Fire Ant Symbiotes – Nicoletiid Silverfish

15 Oct


Ectosymbiotic nicoletiid silverfish with fire ant host

An ectosymbiotic nicoletiid silverfish with fire ant host species.


The small, pale insect in the midst of the fire ants above is a myrmecophilous (“ant-loving”) silverfish, a member of the order Thysanura and the family Nicoletiidae.  This species of silverfish is one of a small but diverse group of insects and other arthropods that have adapted to living as symbiotes within an ant colony.  Although these insects appear very different to human eyes, they coat themselves in chemicals which fool ants senses of smell and taste into believing them to be nestmates.   Species of myrmecophilous silverfish have been known to groom their ant hosts, and feed on stolen prey or regurgitated food from the ants.

Most people are more familiar with silverfish as the small, silvery insects which frequently inhabit bathrooms or basements in human households.  Silverfish are a primitively wingless species of insect (branching off from other insects prior to the evolution of wings).  Thysanura means “fringe tail” and refers to the three caudal filaments extending in a fringe from the end of their abdomens.  Nicoletiids are generally extremely small and pale, as well as completely eyeless.


A myrmecophilous nicoletiid silverfish.

A myrmecophilous nicoletiid silverfish from a fire ant nest.



3 Responses to “Fire Ant Symbiotes – Nicoletiid Silverfish”

  1. Eduardo G P Fox September 3, 2013 at 6:24 pm #

    Hello, I bet that would be Allotrichotriura saevissima, which I helped describe few years ago. IN fact they have eyes, though small. They seem to be quite widespread among fire ant nests, yet we have onla found females — maybe they are parthenogenic. One curiosity on their cuticular hydrocarbons: I have tried extracting them many times with solvents with no success. Thus I suspect they have no cuticular hydrocarbons, thus they might evade the fire ants by being innocuous. Beautiful pictures! May I use them to illustrate my talks (with due credits for you)?


  1. Enriching the blogroll – MYRMECOS - Insect Photography - Insect Pictures - October 25, 2010

    […] 6legs2many: Alison Bockoven, a student at Texas A&M, blogs her work with fire ants and other entomological musings. For a start, check out the silverfish. […]

  2. Concerning Hexapod Taxonomy Pt.2 — INSECTA TEMPORIS - February 27, 2013

    […] Other species of the Thysanura (a.k.a. Zygentoma), particularly from the family Nicoletiidae have a commensal relationship with ants and termite, where the silverfish live in the colony’s mound, tricking them with […]

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