When one hears the term “book worm” an image of a person wearing glasses and reading books on top of books might come to mind. While the slang definition of a book worm actually is “one who spends too much time reading or studying,” a real book worm is anything but. A real book worm is the term given to the Beetle larvae that feeds on the paste and glue of the binding on books. Because book worms are attracted to the paste and glue used to bind books, modern books use alum (the ammonium double sulfate of aluminum) in the paste to discourage the larvae. The book worm, also “bookworm” feeds on the paper of books as well.
The book worm is roughly 0.1 to 0.2 inches in length and there are several different types. These include the cigarette beetle, the drugstore beetle, the Mexican book beetle, and the white-marked spider beetle. The cigarette beetle is cinnamon-colored and it has a taste for rare manuscripts. It also feeds on drugs, leather, spices, dried vegetable matter, herbarium collections, corn husk dolls, chocolate, breakfast foods, and other types of books. The drugstore beetle doesn’t just feed on the spine and glue of books, it tunnels through the pages of the book and emerges through the cover and the spine.
The dark brown, chunky Mexican book beetle is covered with fine, silky hairs. It can be found curled up in a c-shape in its tunnels. These book worms feed on every part older volumes, even the leather. The white-marked spider beetle and the brown spider beetle chew through bindings, and the paper of books.
It is very difficult to eliminate book worms without damaging precious rare manuscripts and prize novels and other books. But if you are careful and patient, you might be able to treat single books at a time. Treatments have to be repeated every few weeks to kill the eggs. You can treat a single book by putting the book in an air-tight box surrounded with cotton wool soaked in ether. Again, treatments must be repeated every few weeks to kill the eggs. If you come across other books that may contain book worms, the books should be isolated immediately and treated.
To prevent book worm infestations, you can use such substances as camphor or naphthalene in the bookcase or place pieces of linen soaked with essence of turpentine, camphor, or an infusion of tobacco behind the books, especially in the place where there is a high concentration of insects. When the smell dies, repeat the process. You may also scatter some fine pepper on the shelf. The smell of the pepper penetrating into the shelf may have the same effect as the soaked linen pieces.
The book worm isn’t the only type of insect that feeds on paper. Other insects that feed on starchy material or wood will also eat the paper of books. Cockroaches, the tiny larvae of moths, booklice, silverfish and termites also feed on the paper, glue and the paste of books. The beetle larvae known as bookworms belong to the family Bostrichidae, of the order Coleoptera. The moth larvae known as bookworms belong to the family Oecophoridae, of the order Lepidoptera. Booklice make up the family Liposcelidae, of the order Psocoptera.