Tiny Booklice: How to Identify and Get Rid of Them

Updated on February 16, 2018
Booklice are tiny creatures (although they are not actually lice at all), and this article will show you how and where to look for them; and explain your best chance at getting rid of them.
Booklice are tiny creatures (although they are not actually lice at all), and this article will show you how and where to look for them; and explain your best chance at getting 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

Hey there!  Weren't you in "Alien?"  Nope, just a tiny booklouse up close.
Hey there! Weren't you in "Alien?" Nope, just a tiny 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.

Life cycle of female booklice.
Life cycle of female booklice. | Source

The Things You Will Need to Find Booklice

Here's what you'll need:

* Flashlight
* Magnifying Glass
* Maybe a fan or dehumidifier. (This is a link to the one that we use).

  • 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.

You can find booklice (Liposcelis bostrychophila) around things other than books.  They can find fungi or mold under wallpaper, in furniture, along the sides of windows or on window sills, usually around potted plants.
You can find booklice (Liposcelis bostrychophila) around things other than books. They can find fungi or mold under wallpaper, in furniture, along the sides of windows or on window sills, usually around potted plants. | Source

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.

A single booklouse - a small, soft-bodied insect, ranging in color from a translucent white to gray to light brown color.
A single booklouse - a small, soft-bodied insect, ranging in color from a translucent white to gray to light brown color.

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.

References

  1. http://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/booklice. Retrieved From Website 2/16/2018
  2. https://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/insects/find/psocids. Retrieved From Website 2/16/2018
  3. 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

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      • Casey White profile imageAUTHOR

        Mike and Dorothy McKenney 

        4 months ago from United States

        I would wash them in the washer in really hot water. I would not think they would survive that at all. If you have a clothes steamer, use that on them before you wash them.

      • profile image

        Whitney N. 

        4 months ago

        I have clothing/sleeping bags etc. that were in a box where we found them. We've done pest treatment, dehumidifying etc and now we are only finding dead ones (so far, I've been afraid to dig too much until I knew what to do with the clothes). I just wondered if it was okay to put all that stuff through the washing machine or if that would potentially give some a new moist environment to live in if there are any that are still alive... I'm not trying to have them in our washing machine. We are on the third floor in an apartment, so we can't really sun our stuff out for long.

      • Casey White profile imageAUTHOR

        Mike and Dorothy McKenney 

        5 months ago from United States

        You are very welcome. Good luck to you!

      • profile image

        Gato12 

        5 months ago

        Thanks so much for your article and advice.

        After cleaning out the cupboard again today. Washing absolutely everything. Also recleaning my cabinets with any food items not sealed. Tonight I’ve checked and seen three tiny ones!

        Tomorrow morning I’m removing all my cookbooks and taking them outside for a few days of sun. Although I haven’t seen any bugs on books.

        I don’t have a steamer but sounds like a good idea.

        I have a feeling that these bugs are living in this furniture and I may need to just get rid of it.

        Thanks again

      • Casey White profile imageAUTHOR

        Mike and Dorothy McKenney 

        5 months ago from United States

        I have to recommend the same thing that I always do because it seems to be the only thing that works to get rid of these little critters. Clean with hot steam and do it often until you have eradicated them. Wiping them away won't work, but steam gets down in crevices where they can hide and kills them dead. If you don't have a good steam machine, borrow one from a friend, or if this appears to be a chronic problem, go ahead and invest in one. Let me know how things go...I realize how frustrating this can be.

      • profile image

        Gato12 

        5 months ago

        I have tiny creamy/white colored bugs in and on a kitchen piece of furniture. They are really tiny.

        All foods and packaging has been removed.

        It’s where I store cups, saucers, plates and glasses.

        I’m fed up as I’ve removed everything and washed everything a few times now. And they come back!

        It’s not a damp area. Not near pipes or water supply.

        Any open foods have been thrown away. All foodstuffs now are in plastic containers.

        Can anyone give me some advice to get rid of them?

      • Casey White profile imageAUTHOR

        Mike and Dorothy McKenney 

        5 months ago from United States

        It appears that people have found them in the most unlikely of places. Steam cleaning would be my only suggestion. Simply washing won't get the job done. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • Casey White profile imageAUTHOR

        Mike and Dorothy McKenney 

        5 months ago from United States

        There are many people who have found book lice in their mattresses, just like bed bugs, so that may very well be the problem you are having. I would steam clean everything.

      • profile image

        Dee 

        5 months ago

        I have found the same tiny clear bugs on the mattress cover seams and all over the curtains. I've looked and looked at them under the magnifying glass and they just don't look like a bed beg and none were reddish or brown, they were longer and looked just like your photo once actually jumped as I tried to grab it with a tweezer. I'm just not sure I would find book lice in the mattress cover seams. What do you think?

      • profile image

        Dee 

        5 months ago

        Would book lice be in the seams of mattress covers like bed bugs?

      • Casey White profile imageAUTHOR

        Mike and Dorothy McKenney 

        8 months ago from United States

        Luckily, they don't bite humans. Thanks for reading my article!

      • profile image

        maison 

        8 months ago

        can these booklice feed off of humans like regular lice?

      • Casey White profile imageAUTHOR

        Mike and Dorothy McKenney 

        11 months ago from United States

        Sounds like mites. I would bet that you have some mold up under the boards that you can't see. If they are plentiful, I would recommend you get a pest specialist to look at them.

      • profile image

        Ger ruane 

        11 months ago

        I have small white insects crawling out of skirting boards I have no dampness what r they any help please

      • profile image

        beverly 

        2 years ago

        So pretty much its just cleaning and maintaining the problem. there is no real "cure" to eliminate these critters permanently?

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