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Damage to Books is Not From Booklice, Maybe Silverfish

By Chris Williams on December 26, 2013.

Silverfish book damage

Question

We were bringing some boxes down from the attic and found that books in a couple of the boxes seemed to have a lot of damage to the covers, stains, and the pages have holes and stains. None of the other items in the boxes were damaged. I searched on the internet and found a reference to booklice. Is that what caused this damage? How do we get rid of them?

Answer

It’s hard to tell you what caused the damage without actually seeing the books, but I can assure you that it wasn’t caused by booklice. Booklice do infest books but they don’t cause any noticeable damage since they are feeding on surface mold that is growing on the book pages and cover. Booklice are also called psocids. They’re whitish and look a bit like termite workers but are much smaller. Despite the name, they are not related to body lice or head lice.

Booklice Feed on Moldy Materials

Booklice are not very obvious since they are found in damp, warm, dark, and undisturbed areas where mold might be growing on surfaces. Old paper products, like old books, magazines, and newspapers (especially if stored in a garage or basement) are common sites for booklice. You can also find them in new construction where they feed on mold growing on damp lumber, plaster, or drywall. They can even be found feeding in moldy food products like cereals or grains. The mold doesn’t have to be visible. A thin layer of surface mold often can’t be seen – except by the booklice. [For more on booklice, see Booklice Are Not Baby Termites!]

But Silverfish Will Digest a Good Book

There are several pests that could be responsible for damaging books in an attic [see Bugs That Eat Books!], but I think the most likely in your case is silverfish. Silverfish are common pests of books and other papers. They like the starchy glue in book bindings and will often eat the glaze right off of the pages. They can leave irregular holes in paper and will notch the edges of pages. Silverfish are also notorious for leaving yellowish stains on papers and fabrics from their body scales and feces.

If you have silverfish in your attic, you almost certainly will find damage to other items as well. Silverfish are similar to cockroaches in that they hide in cracks and crevices…and boxes, and will feed on just about anything. Besides feeding on starchy papers, photographs, glue, and wallpaper, silverfish will also damage fabrics, especially starched fabrics or linen and rayon.

Silverfish can build up to high numbers in an attic. Trying to control them on your own when they are hiding in packing materials and cracks and crevices is difficult. Contact a professional pest management company like Colonial. The technicians will inspect and confirm that your pests are indeed silverfish, and will then take steps to render your attic silverfish-free.

photo credit: 1banaan via photopin cc

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