Question: This morning I picked up my jar of oatmeal-based facial scrub. I was about to give myself a facial when I noticed the jar was crawling with tiny insects. I was meaning to give myself a treat and instead I almost rubbed live bugs into my face! Can you tell me what the creatures are and what on Earth they are doing in my beauty product?
Answer: Thank you for bringing your specimens into the Discovery Centre for identification. The insects in your facial scrub are Psocoptera, commonly called booklice or psocids.
Photographer: Ken Walker. Source: Museum Victoria
Psocids are not generally thought to be of great economic importance. However, a few species feed on stored food products and are therefore considered to be pests. When food is readily available they can breed rapidly and spread quickly.
Psocoptera feed on unicellular algae, lichens, fungi, spores and fragments of animal or plant tissue. Their presence is usually an indication of a damp problem. When they are found in kitchens and houses, they are usually feeding on microscopic moulds that has been allowed to grow in damp or undisturbed conditions.
We get booklice brought into Discovery Centre on a fairly regular basis but I have to say, we’ve never seen them in a beauty product before. Given that the product is plant based, it is not surprising that they were attracted to it. If the product was moist, fungal spores got in, and the lid was left off, book lice would be quick to take advantage.
You may want to check whether you have a damp problem which could be encouraging their presence. According to Urban Pest Control in Australia by John Gerozisis and Phillip Hadlington (University of NSW Press, 2001), “proper aeration and ventilation that prevents mould growth are likely to exclude booklice.”