The Bookworm

The term “bookworm” or “book worm” is used to refer either to small worm-like bugs which can be found crawling around books, or to people who have a voracious appetite for books, reading all the time. In both cases, the bookworm will devour books if left to their own devices.

The bookworm of the crawly variety is actually the larva of a beetle. In fact, it can be the larva of any one of as many as 160 species of beetle, all of which are often called “bookworms”, particularly when found, as they are, crawling around and tunneling through books. When a female beetle of one of these species lays their eggs, they tend to do so around the edges of books, or in nearby cracks and crevices among the bookshelves. Once the larva are hatched, they burrow and tunnel through the pages of the books, causing a great deal of damage.

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Nobody is really sure when the term “bookworm” was first applied to a person, but it’s clear that it derives from the fact that the person, like the beetle larva, has a big appetite for books, and left their own devices will happily devour books all day.

Clearly the former is more problematic, and many methods have been tried through the ages to deal with larval bookworms. Unfortunately, very few of them are effective for both short term (immediate) and long term (next hatchings) problems, and often the cure is more destructive than the problem. According to the California Conservation program, the only way to truly get rid of them is by “fumigation of the entire library with hydrogen cyanide, carbon disulfide, or methyl bromide”, which is both dangerous, and disruptive as it requires closing off the area until the process is complete.

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