This summer, I noticed these itsy bitsy little gray bugs on my window sills in the kitchen and bathroom. They are so light and tiny. I have almost thought they were dust at times. Last week I diluted some bleach on a cloth and wiped down the sills. That seems to have helped. I’d still like to know what they are? How can I stop them? Will I need to see the wizard, or can you help?
Bugged in the Boondocks
First of all, I want to thank you for the evening I spent with phantom crawlies after wandering down the rabbit trail of mite and lice research.
Second to calm down any entomologists —no, spellcheck, I most certainly did not mean etymologist—out there, I do know that the term “bug” for zoologists and pedants applies only to the order Hemiptera. I know most of you probably don’t care. I’m just preventing an email or two. People can be quite persnickety; my inbox is proof of that.
Since you noted that these little bugs were light in color and didn’t mention any jumping, my bet is they are booklice or a close relation. Booklice, also spelled book lice, are not true lice and are also called psocids. These little bugs feed on mold and fungi and thrive in a humid environment. This is why they love windows, where condensation tends to collect.
Booklice tend to hang out in windows as well as in the books that give them their name. Since they feed on molds, reducing the humidity that encourages mold growth is the simplest way to control these tiny, harmless pests. When you wiped the window sills with dilute bleach, you probably killed their food source.
Your problem may be solved, at least in the short term.
To prevent the booklice’s return, you can regularly wipe down your window sills with an anti-fungal or dilute bleach.
They are harmless so try not to stress too much about it. They aren’t causing any damage. They certainly aren’t pantry moths, and they fall into that category of creature that we try not to think about too much.
Remember, they aren’t destroying your property (except in the most severe infestations), they don’t trigger allergies like dust mites, and they don’t bite like bed bugs. They are mostly just a barely visible nuisance.
I want to note that occasionally booklice can find their way into pantries where they can infest grains. In that case, you throw away the infested grains, air out the pantry, and store any new grains in air-tight containers.
What if your bugs aren’t booklice?
Here are some other possibilities for tiny creepy-crawlies that you can find in window sills and other places:
If you squash the critters and they leave a reddish stain, they are most likely clover mites. Clover mites are a common, harmless but aggravating pest that also tend to invade windows.
To prevent stains on your woodwork, vacuum these and call it good. Just don’t forget to empty the vacuum, or you could end up with mites in other places as they can usually crawl back out of your vacuum. Clover mites aren’t going to damage anything. They are just wandering around in search of food.
Finally, the last usual suspect would be springtails. These little jumping arthropods feed on decaying leaf litter. If you use mulch near your house, they could be wandering around looking for more food. These things are also harmless but can be a major annoyance if they move into your house. If you notice they congregate in a window, be sure to check for water damage as they are attracted to organic decay. You might want to consult a professional as water damage can get expensive quickly and generally does NOT get cheaper when ignored.
Not a suspect here since we are talking about window sills, but another harmless pest to be aware of is the fungus gnat. These guys love to chill in your potted plants. You can check out how to get rid of them here.
Are you still trying to figure out what little critters are bugging you? Here’s another post that might help, How to tell the difference between fungus gnats, fruit flies, and drain flies. (I don’t suggest reading this one while snacking.
Submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.