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Love devouring a good book? Meet the real bookworms – and they’re better at it than you.

It’s World Book Day on Tuesday March 2nd. Our nation loves books. Adults, children, even babies, we all love devouring a good book. Unhappily though, we aren’t the only ones. The larvae of moths, booklice, carpet beetles, spider beetles, silverfish, woodworm (also known as bookworms), and death watch beetles, (true!) all enjoy books even more thoroughly than we do.

That’s gross. Why would they do that?

They’re hungry and you’re providing a food source. Books can provide a feast for larvae which feed on wood, animal substances, mould and mildew. Let’s look at these in turn.
The larvae of deathwatch beetles and woodworm love to eat wood. Books are made from wood pulp, so if a beetle lays eggs on the book its larvae will bore in and around the pages and covers for up to four years before emerging as adult beetles, possibly laying eggs on the way out.
The larvae of silverfish, moths and carpet beetles will only graze on animal substances, shredding the book as they go, so they like a bit of leather binding, a side order of size (a glue made from animal hooves) and possibly a dessert of parchment or vellum, if you’re lucky enough to have really old books.
Silverfish and tiny psocids (booklice) are choosy and feed on the starches and proteins in cellulose, which is contained in wood pulp. They like to graze, so create a scuffed appearance on pages and covers. They prefer certain colours and have been known to create patterns as they hunt out the dyes and pigments they prefer.

How can I avoid things eating my books?

Make sure your books aren’t damp. Most of these insects prefer their food a bit wet, so damp books – those stored in lofts, cellars or sheds, or placed on shelves against colder outer walls, will suffer most. To encourage air circulation, don’t push books right back against the wall or shelf.
Insects enter through windows in the spring and summer and lay eggs. Vacuum and dust regularly, unless your books are extremely rare or valuable, in which case seek specialist advice.

Any other tips for looking after books?

Yes! While we’re looking out for things that might spoil our enjoyment of a good book, we can also consider light, chemicals and bad handling. Light will fade the covers, so store them away from windows. Store them upright instead of stacked. Dropping books and opening them too wide weakens the spine and bindings, so handle them carefully. Chemicals from modern paints, glues, waxes and varnishes, as well as from some woods, can cause books to degrade, so be careful where you store them.
Most importantly…. Enjoy reading, enjoy your books and use these simple tips to make sure that you’re the one who enjoys them the most.

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