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Thank Tiny Scorpions For Keeping Your Old Books Clean

A few days ago, I would have named an otter as my patronus, but the times have changed, and I have a new favorite animal to claim as shield-bearer. Meet the pseudoscorpion, aka book scorpions, and take a moment to squee at its minute little pinchers. We will wait.

book-scorpionCredit: Protasov AN/Shutterstock via Scientific American

Let me tell you why these members of the arachnid family are awesome. First off, they live in books. Not just any books – you don’t need to go and vacuum all the dust and detritus from your bookshelves this second – they like old books. Specifically, pseudoscorpions like books that were made in the days before synthetic glue. Their idea of a holiday feast is a colony of book lice who have bellied up to the starch-based glue that was used to construct books for centuries. Book lice can wreck havoc on your old books, and if that starts to happen, book scorpions will be your best friends.

Book scorpions are tiny – they average only 4 millimeters in length but have awesomely long front arms tipped with pincers (still too tiny to harm anything other than book lice). When they attack their prey (and book lice are even tinier) they secrete fluid that melts their victim and then they slurp up what’s left over.

Did we mention they have an adorable mating dance? Because they do! Basically, the male rubs his belly (not a euphemism) on a patch of space about a quarter inch big and that lures a female over to him. Once she is ensnared by his belly scent, he starts dancing and vibrating until he deposits a sperm sac and pulls her onto a pillow of love (totally a euphemism). Something tells us that these moms and dads never have the birds and bees conversation with their offspring, but they do seem to raise their younguns in the club.

Book scorpions provide quite the cleaning service to humans, so there’s no need to kill them with fire should you see these little dudes in your bookshelves. They eat book lice, mites, and other microscopic invertebrates that can break down your books or munch on starch-based products in your cupboards. Obviously, if you see something and don’t know what it is, snap a picture and identify it. Both book lice and book scorpions have similar body features to the nastiest of all home-dwelling blood-suckers, bed bugs. If you’re not sure what you’ve found, call an exterminator or peruse the Orkin site. They actually have quite a bit of information right there online for you.

If you are having the same reaction I did, and immediately want to run to your bookshelves and see if you are lucky enough to have book scorpions of your very own, remember that they specifically like old books, not new ones. You can always hit up a used bookstore and buy a few volumes in hopes of bringing some home with you. You can also use these cuties as an excuse to lay off the cleaning for a while. The more intensely and perfectly you dust and clean your bookshelves, the less likely you are to have book scorpions of your very own. They prefer dark and dusty corners that breed the book lice and dust mites they feast on, after all.

We promise that you don’t need to worry about counting your shadows as you traverse an old library or cultivate your own stock of pseudoscorpions. These little guys are not going to eat you alive or hunt you across the Dewey Decimal System. For now, they are content with their tiny prey, and you can rest assured they are doing you a service.

HT Scientific American

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  1. Grambles says:

    I get that they eat things that are bad for your books… but don’t they then POOP out the book lice all over your books? 
    Or is there a 3rd, yet tinier creature, who continues the cycle and eats Book Scorpion poo? 

  2. Craig DeForest says:

    Nifty stuff!  Thanks for the cool article, it’s informative and interesting.

    A minor nit: the idiom you want is not “wreck havoc”, it’s “wreak havoc”, from the archaic form of “work” — the same root that brings us such weirdness as “wrought [worked] iron”.

  3. nanites!  “Hey, who turned out the lights?!”

    • Rachael Berkey says:

      I was very happy to read that they are too little to hurt humans. That told me that shadows are safe.