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Bookworm (insect) facts for kids

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Carl Spitzweg 021-detail
The Bookworm is a painting done by Carl Spitzweg around 1850
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Pages riddled with bookworm damage
Staublaus Details
Larva of a book louse
Adult book louse

Bookworm is a term for any kind of insect which supposedly chews through books.

This behaviour is uncommon. Both the larvae of the death watch beetle (Xestobium rufovillosum) and the common furniture beetle (Anobium punctatum) will go through wood and if paper is nearby they will pass into that.

A major book-feeding insect is the booklouse (or book louse). A tiny (under 1 mm), soft-bodied wingless psocoptera (usually Trogium pulsatorium). The insect actually eats molds and other plants found in books that were not kept clean and safe, but they will also attack bindings and other parts. It is also not a true louse.

Many other insects, like the silverfish (Lepisma saccharina) or cockroach (various Blattodea), will eat these molds, including rotten paper or the starch-based binding pastes – warmth and moisture or high humidity are needed, so damage is more common in the tropics. Modern glues and paper are less attractive to insects.

Tineola bisselliella and Hofmannophila pseudospretella will attack cloth bindings. Leather-bound books attract lots of bugs, like the Dermestes lardarius and the larvae of Attagenus unicolor and Stegobium paniceum.

The bookworm moth (Heliothis zea or H. virescens) and its larvae are not interested in books. The larvae are pests for cotton or tobacco growers as the cotton bollworm or tobacco budworm.

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