Bugs in books can be a costly problem. Old books of higher historical significance as well as new books can be impacted by these bugs.
A generic term known as a ‘bookworm’ is used to describe all of these bugs. This term is used for booklice and termites, not for actual worms.
Bugs in books may look like small worms, as is the case of booklice or even termites. These types of bugs can damage books if left unmanaged in homes.
Why Are There Bugs in Books?
Bugs damage books for food. Cellulose in the paper is one of the ingredients some bugs are known to eat.
Other species like to eat the glue that holds pages and the cover of books together.
Even books with leather covers can be damaged as leather is natural and a food source for many types of bugs.
15 Common Bugs in Books
Here are some of the most common types of bugs in books and some of the quick methods to get rid of them.
Booklice are some of the most common bugs in bugs and the primary species is referred to as a bookworm.
This is a species that may go overlooked as it measures up to 1mm.
Booklice have adapted to feeding on organic materials in undisturbed places and as a result, they represent a presence in museums, libraries, or on old bookshelves in basements.
These types of bugs aren’t similar to other lice, as their name would imply. They only feed on starchy materials such as book materials.
They also feed on fungi and mold growing on old books. In some situations, booklice can also eat insect parts.
One of the few ways to eliminate booklice is to reduce humidity and wipe all mold from books.
In the case of museums or libraries, this can be a complex task. Safe anti-mold solutions may be used to get rid of mold on books at home.
Booklice may also be spotted eating wallpaper. This is also a material rich in cellulose which is also managed similarly to books.
The easiest way to eliminate all booklice is to eliminate their food, which is mold. You can do this by lowering humidity levels.
Most experts agree relative humidity below 50% gets rid of mold that attracts and feeds booklice.
Cellulose in wood attracts termites. Cellulose in books is also known to be soft food termites love.
Areas in Southern US habitats is known to suffer from termite invasions on books.
Early discovery is best when it comes to different management techniques.
You may see book covers and pages curling up. This can sign termites have started eating the books.
Small holes in book pages are more serious sign termites are already eating your books and probably your home affected by mold.
Seeing long holes or holes that pass multiple pages is a serious termite infestation sign both on books and in your home.
Some of the smaller signs of termite invasion can be managed with termiticide.
You may also want to call in a professional termite exterminator if you believe there are high chances of termites also damaging the structural integrity of your home.
Subterranean termites typically eat books. These are dangerous termites that can eat through wood.
They make their way from the ground to homes or they can settle in homes from a nearby nest.
Complete elimination is possible by following a concrete extermination plan for their nest.
This is why calling a termite exterminator is mandatory when spotting termites on books as they signal a possible costly invasion of the house.
Silverfish are also damaging to homes and books, but to a lesser extent to the structural integrity of a home compared to termites.
You can identify silverfish by their gray-to-silver color and their elongated body that tapers at the rear.
Silverfish make it indoors and stay there if there’s sufficient humidity around. They don’t need mold on books to eat them as they like glue and cellulose.
Silverfish may settle in bathrooms, as these are typical rooms with high humidity in the house. This is where they can eat through books, newspapers, and magazines.
High humidity in basements or other areas of the house allows these bugs to spread out as well.
They consume wallpapers and books and create holes or even eat out entire pages or multiple pages of a book.
Silverfish are known for having a diverse diet which also includes cardboard and different textile fabrics.
Unlike other invasive bugs, silverfish are present in areas with very high humidity, sometimes of at least 70%.
These bugs may feel unwelcome whenever you fix humidity problems in the house.
You can also sweep away all silverfish or even vacuum them.
Unlike silverfish, firebrats need extra warmth. They only need a regular amount of indoor humidity.
The extra warmth needed by firebrats is one of the reasons this type of bug is next to ovens and boilers.
A high amount of heat that’s also constant every day is specific to bakeries. Firebrats here may also eat all types of bookbinding as well as other types of paper and cellulose.
Firebrats rarely cause significant damage to books as they aren’t as common in public libraries and museums due to their high warmth requirements.
Firebrats are present in areas where 90 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
These bugs are found in areas where there are plenty of carbohydrate choices as it doesn’t only feed on books and paper. All types of foods rich in carbohydrates such as flowers attract these bugs.
Unlike other types of bugs in books, firebrats live stains behind them.
They can stain books and other surfaces.
Firebrats survive multiple months indoors. It even takes up to 5 months for females to reach sexual maturity and start laying eggs.
Bifenthrin sprays are among the practical solutions you can use to kill firebrats on the spot if spotted at home.
Cockroaches are some of the most damaging types of bugs that eat bugs. These types of bugs also eat all types of other objects and foods around the house.
Unlike solitary species, roaches invade homes in large numbers.
The American Cockroach is one of the largest types of roaches in the world. These brown and yellow roaches grow to a maximum size between 1.5 and 2 inches.
Nesting is possible in warm shaded places around the house, typically in the kitchen.
These roaches can also nest in basements or in other areas where there’s little human activity.
Roaches are present in populated areas but they come out at night, largely avoiding contact with humans.
Depending on their location, cockroaches can also eat books, pages, covers, and cardboard boxes where books are stored.
They can be found in attics, basements, or on bookshelves.
Undisturbed hiding places ensure roaches never go away if there’s sufficient food.
Vacuuming, sweeping, cleaning, and removing all foods and non-food items roaches may eat are among the first measures in pest management to consider.
At the same time, you need to seal all entry points roaches take when moving indoors.
Ants are often attracted to books and paper. They eat through these materials looking for food.
For most ants, books aren’t the end goal. They try to reach sugary foods such as fruit or dead insects.
Ghost ants and Carpenter ants have been found eating through books.
These books are typically damaged by ants looking to discover new food sources.
Multiple ants can eat through books as ants use scent trails easily picked up by ants of a nest towards a new or an existing food source.
Ants can also fly indoors and settle indoors for food and shelter.
Sugar ants are another type of ant species found chewing through books and cardboard once indoors.
They do this independently from humidity levels indoors. However, warmth and humidity may be beneficial to some ant species that may not look to make their way out of the house.
Ants can also eat food indoors when escaping predators or low temperatures in the fall.
7. Clothing Moths
Moths like to eat clothes and paper. They (Tineola bisselliella) can damage old books, photos, magazines, or newspaper collections.
Left unmanaged, moths chew through different soft pieces of paper liberally. They can damage one book one day and another book the following day.
Moths initially make it indoors attracted to light, as many are nocturnal.
Lights and open windows act as a bridge between the outdoors and indoor spaces.
Moths can also invade homes in high numbers when attracted to light.
Some species of moth can also lay eggs indoors which means they can grow in numbers if left unmanaged.
You can keep moths out of the house by installing window mesh screens. Some types of moths can also be kept away by switching off lights around the house.
Moths can be identified by their beige or buff colors if you aren’t sure about their looks. Clothing moths grow to about 0.5 inches, on average.
Clothing moths may also be smaller than other types of moths.
8. Warehouse Moths
Warehouse Moths (Ephestia elutella) are a distinct species that make it indoors through goods you buy at the store, particularly grains.
This is a species that grows and spreads in warehouses, in the manufacturing and packing process of various grains.
Their larvae can be detrimental to books as they eat through them similarly to grains.
You can identify Warehouse Moths through their reduced size. This is a species that only grow up to 1 inch into adulthood.
The wingspan of the species may be longer, up to 2 inches.
A gray mottled coloring is specific to its forewings while the hindwings of the species are silver, gray, or almost white.
This is a species that spends much of its time hiding. It can be difficult to spot at first.
However, once you see an adult landing on books it’s a good time to inspect if your books have been impacted by its larvae.
Stopping the spread of these moths is also subject to management techniques such as discarding all of the infested grains in your homes.
All grains should be discarded once you spot these moths around the house.
Keeping these moths away is also subject to preventive measures such as storing all of your grains in closed plastic or glass containers.
9. Indianmeal Moths
These types of moths (Plodia interpunctella) get into homes with goods you purchase in stores, particularly those wrapped in paper.
Indianmeal Moths are identified by their brown and gray or tan coloring. Most of the wings are dark brown, which means they stand out on bright books.
The larvae of the Indianmeal Moths are white and have brown heads.
Larvae of the species spin a cocoon-like silk structure which can damage books. They can also eat through the paper until they pupate.
All types of stored goods in the pantry may need to be discarded once the species has been identified.
While you can remove larvae and moths by hand or by vacuuming, eggs may remain behind. This is why there’s no real safety-proof solution to eliminate the species, its larvae, and its eggs unless you discard all foods.
You should also discard the paper packing the moths and their larvae were in contact with.
10. Woodboring Beetles
Woodboring Beetles are some of the least common species that eat wood fibers, cellulose, and books.
Multiple such species exist in the world. Southern US territories are the home to the Deathwatch Beetle, a species spuriously believed to announce death.
This species lays eggs in wood. It eats wood and it grows in wood as larvae.
Deathwatch Beetles are only present in hardwood timber such as those made from oak. This type of wood is rarely used today given its price.
As a result, some of the most impact species of Deathwatch Beetles are found in old homes.
These beetles make a clicking sound inside wood that resembles the knocking sound of woodpeckers.
Many have tied this sound as a sign of death to come.
This beetle is identified by its dark brown and light brown colors which makes it look similar to very old hardwood which has darkened over time.
Insecticides prove to do little when it comes to driving these bugs out and killing their larvae.
Other pest management techniques such as fumigation have also been proven to be quite efficient against this species.
11. Bark Beetles
Various species of bark beetles (family Cucujidae) around the world may eat books if they wander indoors.
This is a species that has a brown or black color and a rectangular body shape.
Bark Beetles are found under the bark of various softwood and hardwood trees, particularly pine, cypress, and oak.
Dead trees tend to attract these beetles more as their wood is softer.
While rare, these bugs may still make their way indoors, especially attracted to light.
It’s here they may attempt to eat through old unfinished furniture or into books and other paper-made materials rich in cellulose.
You can pick up these beetles by hand or you can simply vacuum them to eliminate the species.
Weevils (family Curculionidae) come in their thousands and some can destroy valuable book collections.
Granary weevils (Sitophilus granaries) are among the types of weevils that can easily eat through paper. They are so resilient they can even chew through plastic.
These types of weevils come from various stored grains and make indoors with flour or other grains such as rice.
Multiple preventive measures can keep these types of bugs out of your home.
For example, you may only purchase small amounts of grains you can consume within a few weeks to avoid stocking them for a long time in the pantry.
All grains should be stored in glass containers as there are weevils that may even chew through thin plastic packaging.
13. Carpet Beetles
Carpet Beetles are mainly interested natural fibers of carpets or blankets. They may also be seen eating books.
Black Carpet Beetles are likelier to eat books, especially the glue that holds the pages and the covers of a book together.
Carpet Beetles are also known for not preferring books. They might turn to books when their move indoors and when they cannot find natural fibers or plants to eat.
A type of pest, these bugs can be eliminated from the house on your own in most cases.
Vacuuming the bugs is known to eliminate the bugs. Frequent dusting, vacuuming, and sealing all entry points into the home are also plausible preventive measures.
Quick action is needed when you see a single carpet beetle indoors so you prevent them from eating through multiple books.
14. Powderpost Beetles
Powederpost Beetles (subfamily Lyctinae) impact old lumber and old furniture. These types of beetles are even found in dry homes and dry wood.
You can confirm their presence by the large holes they dig in dry wood and by the frass piled up next to the holes.
These beetles are identified by their dark brown colors which allow the bugs to go unnoticed in front of potential predators.
While highly damaging, these bugs remain small. Most Powederpost Beetles only grow to a quarter inch.
Left unmanaged, these beetles can create structural problems in homes as they start multiplying and affecting wood in multiple places with frequent close-by holes.
15. Darkling Beetles
Darkling Beetles (family Tenebrionidae) love dark places where they feed and live.
These are some of the bugs which come in gray, black, or brown colors and impact books and paper both as larvae and as adults.
Darkling Beetles feed on decaying wood and fungi. They can sometimes be spotted eating fungi on books in dark humid places, mainly in museums.
These bugs always hide when indoors as they are a fossorial species outdoors, hiding in the soil.
In rare cases, Darkling Beetles may also be active during the day. This is also the time when most people spot these types of bugs and take action to remove them from bookshelves.
How to Protect Old Books from Bugs
Old books often have a high personal or economic value. Protecting books often means keeping visible and invisible bugs away as they can damage books over a short period.
Reduce and manage humidity
Humidity is one of the highest problems when it comes to books that are safe from bugs.
Managing humidity so that it’s constantly fewer than 50% or even 40% in the case of libraries and museums is often recommended by different professionals.
Water leaks or poor ventilation are among the primary reasons high humidity persists in homes.
Makes sure you check all areas of the house as a source of a possible water leak as humid air can spread around the house in a matter of days.
Some bugs that eat bugs such as silverfish die if they don’t have sufficient humidity apart from having many food sources around.
Avoid storing books in mold-rich rooms
Rooms with mold are not good places to store books. Even complete home renovation which may prompt the temporary moving of books to another room should not allow for books to be stored in areas with mold.
You should always store books in dry areas. Mold spreads through the air and it can make it onto books in days or even hours. It leads to the appearance of various bugs such as booklice.
Storing books in excessively-warm areas is not recommended either. These areas might not suffer from the mold but they can attract paper-earing bugs such as firebrats in turn.
Don’t store books next to food
Food tends to attract the most bugs and their larvae. You should always store all foods away from books.
Even dry long-shelf life foods such as grains and flour should always be stored away from books as they can attract weevils and other bugs that can eat book bindings.
Other types of food which aren’t necessarily perceived as food include cardboard. Many old books are stored in cardboard boxes.
Multiple species such as roaches can chew through cardboard boxes. Some bugs can even digest cellulose in cardboard and can survive a long time on cardboard alone.
Books should not be stored in the kitchen either. High humidity and odors can attract all types of bugs to books.
Never store books on the floor
Many types of bugs in homes cannot fly or jump. They can only move on the floor and they always make a quick escape under furniture as their only means of defense.
These are the types of bugs that can easily chew through a book’s pages when going hungry.
You can find different types of bugs such as carpet beetles as mostly found on the floor even if they can reach higher areas indoors.
They prefer dark places on the floor close to or under furniture.
Cockroaches have been shown to prefer moving on the floor next to a wall, as this adds some protection from one side for a species that has no other means of protection.
Always store books in rooms with plenty of natural light
Dark places are ideal for many types of book-eating bugs. Public libraries are among the common places where books are also eaten by bugs because they have poor natural light penetration.
Thousands of books stored close together in tall bookshelves don’t allow sufficient natural light indoors.
This favors various bugs such as beetles which are nocturnal or which never come out during the day or in direct sunlight.
Other types of bugs prefer not to come out in direct sunlight as they face dehydration.
Regularly clean bookshelves and the house
Regular cleaning eliminates book bugs in their early stages and it also keeps them away efficiently.
Dust particles that favor different species are prevented when books are dusted and when the house is regularly vacuumed.
You can reduce the risk of having various types of bugs that eat books by vacuuming frequently even if books aren’t their primary food source.
Carpet beetles and silverfish are among the bugs that are may be vacuumed.
Avoid storing books in basements and attics
Some areas of the house naturally get cleaned less frequently. These may be rooms, basements, or attics.
These areas aren’t as used and as clean as other rooms of the house.
As a result, they make for potentially good book storage areas. However, these are also areas of high humidity, dust buildup, and the potential home of many types of bugs.
Basements are frequently known for poor air circulation and high humidity.
This makes them one of the least recommended areas of a home to store books.
Use natural deterrents such as citrus peel
Some types of natural solutions might help repel some bugs. You can use different types of dried fruits and plants to keep bugs away.
Dried citrus peel bowls stored in the home office or the room with the oldest books in the house can prove an efficient natural barrier against bugs.
Dried orange peel is also equally good for keeping bugs away. You can sundry orange peel and store it in large open bowls next to your favorite old books to keep bugs away.
Don’t keep potted plants next to bookshelves
Plants tend to attract many bugs indoors. Silverfish and carpet beetles are just a few of the bugs which feed on living or dead plants.
Frequently-watered plants create damp soil conditions many bugs like. Plants that need rare watering such as cacti might be better suited for homes with old books.
However, all types of plants may attract bugs so it’s best not to keep them next to bookshelves with old books.
Avoid having climbing plants over a home with old books
Climbing plants are some of the most dangerous when it comes to facilitating bugs on books.
Ivy and other climbing plants on homes can make for a bridge with easy access to interior spaces.
Make sure you don’t keep old books in homes covered in climbing plants as they facilitate access for species such as roaches and bark weevils.
Climbing plants also need frequent watering so that they grow vigorously. This leads to constantly-moist soil around the house.
Multiple bugs that also eat books such as silverfish can multiply quickly in moist soil. Climbing plants aren’t a good idea for any old book collector.
Don’t store books in plastic bags
Some people may be tempted to over-protect old books by storing them in plastic bags.
These types of bags are bad for books even if they aren’t zip-lock plastic bags.
Poor air circulation means moisture is trapped in old books. This leads to mold and mildew formation which damages books.
Furthermore, mold can spread to other books once you place the book back on the bookshelf and it may also attract various bugs that eat mold.
Spray essential oils on bookshelves
Essential oils such as lavender oil are known to deter certain bugs. You can spray your bookshelves with essential oil when cleaning and when moving the books.
You should refrain from spraying essential oil directly on books as this may add unnecessary moisture to the book bindings.
Essential oils can be sprayed on areas of the bookshelves that aren’t in direct contact with books, such as the back of the shelves.
Rearrange books on a regular basis
Rearranging the books is one of the ways in which you can detect bugs early. It’s also a method used to clean the bookshelves more often.
One of the biggest mistakes made with old books is to simply live them in their place for years. Mold might be growing behind the books and affecting them by also attracting bugs.
It’s recommended to switch the locations of the books at least 1-2 times per year. You can simply rearrange them without moving them to another area of the house.