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Pages riddled with bookworm damage on Errata.
Traces of a bookworm in a book
A bookworm / beetle grub found inside a paperback book, showing some of the damage it has wrought

Bookworm is a general name for any insect that is said to bore through books.[1][2] Contrary to their name, bookworms are not actually worms, but various types of insects including beetles, moths and cockroachs. The name bookworm comes from the many different types of beetle who bore into books during their larval stage. These larvae may appear to the untrained eye to be worms.

True book-borers are uncommon. Most non-larval "bookworms" are actually feeding on the book's leather or cloth-bindings, the glue used in the binding process, nibbling the edges of the paper or eating any fungi that have grown on the book. Others, like termites, carpenter ants, and wood boring beetles infect the shelves that books are on, and may begin to feed on the books themselves.[3]

The term has come to have a second, idiomatic use; meaning someone who devours books metaphorically.



A booklouse

The booklouse or paperlouse are tiny (under 1 mm), soft-bodied, wingless insects in the order Psocoptera (usually Trogium pulsatorium) that feed on microscopic molds and other organic matter found in ill-maintained works, for example, in cool, damp, dark and undisturbed areas of archives, libraries, and museums. They will also attack bindings, glue, and paper. Despite their name, booklice are not really lice, as they do not feed on a living host. Many museums use pest control and keep books dry to prevent this from happening.[4]

By the 20th century, modern bookbinding materials thwarted much of the damage done to books by various types of book-boring insects.[5]

Other book-eating insectsEdit


Of the quarter million species of beetles, some adults damage books by eating paper and binding materials themselves. However, their larvae do the most damage. Typically eggs are laid on the books's edges and spine. Upon hatching, they bore into, and sometimes even through, the book.[3]

Drugstore beetle

Woodboring beetlesEdit

Auger beetlesEdit

Long horned beetlesEdit

Bark beetlesEdit

True weevilsEdit

Larvae stage of a museum beetle Anthrenus museorum

Skin beetlesEdit

These beetles have been know to feed on leather bindings.

Powderpost beetlesEdit

Darkling beetlesEdit


Termites are the most devastating type of book eating pest. They will eat almost every part of a book including paper, cloth, and cardboard, not to mention the damage that can be done to shelves. Termites can make entire collections unusable before the infestation is even noticed.[3]

Hercules Ant (Camponotus herculeanus)


Some species of ants can damage books in a way that is similar to termites.[12]


Moths that feed on cloth will also feed on bookbindings, decaying organic material (which includes paper), and mold.

Fungus mothsEdit

Pyralid mothsEdit

Concealer mothsEdit


Bookdamging cockroach species chew away at the starch in cloth bindings and paper. Their droppings can also harm books.[3]

Wood cockroachesEdit

Household cockroachesEdit


These insects consume portions of book that contain polysaccharides. Paper that is slightly ragged at the edges is usually the work of silverfish.[3]

Silver Fish (Lepisma Saccharina)


Thermobia domesticae - firebrat


Pseudoscorpions love old dusty books where they can find their prey: The booklouse.[16]


Pesticides can be used to protect books from these insects, but they are often made with harsh chemicals that make them an unattractive option. Museums and universities that want to keep their archives bookworm free without using pesticides often turn towards temperature control. Books can be stored at low temperatures that keep eggs from hatching, or placed in a deep-freezer to kill larvae and adults. The idea was taken from commercial food storage practices, as they are often dealing with the same pests. [15][17]


The creation of a bookworm?

The term is also used idiomatically to describe an avid or voracious reader,[18][19] an indiscriminate or uncritical reader, or a bibliophile. In its earliest iterations, it had a negative connotation, e.g., an idler who would rather read than participate in the world around them or a person who pays too much attention to formal rules and book learning.[20] Over the years its meaning has drifted in a more positive direction.[21]

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ "Bookworm insect". Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Retrieved April 6, 2018.
  2. ^ Wiener, Ann Elizabeth (2018). "What's That Smell You're Reading?". Distillations. 4 (1): 36–39. Retrieved July 11, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Pest Control | Library Preservation and Conservation Tutorial". Cornell University Library. Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  4. ^ "Bugs That Eat Books!". Colonial Pest Control Inc. 2013-03-21. Retrieved April 6, 2018.
  5. ^ Murray, Stuart (2009). The Library: An Illustrated History. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing. p. 198.
  6. ^ "Woodworm Anobium Punctatum". Retrieved April 6, 2018.
  7. ^ "Deathwatch beetle". Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Retrieved April 6, 2018.
  8. ^ a b "Drugstore beetle". University of Florida. Retrieved April 6, 2018.
  9. ^ "Black Carpet Beetle". Penn State. Retrieved April 6, 2018.
  10. ^ "Larder beetle". Canadian Grain Commission. 2013-08-30. Retrieved April 6, 2018.
  11. ^ a b c "Texas Pest Flash Cards" (PDF). Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin. University of Texas. Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  12. ^ Harbison, Brad (4 August 2015). "A Termite-Damaged Book…Or Is It?". Pest Control Technology. Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  13. ^ a b "Identifying and controlling clothes moths, carpet beetles and silverfish". Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development. Retrieved April 6, 2018.
  14. ^ "Brown house moth Hofmannophila pseudospretella (Stainton)". Canadian Grain Commission. 2013-08-30. Retrieved April 6, 2018.
  15. ^ a b Strang, Thomas J. K. "A Review of Published Temperatures for the Control of Pest Insects in Museums" (PDF). p. 3.
  16. ^ Crew, Bec (August 25, 2014). "How Book Scorpions Tend to Your Dusty Tomes". Scientific American. Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  17. ^ The Yale Non-toxic Method of Eradicating Book-eating Insects by Deep-freezing Kenneth Nesheim
  18. ^ "Bookworm". Oxford English Dictionary. Lexico. Retrieved June 19, 2019.
  19. ^ Emigh, Karen; Dana, Steve (May 15, 2007). Bookworm: Discovering Idioms, Sayings and Expressions. Arlington, Texas: Future Horizons. p. 3. ISBN 9781932565423.
  20. ^ "Bookworm". synonyms. Retrieved June 19, 2019.
  21. ^ "Is 'bookworm' positive or negative?". Merriam Webster. Retrieved June 18, 2019.

Further readingEdit