fleas in that they are flattened as if pressed from above, do not jump when disturbed and can occur on fully aquatic hosts.
View our other Pest Libraries