When we say the word ‘bookworm’ we’re usually referring to someone who reads a lot. The phrase compares those of us who love literature to an insect which eats its way through paper and can ruin a book. In one account a bookworm is said to have eaten through 87 pages of a very expensive, 400-year-old manuscript! But are bookworms (the invertebrate kind) real? Actually, no they’re not.
Book-eating insects are very rare. Some moths will eat the binding on cloth-bound books and certain types of beetle will attack leather-bound books but neither of these actually eat the paper. Woodworms may eat paper if it is touching wood – though they much prefer to chew their way through your furniture! The creature most similar to the legendary book worm is the book louse.
Despite their name, booklice are not lice. They’re not worms either! – they are in fact insects. They are very small (about 1.5mm long) and, unlike most insects, don’t have wings. They also have very strong back legs like a flea so it’s easy to see how the mistake was made. But they can’t jump at all and get around by running, which they can do at a very fast rate!
Booklice don’t eat paper either. What they actually feed on is mould. Their natural habitat is on rotting grain but, as so many animals have, they’ve adapted to the bounty provided by us humans. Books kept in damp conditions are perfect for them and they may infest whole libraries if the books aren’t properly looked after.
As well as bookshelves you may also find booklice behind your wallpaper, on windowsills, beneath pot plants and on food stored in damp places. They are pretty harmless and do very little damage but it can be a little bit alarming to open up your favourite book to find it crawling with the little blighters!
If you are a bookworm (the proverbial kind!) then you may find our quizzes on books interesting. We have over 80 of them covering subjects as diverse as authors, genres, poetry and fictional characters. But if you are more interested in worms than in books, perhaps you’d prefer our Nature quizzes. We have hundreds of questions to test your knowledge of plants, animals and all other aspects of nature. Why not take a look?