Do Silverfish and Army Ants Have a Symbiotic Relationship With One Another?

Silverfish and army ants have a symbiotic relationship, as silverfish will often mask themselves with the ant's chemical scent in order to infiltrate the ants' nests to access food and shelter, although the silverfish do not give back anything in return. Ants possess limited eyesight and cannot see far, so they rely on chemical cues, such as recognizing other members from their colonies. Silverfish will rub themselves on immature ants that are defenseless in order to obtain their scents to trick the entire colony in a process known as chemical mimicry.

Since the silverfish are tagged with the same scents as the ants by rubbing the hydrocarbon compounds onto their body, they are able to successfully avoid ant aggression. Army ants have more than 70 different and distinct hydrocarbon compounds that are present on their cuticles, while silverfish have none.

If the silverfish are isolated from the colony for long periods of time, they will lose the scent and will need to target immature ants again to mask themselves with the scent. Silverfish who are not protected by the ants' scents will become targeted by the entire colony, especially by the worker ants, and will be chased, seized or bitten as a result for attempting to infiltrate the nests. At times, the silverfish may die from the attack.