Silverfish are nocturnal insects typically 13–25 mm (0.51–0.98 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 two long cerci and one terminal filament at the tips of their abdomens, the filament projects directly off of the end of their body, between the left and right cerci. 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 are completely wingless. They have long antennae, and move in a wiggling motion that resembles the movement of a fish. This, coupled with their appearance and silvery scales, influences their common name. Silverfish typically live for two to eight years. Silverfish are agile runners and can outrun most of their predators (including wandering spiders and centipedes). However such running is only possible on horizontal surfaces, as they lack any additional appendages and, therefore, are not fast enough to climb walls at the same speed. They also avoid light.
Silverfish consume matter that contains polysaccharides, such as starches and dextrin in adhesives. These include book bindings, carpet, clothing, coffee, dandruff, glue, hair, some paints, paper, photos, plaster, and sugar. Silverfish can also cause damage to tapestries. Other substances they may eat include cotton, dead insects, linen, silk, or even its own exuvia (moulted exoskeleton). During famine, a silverfish may even attack leatherware and synthetic fabrics. Silverfish can live for a year or more without eating if water is available.
Silverfish are considered household pests, due to their consumption and destruction of property. However, 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. Silverfish die on contact with toxins such as Permethrin or Deltamethrin.