29 May 2008

Is it an isopteran? Is it a zorapteran? It's a psocopteran!


I noticed these itsy bitsy teenie weenie insects, barely a millimeter long, running around on some pieces of wood I had in my garage last weekend. I photographed them and then went over to my wife to make the grim announcement: "I think we have termites in the garage."

Later, however, having done some reading on termites (isopterans), I decided that they were too small to be termites. Besides, the wood they were seemingly inhabiting was not rotten or otherwise damaged in any visible way.

They remained nameless until yesterday afternoon when I saw a picture of a zorapteran whilst reading Christopher Taylor’s “completely-biased” list of phylogenetically problematic taxa. I immediately said to myself: “That’s it! Those insects in the garage are zorapterans.” I posted a couple of their pictures on BugGuide.net, calling them zorapterans but with a question mark.

Less than a half an hour later, it turned out that I was wrong once again; the creatures from the garage were instead identified as psocopterans (also called psocids, booklice or barklice).


From Borror & DeLong (An Introduction to the Study of Insects, 3rd. ed., 1971):
Psocids feed on molds, fungi, cereals, pollen, fragments of dead insects, and similar materials. The term "lice" in the names of "booklice" and "barklice" is somewhat misleading, for none of these insects is parasitic, and relatively few are louselike in appearance. The species occurring in buildings rarely cause much damage, but are frequently a nuisance.
And according to this page:
Booklice are more common in human dwellings and warehouses... Most species feed on stored grains, book bindings, wallpaper paste, fabric sizing, and other starchy products.
No need to call the exterminator, then. But I will try to get better pictures of them over the weekend.

Note added 28 February 2009: A few days ago the creature got a more definite identification: Liposcelis bostrychophila. See BugGuide.net.


Anonymous said...

yours look like something from Liposcelidae, perhaps Liposcelis sp?

Christopher Taylor said...

I can't say as I know anything about exactly what type of psocid they are, but the feature that I immediately noticed that distinguished your beasties as psocids were the super-long antennae. Isopterans and zorapterans both have fairly short antennae.

Katie said...

I have seen these little guys as well--in books. When I first saw your pic, my first thought was that it looked like a book lice.

Pretty good pic considering how tiny they are.

quah said...

That image appears to be that of a booklouse. It is quite common even in houses in humid areas.

Booklice and Barklice (Order: Psocoptera)