Discovering that insects are chewing at the glue holding your books together is frustrating. You usually don't know it's happening until the damage is done -- tiny holes in the book's spine are one clue; the presence of frass or insect excrement is another. An insect infestation does not mitigate itself. Taking action is the only way to protect your books.
No, we aren't talking about nerdy kids wearing glasses curled up in the attic or a treehouse gripping a book, feverishly reading. In the insect world, bookworms are the beetle larvae who feed on the paste and glue of book bindings. There are several types: cigarette, drugstore, Mexican book and white-marked spider. The Mexican book beetle is particularly pesky, as its culinary tastes don't stop at merely consuming the glue. This insect eats all parts of books -- leather binding and covers included.
Treating Bookworm Infestations
Successfully treating a bookworm infestation requires patience. You must treat books one at a time, according to All About Worms. Place an infested book in an airtight box surrounded with cotton wool soaked in ether. You must repeat treatment every few weeks to kill the eggs the mitigated generation laid before you killed them. Don't be disappointed if your book is damaged even though you treat the infestation: It is very difficult to rid books of these insects without some damage being done -- especially in the case of older volumes.
Preventing Bookworm Infestations
Turpentine and camphor fumes repel bookworms. Soak a linen cloth with either of these liquids and place it on the shelf where the books are stored. Tobacco scent has the same effect: Placing an opened cigar on the book shelf can help deter the various species of bookworms.
The silverfish is an insect menace a half-inch in length and covered in silver scales. It is active at night, according to the University of Florida School of Integrated Pest Management. Thus, humans don't regularly catch them in the act of dining on books but often see the yellowish stains their eating habits leave behind. Aside from eating proteins and sugar in breakfast cereal, silverfish enjoy starches such as the ones found in the glue of book bindings.
Eliminating a silverfish infestation is a significantly difficult task. The bugs' preferred habitat -- moist areas with humidity levels at approximately 75 percent with temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit -- are common in homes and libraries. Their efficient reproductive efforts, with females laying up to three eggs per day, creates a steady population stream. Using a dehumidifier, mending leaky pipes, ventilating closed rooms or attics and eliminating standing water are ways to deny silverfish the environment they prefer.
Book lice are grayish insects with soft bodies and flat shapes. They resemble head lice. They munch on the starch in the glue used in book bindings and they eat the paper pages, according to the University of Florida School of Integrated Pest Management. As silverfish do, book lice like warm, moist conditions.
Controlling Book Lice
Book lice like mold. Thus one of the best means of controlling or eliminating book lice is by removing any moldy materials from your home and especially from your library. Regular vacuuming -- especially with a narrow attachment that makes contact with cracks and crevices -- pulls these insects from the tiny spaces they harbor themselves in.
Several chemical-based solutions are available in the battle against insects who eat the glue in your books. Diatomaceous earth, products made with borate-based insecticidal dust and silica spray kill these insects. Applying residual insecticides -- products that continue to be effective over time -- to book shelves where silverfish or book lice are spotted is a preventive measure. Carefully check the labels of the products you're considering to ensure they're suited to indoor applications.
Amy M. Armstrong is a former community news journalist with more than 15 years of experience writing features and covering school districts. She has received more than 40 awards for excellence in journalism and photography. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Washington State University. Armstrong grew up on a dairy farm in western Washington and wrote agricultural news while in college.