Facts & Information
Distributed worldwide, clothes moths are members of the family Tineidae. Webbing clothes moths and casemaking clothes moths are the two most prevalent clothes moth species in the United States. Residents of New England and other northern states encounter the webbing clothes moth most frequently, while the casemaking clothes moth remains more common in southern regions of the country. Both species look and behave similarly. Named for their tendency of feeding on clothing and other fabrics, clothes moths often cause significant damage around the house. The insects commonly invade homes and become pests by consuming a variety of natural and synthetic fabrics.
Appearance & Identification
What do clothes moths look like?
Yellowish-tan or golden in color, adult clothes moths generally measure about 1/4 of an inch long. When extended, the wings of a typical adult span roughly 1/2 of an inch. Unlike the webbing clothes moth, the casemaking clothes moth features three dark spots on the wings. While the wings of webbing clothes moths remain free of spots or other markings, the more common New England moth species boasts clusters of reddish hairs on the top of the head. Prior to achieving full development and reaching adulthood, clothes moths pass through larval and pupal stages of their life cycle. Elongated and slender, clothes moth larvae are white in color and measure about 1/2-inch in length. Each larva has a brown or black head at one end of the body. The larvae of casemaking clothes moths also construct protective tubes or cases, which the developing insects inhabit and carry at all times.
Unlike other moth species, clothes moths tend to avoid natural as well as artificial light. Consequently, homeowners often find the pest insects hiding in dark places, such as crevices in upholstered items, closets and attics used as storage spaces for clothes, and carpeted areas covered by furniture or other shielding objects. Clothes moths prefer dark, undisturbed environments so strongly that people frequently fail to notice infestations until the insects have already produced considerable damage. When disturbed, clothes moths attempt to escape by running more often than flying. Despite demonstrating a preference for fleeing to new hiding places on foot, the clothes moth is capable of flying substantial distances, particularly in good weather during the summer.
What do clothes moths eat?
Although clothes moths are known and named for their habit of consuming and damaging clothing and items made of similar materials, the pest insects only feed on fabrics during the larval stage of their life cycle. In addition to clothing, immature clothes moths consume furniture upholstery, carpet, and common home furnishings like blankets, drapes, and pillows. The insects often feed on fabrics containing wool and also eat other animal-based items such as fur, feathers, and hair.
Clothes moth larva hatch from eggs, which adult females deposit on clothing or other fabrics. A newly mated female can lay up to 300 eggs, though a brood of about 40 or 50 offspring is average. The eggs hatch within a week or two in warmer environments, while the incubation period takes longer in cooler surroundings. After hatching from the eggs, clothes moth larvae emerge and begin feeding on the fabric near where they were laid. Greatly influenced by the temperature of the surrounding environment, the larval stage of the clothes moth life cycle ranges from about a month to a year or longer. Upon completing the larval stage, clothes moths either find a crevice or construct a silken cocoon and pupate. The insects emerge as fully developed adults roughly one to four weeks after beginning pupation. Clothes moths typically complete the entire life cycle in four to six months and live as adults for two to four weeks.
Problems Caused by Clothes Moths
Because clothes moth larvae feed on fabric, the insects have the potential to damage a variety of common household items. Clothes moths regularly feed on and cause visible damage to blankets, clothing, drapes, furs, upholstered furniture, and rugs. Damage appears as small feeding holes scattered across the surface of the item or garment. The pest insects can also cause carpet to become threadbare by feeding on the fibers of the carpeting. Clothes moths are more attracted to fabrics stained with food or sweat.
Signs of Infestation
Often difficult to detect due to their fondness for dark and undisturbed habitats, clothes moths frequently leave behind evidence of their presence nevertheless. The most common sign of a clothes moth infestation is the damage the insects inflict on fabrics. Small holes produced by the feeding larvae commonly appear in concealed places like underneath shirt collars or in the crevices of furniture upholstery. Clothes moths also either produce silken tubes or occupy hardened cases to provide protection during pupation. Presence of these pupal cases is another sign of infestation. Discarded tubes and cases often remain at infested sites after developing clothes moths finish pupating.
Keeping garments cleaned and stored properly represents the best way to prevent clothes moth infestations. Clothing should be cleaned before going into storage and kept in tightly sealed containers. Residents should also vacuum and inspect storage areas regularly. In fact, clothes moth infestations are sometimes prevented or controlled simply by thoroughly vacuuming on a regular basis. Because clothes moths tend to infest fabrics easily damaged by pesticides, victims of severe infestations should consider using the services of a professional pest control specialist.