Tiny Booklice: How to Identify and Get Rid of Them
Booklice Are Tiny and Love Mold and Fungi
Booklice (psocids) are itsy, bitsy little bugs - about 1/16 " long and they are not actually lice at all and are harmless. But, they are still bugs and must be dealt with accordingly!
If you've got any dried out or decaying plants, you might find these little critters enjoying a plant buffet, or they may even be lurking around your stored food.
For identification purposes, the head and abdomen of a booklouse appear large, and the midsection is more narrow. Huge, compound eyes protrude from the sides of the head. They also have thread-like antennae that sweep back toward the abdomen. Not all booklice have wings, but some do (usually the booklice that stay outside), and when they do, there are four of them - two smaller front wings and two larger back wings. Most of the ones you will be hunting indoors should be wingless booklice.
If you live in the United States, there is a bit of good news about booklice, in that there are only about a few hundred known species here. The rest of the world has about another 1,000 species. They are tiny, but this article will show you where to look for them and how to eradicate them from your home or business.
Remember this about booklice, if nothing else: They feed only on fungi or mold, so if you find them it is an indication that you have high humidity that is apparently encouraging mold growth. So, above all, eliminate the moist environmental conditions you may be unknowingly providing for these pests.
Note: If you have only one of these pests (not likely), it's called a booklouse, which we find to be a fitting name.
A Booklouse, Up Close
Know the Places That Booklice Love!
If you have any debris (scattered pieces of waste) around your home, the booklice are lining up to thank you for their new home! You can also look for them under bark or stones and on the bark of trees. The more gregarious species live in silken webs on trunks or branches of trees. Barklice is the common name for the winged forms and the wingless forms are called booklice (potato, po-tah-to). All of them are capable of running fast! And, they love to feed on the starchy materials in the bindings of books, hence the name booklice.
The Things You Will Need to Find Booklice
Here's what you'll need:
- Booklice really love paper, so you might find them on bookbindings, photographs, or even your wallpaper. You can look for them to thrive in a dark basement or storeroom if you have one, and if you have a second home that you close up for part of the year, they have probably set up residence there as well. If you live in an older, loosely-constructed home, there are probably a lot more booklice living there than people. You may need to invest in a good magnifying glass to see them, but they are there.
How to Get Rid of Them!
- So, now that you know what they look like and where you might find them, here's a good way to get rid of them (although you will never completely get rid of them all, so just accept that fact): If you find booklice on objects that can be taken outdoors, then do just that, and clean them thoroughly, allowing them to dry in the sun. Because booklice are soft-bodied insects, they dry out quickly in the sun, so the sun will probably kill the ones you miss.
- In places like a storeroom or closed house, open up the windows and let the room dry out. Turn off any humidifiers that might be on, and use a fan or dehumidifier if you have one. Booklice thrive when there's moisture, so get rid of it.
- The most important thing to look for is the breeding area of the booklice, such as upholstered furniture, damp papers or books, and old mattresses, just to name a few. If simple cleaning without the use of chemicals doesn't seem to be getting the job done, you might have to bring out the "big guns," by buying household insecticides containing pyrethrins, rotenone, allethrin, chlorpyrifos or propoxur labeled for crawling insects or booklice.
- If you find that booklice have contaminated your food, you will first need to kill the critters by sticking the whole contaminated mess in your microwave and nuke them for a few minutes. Then, throw the stuff away. You certainly don't want your family to eat insect-contaminated food.
A Problem For Libraries
Many libraries have discovered that books inadvertently stored under moist, high-humidity conditions often develop fungal growths attractive to booklice. As a result, many libraries are climate controlled.
Be Vigilant and Thorough in Your Search
- You will need a magnifying glass to be able to see them and know where to clean (they are almost microscopic).
- The eggs of booklice are laid singly or in clusters and are sometimes covered with a silken web.
- In bathrooms, be sure to install a vent fan and ALWAYS use it while taking showers and baths.
- Get a pest management company to check the crawlspace under your home to ensure you have proper ventilation. They also need to see if the crawlspace is dry.
You might also check the roofline of your home for the following three things: Poor attic ventilation, overgrown trees, and eaves full of leaves. If you find any of these conditions around your home, which can cause areas of increased moisture, by all means, take the necessary steps to correct them.
Another Reason to Hate Dust
The dead bodies of booklice in house dust, are believed by some to trigger an asthma attack.
- http://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/booklice. Retrieved From Website 2/16/2018
- https://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/insects/find/psocids. Retrieved From Website 2/16/2018
- Green, P.W.C. & Farman, D.I., (2015). Can Paper and Adhesive Alone Sustain Damaging Populations of Booklice? Journal of Conservation and Museum Studies. 13(1), p.Art. 3.
Questions & Answers
© 2011 Mike and Dorothy McKenney