About clothes moths

Written by lesley barker
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About clothes moths
Protect your wardrobe. (Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images)

Clothes moths can ruin your wool, cotton, silk, feather, fur and paper goods if you do not take steps to prevent an infestation. The holes left from feeding clothes moth larvae cannot be repaired and the insects can live a very long time.

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Identification

There are three species of clothes moth which all belong to the order, Lepidoptera, and to the Tineidae family. These insects lay their eggs in various types of fabric. When the eggs hatch, the larvae eat the fabric which leave permanent holes in the cloth. The eggs are difficult to detact so the best way to know if there is a clothes moth infestation is the presence of the adult moths even though their presence does not absolutely correlate with the presence of larvae.

Types

Webbing clothes moths are tan and have tiny reddish hairs on their heads. Their wings are silvery-brown and span a length of 1.3 cm (1/2 inch). Their larvae spin silken threads that they use to make tunnels in the cloth where they live and feed. After moulting between 5 and 45 times, the larvae retreat inside their feeding tunnels, seal the end of the tunnel and remain inside until they are fully transformed into an adult moth. Casemaking clothes moths are brown and they have three dark spots on each wing. The larvae also spin silk but instead of making a silk feeding tunnel, they make a small cell-like sack which they carry around until it is time for them to pupate. Then they seal themselves in their cells until they emerge as adult moths. Tapestry clothes moths can be recognised by their forewings. The front third of each forewing is black while the rest of the wing is white with black or grey spots. Tapestry clothes moths also spin silk tubes in the fabric where they live. They burrow inside these tubes to pupate.

Geography

The most common of the clothes moths is the webbing clothes moth which is native to western Eurasia, but is also found in North America and Australia. They are attracted to cotton, silk, synthetic fabrics, paper and wool. Casemaking clothes moths are found worldwide. These moths are most attracted to items made from feathers. Tapestry clothes moths lay their eggs in items made from wool, horsehair, fur and feathers.

Time frame

Female webbing clothes moths are able to lay eggs the same day that they emerge from their cocoon. Each one lays between 40 to 50 eggs. The eggs incubate for shorter times in hotter weather so there is a range of between four to ten days that it takes for an egg to hatch. The larvae feed on the same fabric in which their eggs were laid attached to the threads by a glue-like secretion. They moult as they grow bigger between five and 45 times so it can take anywhere from just over one month (35 days) to up to 30 months (2 1/2 years) for a larva to enter the cocoon. Then the adult emerges in anywhere from eight to 40 days. This results in a lifespan for these moths of 55 days to 4 years.

Prevention/solution

Since the damage caused by clothes moths cannot be repaired, it is important to prevent an infestation from the beginning. Several mothproofing strategies can be employed. Fabrics can be treated with a pesticide at either the manufacturer or the dry cleaners. Mothballs, made from naphtalene, or moth crystals, made from paradichlorobenzene, are commercially available in supermarkets. When they are placed inside sealed storage containers along with the fabrics, they emit fumes which kill the moths and the larvae. Some herbs like rosemary, for example, are natural moth repellents. If a clothes moth infestation is already established, call a pest control specialist who can apply powerful sprays to eradicate the problem. By the way, clothes moths are more likely to feast on woollens that have not been cleaned before being placed in storage. So clean the fabrics you plan to store before putting them away.

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