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A Bookworm’s Nightmare: Book Infesting Insects

Published In: Occasional Invaders

The Pests Hiding in Your Bookshelves

I have always been a big reader of books, and nowadays reading is more convenient than ever thanks to eBooks that can be read on whatever electronic device suits your fancy. However, I find that there is nothing better than a new paper book. I love the way they feel and smell, and I love turning actual pages. As strange as some of you may think I am, there are certain insects out there that love to eat these starchy substances and will invade our precious books. Two of the main ones that we deal with are silverfish and psocids, also known as booklice.

Silverfish are in the order Zygentoma. They are soft-bodied insects and feed voraciously on items high in starch, glue, and cellulose. For example, they are common in libraries and museums where paper books and labels are abundant. However, they can also be found outdoors in cool, shaded places, such as under leaf litter, under rocks, in caves, and even in ant nests. Like other household pests, silverfish can be found worldwide. They are silver or light pearl gray in color and covered with glistening scales. Their soft bodies are wingless and about 0.85 cm in length. They have two long antennae, and their body is wider at the head and tapers down to the end where there are three long, bristle-like appendages. Silverfish are nocturnal and not often seen during the day unless they are disturbed. When found indoors they are usually found in areas with high humidity and controlled temperatures, such as kitchens, bathrooms, attics, and basements. As such, they can pose a large problem in commercial settings such as museums and libraries which have not only significant food sources but also controlled climates.

Although psocids are called booklice, they are not actually true lice. They resemble lice in their size and shape; however, unlike true lice, they feed on mold and fungi. These bugs can also be found on food products. Their presence in a given area is typically an indicator that there is high humidity, which encourages mold growth. At about 1/16” long, booklice are very tiny. Depending on the species, they vary in coloration, and some have wings while others do not. While their thick back legs may resemble those of a jumping insect, booklice do not jump but are rather fast crawlers. Although they don’t actively seek out starches and glues like silverfish, book bindings and wallpaper glues can support the growth of mold and fungi which these critters will feed on. The damage they cause is usually insignificant, though.

So how do we help to eliminate these pesky book invaders? Both the silverfish and booklice are drawn to humid and temperature-controlled environments. Reducing humidity is important, as well as exclusion: these pests often get into our homes because of windows, doors or other spaces that are not well sealed. Creating a tightly sealed home will help to eliminate these pesky bookworms. If you are seeing these pests, be sure to take care of them before they become a more serious issue and eat your favorite fairytale.

Kristen Stevens, BCE

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