Australian Biological Resources Study

Australian Faunal Directory




Regional Maps

Order ZYGENTOMA (= Thysanura)


Compiler and date details

2006 - minor update, ABRS

30 June 1998 - G.B. Smith, Bayer Australia Ltd, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

  • Thysanura.



Zygentoma, commonly known as silverfish, are a small cosmopolitan order of nearly 400 species. Most species are similar in form, being somewhat elongate and flattened with filiform antennae, as well as filiform cerci and subequal appendix dorsalis. The large flattened coxae articulate in a horizontal plane which allows maximum extension of the legs while running and gives these insects surprising speed and agility (Manton 1972). Some specialised inquiline atelurin species, however, are much more compact and rounded and their terminal appendages are greatly reduced or modified.

Four extant families are recognised. Two of these families, the Lepidotrichidae (with one extant species) and the Maindroniidae (with a few species), are relicts and neither is represented in Australia. The remaining two families are represented in all zoogeographical regions and comprise some 400 described species in about 90 genera. Thirty-nine species in 16 genera are recognised in Australia.

Following recent works (for example, Mendes 1994, Smith 1998), the ordinal name Zygentoma is used here in preference to Thysanura. The family classification followed here is that of Paclt (1963, 1967). The Maindroniidae are accorded full family status, not as a sub-family within the Lepismatidae as proposed by Remington (1954) in his review of the suprageneric classification of the order. The Nicoletiinae and Atelurinae are considered as subfamilies, rather than as full families as proposed by Mendes (1988). The oldest known Zygentoma fossils, from the Carboniferous, were described by Kukalová-Peck (1987).

Escherich (1905) published the first monograph of the world fauna and Paclt (1963, 1967) produced excellent reviews of the world literature. Silvestri and Wygodzinsky were the most important contributors in their time. In recent years, Bach de Roca, Irish, Kaplin and Mendes have reviewed most of the genera and described many new species and genera.

Zygentoma have ametabolous development and continue to moult after attaining sexual maturity. Some species or populations are known to reproduce parthenogenetically (Picchi 1972) but, generally males and females are collected in roughly equal numbers. Sperm transfer is indirect. Most species are cryptic and are found in soil, leaf litter, under bark or stones. Nicoletiinae are often collected in caves and Atelurinae are specialised as inquilines in the nests of ants or termites. A few lepismatid species are of limited economic significance as cosmopolitan, peridomestic pests.


I would like to thank Prof. Helmut Sturm (Hildesheim, Germany), Dr John Irish (Bloemfontein, South Africa), Dr Luis Mendes (Lisbon, Portugul) and the late Dr Tony Watson (ANIC) for their help in obtaining some of the literature and also for their valuable comments. In addtion I would like to thank Mr Max Moulds (AM), Dr T. Houston (WAM), Prof. H. Strümpel (ZMH) and Dr J. Deckert (ZMB) for the information on the type specimens available in their collections. Lastly, I am indebted to the Australian Biological Resources Study for a grant to visit the Instituto di Entomologia Agraria (IEA), Portici, Italy, to examine the Silvestri types, and to Prof. E. Tremblay and Dr G. Viggiani for their hospitality during my visit. Compilation of this section of the Catalogue was supported also by funds from the Australian Biological Resources Study.

Database Notes

The information on the Australian Faunal Directory site for the Zygentoma is derived from the Zoological Catalogue of Australia database compiled on the Platypus software program. It incorporates changes made to the work published on 2 September 1998 as (Smith, G.B., 1998)

Common names are taken from Naumann (1993).

Limital Area

Distribution data in the Directory is by political and geographic region descriptors and serves as a guide to the distribution of a taxon. For details of a taxon's distribution, the reader should consult the cited references (if any) at genus and species levels.

Australia is defined as including Lord Howe Is., Norfolk Is., Cocos (Keeling) Ils, Christmas Is., Ashmore and Cartier Ils, Macquarie Is., Australian Antarctic Territory, Heard and McDonald Ils, and the waters associated with these land areas of Australian political responsibility. Political areas include the adjacent waters.

Terrestrial geographical terms are based on the drainage systems of continental Australia, while marine terms are self explanatory except as follows: the boundary between the coastal and oceanic zones is the 200 m contour; the Arafura Sea extends from Cape York to 124 DEG E; and the boundary between the Tasman and Coral Seas is considered to be the latitude of Fraser Island, also regarded as the southern terminus of the Great Barrier Reef.

Distribution records, if any, outside of these areas are listed as extralimital. The distribution descriptors for each species are collated to genus level. Users are advised that extralimital distribution for some taxa may not be complete.


General References

Escherich, K. 1905. Das System der Lepismatiden. Zoologica (Stuttgart) 43: 1-164

Kukalová-Peck, J. 1987. New Carboniferous Diplura, Monura, and Thysanura, the hexapod ground plan, and the role of thoracic side lobes in the origin of wings (Insecta). Canadian Journal of Zoology 65: 2327-2345

Manton, S.M. 1972. The evolution of arthropodan locomotory mechanisms. Part 10. Locomotory habits, morphology and evolution of the hexapod classes. Journal of the Linnean Society of London, Zoology 51: 203-400

Mendes, L.F. 1988. Sur deux nouvelles Nicoletiidae, (Zygentoma) cavernicoles de Grèce et de Turquie et remarques sur la systématique de la famille. Revue Suisse de Zoologie 95(3): 751-772

Mendes, L.F. 1994. Evolutionary relationships among the Nicoletiidae (Insecta, Zygentoma). Acta Zoologica Fennica 195: 98-103

Naumann, I. 1993. CSIRO Handbook of Australian Insect Names. Common and Scientific Names for Insects and Allied Organisms of Economic and Environmental Importance. Melbourne : CSIRO Publications v 200 pp. [Date published 31/12/1993]

Paclt, J. 1963. Thysanura. Family Nicoletiidae. Genera Insectorum 216: 1-58

Paclt, J. 1967. Thysanura, Fam. Lepidotrichidae, Maindroniidae, Lepismatidae. Genera Insectorum 218: 1-86

Picchi, V.D. 1972. Parthenogenic reproduction in the silverfish Nicoletia meinerti (Thysanura). Journal of the New York Entomological Society 80(1): 2-4, 3 figs

Remington, C.L. 1954. The suprageneric classification of the Order Thysanura (Insecta). Annals of the Entomological Society of America 47: 277-286

Smith, G.B. 1998. Review of the Australian Nicoletiinae (Zygentoma: Nicoletiidae). Invertebrate Taxonomy 12: 135-189

Smith, G.B. 1998. Zygentoma. pp. 7-20, 404-406 in Houston, W.W.K. & Wells, A. (eds). Zoological Catalogue of Australia. Archaeognatha, Zygentoma, Blattodea, Isoptera, Mantodea, Dermaptera, Phasmatodea, Embioptera, Zoraptera. Melbourne : CSIRO Publishing, Australia Vol. 23 xiii 464 pp.


History of changes

Note that this list may be incomplete for dates prior to September 2013.
Published As part of group Action Date Action Type Compiler(s)
07-Aug-2012 07-Aug-2012 MOVED
12-Feb-2010 (import)