It’s lice Jim, but not as we know it

Tiny specks of creeping animated matter have been living in my kitchen for years. I’ve known vaguely what they were — psochids — but have never really paid them much attention. However, work continues on House Guests, House Pests, and as I weave my way through compiling the ID guide appendix, I feel it incumbent upon myself to have a closer look. I found this one in the bottom drawer of the pull-out larder, grazing on a drift of spilled self-raising flour.

Lepinotus patruelis, bottom drawer of pull-out larder, in spilled flour, 8.i.2013.

A Lepinotus species, but is it a book-louse or a bark-louse?

It’s probably one of the three Lepinotus species recorded as British. It was the National Barkfly Recording Scheme website that first alerted me to its identity. I’ve not had much luck trying to get beyond the genus, the Royal Entomological Society handbook relies on characters on the tiny wing scales, but my specimen is either not quite mature, or has lost them.

Being a synanthropic (domestic) insect, the word ‘barkfly’ seems a bit odd, especially as this species is wingless, and obviously can’t fly. It’s strange how even some biological recording schemes eschew scientific names — ‘The National Psochoptera Recording Scheme’ would have worked for me.

I tried referring to them as ‘book-lice’, but they don’t really live on books either. Even the psochid species recorded in ‘old libraries’ probably don’t eat the books, they most likely gnaw the fungal hyphae of moulds attacking the flour-based pastes and sizes used in traditional bookbinding.

Louse is a fine old word for any small mean creeping thing, and although it has been rather purloined by those ranting on about head lice, there are plenty of other examples including: woodlouse (the familiar domed garden crustaceans), hoglice (freshwater woodlice), fish-lice (flat prawn-like fish parasites), plant-lice (aphids and scale insects), bark-lice (as previously mentioned) run up and down on tree trunks nibbling lichens and mildew and book-lice (on festering tomes in decrepit libraries).

I’m going to coin the name flour-lice. Any objections?

2 responses to “It’s lice Jim, but not as we know it

  1. Sir, in the interests of total scientific accuracy, might a Colonist suggest “self-rising flour lice”? I’m sure there must be a “regular” as well as a “whole wheat” flour louse just waiting to be discovered.

  2. After re-reading my post several times, “Colonist” seems a bit off. “Citizen of England’s former colony” would probably be less off-putting.

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