Barklouse nymph

2009 December 12

So, this past summer while we were at a friend’s Canada Day[1] party, Sam and I spotted a number of these little guys crawling around on the wooden frame of their swingset. Since the graph paper squares are only 1 mm, that makes this particular one only about 2 mm long.

2009-7-7.tiny.critter 017.550

I wasn’t sure what it was (although I thought it had a pretty close resemblance to the plastic bugs in the original version of the Giant Cootie game)[2]. So, after letting it languish unidentified for some months, I finally got around to submitting it to BugGuide. Where v belov quickly identified it as a nymph of one of the barklice in the order Psocodea.

2009-7-7.tiny.critter 020.looking.up

So! It looks like we have a new arthropod order for the site! This order includes the barklice, booklice, and parasitic lice[3], although the parasitic lice (the Phthiraptera) used to be considered to be in a separate order. Barklice are harmless to not only us, but also to the trees they live on. They reportedly live on fungus and lichens that they find growing on the bark. Most (but not all) species grow wings when they reach adulthood, and since this one appears to have wing buds, I expect that it’s a nymph.

Barklice are really common, but also really small, so they don’t get noticed very much. Try looking closely at the bark of a tree sometime next summer, and you’re pretty likely to spot some.

Update: This little critter has been identified on BugGuide to the species! I never expected that, I thought for sure that it would never be identified any further than “a barklouse”. Ed Mockford gave the ID as Mesopsocus laticeps. It was the first example of the species on BugGuide, they had to add a new guide page for it. As I’ve mentioned before, if you want to submit one-of-a-kind creatures to Bug Guide, concentrate on the little guys, because most people don’t bother photographing them.

[1] Canada Day is July 1. The friends who hosted this party were from Canada originally. It seems that, if one wants to host a Canada Day party, one can write to the Canadian Embassy to ask for party favors, and they will send things like maple-leaf temporary tattoos and little canadian flags and maple-leaf ballons and similar things. I don’t know if you have to be Canadian citizens for them to do this, but hey, it can’t hurt to ask!

[2] Unfortunately, the current version of this game has a goofy-looking “bug” that is so far from any plausible insect that it doesn’t even bear thinking about.

[3] S_ said, “Well, I’m just as glad the first example of this order wasn’t some parasitic lice we found on the dog . . . or on the kids”.

8 Responses
  1. Ellen permalink
    December 12, 2009

    Very cool! My sister had one of those original Cootie games…and I must agree that the new ones are just stupid-looking.

  2. December 12, 2009

    Are these guys related to spiders? The body shape and 8 legs makes them look like cousins.

  3. December 12, 2009

    Ellen: Maybe we should start a petition to get them to change “cootie” back to the old design!

    KT: They don’t actually have eight legs, what looks like a front pair of legs is actually just very long, robust antennae. They do seem to be converging on something resembling a spider body plan, though, don’t they?

  4. December 14, 2009

    Man, those are industrial-strength antennae. They’re the insect world’s version of the 35′ HF whip.

  5. December 14, 2009

    Hola, amigo! Off topic: I was going to put a macro lens on my Christmas list for my Nikon D60. They offer a bunch of different ones. Do you have any recommendations?

  6. December 15, 2009

    Well, I’m just now getting into SLR macrophotography[1] instead of using a kludged-together setup using a consumer-grade point-and-shoot, so take my advice for what it’s worth. But anyway:

    The serious insect macrophotographers like Alex Wild tend to use Canon gear, evidently Canon has made a serious effort to claim the macrophotography market and have the best macro lenses. As a result, I mostly have been looking at Canon. The lens that Wild uses for his real serious high-mag macro work doesn’t have an equivalent from any other manufacturer, unfortunately. However, the other lens that is very popular with the insect macrophotographers (and that Nikon probably has a near-equivalent for) is the Canon EF 100mm F2.8 Macro. You are probably a lot more familiar with Nikon gear than I am, and can probably sort out the nearest Nikon equivalent.

    As for where to get reduced-price lenses: there are a bunch of lens rental places, and S_ found out that they sometimes sell their excess lenses at steep discounts[2]. See for example the Nikon page at If you go to the Nikkor macro/specialty lens page, they have a well-organized collection of lenses with descriptions of each, and you can actually just rent one for a week or so to try out if you want to be sure of which one to go out and buy.

    Alternatively, you can try getting a macro convertor and/or extension tubes for your existing lens. This is a *lot* cheaper than a purpose-built true macro lens, and can allow very high magnification. But, there are evidently some serious focusing issues and they force a lot of fiddling around to get set up for a close-up shot.

    [1] Did you know you can now get some good DSLR bodies on the used market for about the same prices as a new point-and-shoot? I got a Canon 10D body from KEH Camera Brokers just last month, and even though it is still a pretty advanced camera with decent resolution and good performance, the used one cost about a tenth what it cost new.

    [2] S_ bought me the Canon EF 100mm F2.8 macro lens for Christmas from, and gave it to me early to try out because they only allowed 3 days to return it at no cost if it turned out not to be what we wanted. I’ve only been experimenting with it for a couple of days, but I am very happy with it. It is in like-new condition, and appears to be an excellent lens that will be well-suited for actually getting macro pictures of live bees and butterflies in the field (as opposed to dead or refrigerated on my microscope stage). The pictures from it will start showing up here as soon as (1) I work through some more of my picture backlog, (2) I work out how to use it to best advantage, and (3) enough small arthropods come out of hibernation.

  7. December 15, 2009

    As usual, you rock. Thanks!

  8. Margaret permalink
    December 25, 2009

    Ew Gross! I have fond memories of the Cootie game — if you start that petition, let me know.

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