Bookworm: Real or Myth???

Subject: Bookworm
Location: Anywhere there are books & moisture?
July 17, 2013 2:55 pm
I’ve looked up bookworm/book worm on this site, but found nothing. So, I just googled it, & found a few things.
These two links show an actual larvae worm, but it may or may not be an actual ”bookworm”:
this link shows bookworm damage, as well as mentions it actaually being beetle larvae, but dosn’t say what beetle.
Also, looking up silverfish on WTB, I found that they tend to eat the glue in book bindings.
Is there an actual bookworm of a certian beetle larvae? Or is the ”bookworm” actually the silverfish by the damage it creates in books?
Signature: JanP

Stock Photo of "Bookworm"
Stock Photo of “Bookworm”

Dear JanP,
What a nice theoretical question you have posed for us.  Since you cited the sources for the photos you attached, and since one is clearly watermarked as an iStock Photo and since we are linking back to the site if anyone wants to download the image, we don’t think we will be slapped with any copyright infringement suits, so we believe we are safe to include the image.  We are not entirely convinced the creature in the photo is an actual “Bookworm” but we do believe it is some moth larva.  We also believe it might have been a staged photo since the selective focus is so artfully done.  The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin has a conservation page that states:  “There are several types of insects that damage collection materials including books. The most common pests are roaches, silverfish, and various types of beetles. These insects eat the protein and starch components in books and other materials, and the feces of these and other types of insects can disfigure collection materials.”
  We suspect that when more natural materials, including starch bindings, were used in bookmaking, printed materials were more prone to insect damage than they are now.  The beetles that are mentioned are most likely Carpet Beetles in the family Dermestidae (see BugGuide) which will damage many items in addition to books that are in museum collections.  We have numerous photos of the larvae of Carpet Beetles on our site, but we have never received an image of one in a book.

6 thoughts on “Bookworm: Real or Myth???”

  1. Theyre visually,almost microscopic is how they’re able to live between pagesof closed books. Kinda transparent and silver in color, long and the slither around in pages.

  2. I’ve sold and handled thousands of old books and I’ve only seen worm holes a few times. They are quite distinctive but must be pretty rare. Michigan’s climate limits some bugs from a long life.


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