Do Moths Eat Clothes? Unraveling the Truth

Moths are often associated with damaged clothes, but not all moths are responsible for, or even capable of, chewing through your wardrobe. Clothes moths, specifically, are the culprits behind this frustrating problem. They are small, beige or buff-colored insects that are seldom seen due to their preference for darkness over light.

Clothes moths themselves don’t actually eat the clothing; it’s their larval stage that causes damage to fabrics. These larvae feed on various materials, including wool, fur, feathers, and upholstered furniture. As they munch away, they leave behind holes and other signs of damage on the affected items.

It’s important to recognize that not all moths are harmful to your clothes. In fact, most moth species are harmless, and even beneficial, playing essential roles in the ecosystem. By educating ourselves about the specific kinds of moths that cause damage, we can better protect our belongings and appreciate the ecological value of these fascinating insects.

Why Moths Target Clothes

Fabrics and Fibers Vulnerable to Moths

Moths are attracted to a variety of natural fibers in clothing, particularly those of animal origin. Some common fabrics that moths target include:

  • Wool: Often used in winter clothing
  • Fur: Found in coats and accessories
  • Silk: A popular material in luxury garments
  • Cashmere: Soft, warm, and commonly found in sweaters
  • Feathers: Used in down jackets and pillows
  • Hair: Found in certain brushes and accessories

Moths’ Attraction to Protein

Moth larvae are especially drawn to materials containing keratin, a protein found in animal fibers. These materials provide essential nutrients for the caterpillars during their growth stage. Natural fibers like wool, fur, silk, and cashmere are rich in keratin, making them a particularly attractive food source for moth larvae.

Evolutionary Origin and Diversity

Clothes moths have evolved to consume natural fibers from their ancestral origins. They adapted to take advantage of the abundant protein sources provided by animal fibers, helping them survive and thrive in various environments. There are two common species of clothes moths: the webbing clothes moth and the casemaking clothes moth. Both have small, buff-colored bodies and a 1/2-inch wingspan, and their larvae feed on the surface of infested materials.

Recognizing Moth Infestation

Signs of Moth Damage

Moth infestations can cause damage to various materials, particularly those made of animal fibers such as wool, fur, silk, feathers, felt, and leather. Some signs of moth damage include:

  • Holes: Small and irregular holes in fabrics
  • Webbing: Presence of silken web-like materials around infested areas
  • Larvae casings: Shed skins and fecal pellets left behind by larvae

For example, finding holes in your favorite wool sweater or silk scarf may indicate the presence of a moth infestation.

Life Cycle and Stages

The life cycle of a moth consists of several stages, from eggs to larvae, pupae, and eventually, adult moths. The webbing clothes moth, Tineola bisselliella, is a common species infesting fabric materials. Here are some characteristics of each stage:

  • Eggs: Female moths lay between 100 and 300 eggs on suitable materials, where they hatch after a few days
  • Larvae: Moth larvae, also known as caterpillars, feed on fabric materials, causing damage to textiles; this stage lasts several weeks to months
  • Pupae: Larvae transform into pupae, signaling the end of feeding; pupal stage ranges from a week to a month
  • Adult moths: Adult moths do not cause direct damage but are responsible for laying eggs and perpetuating the infestation

Moth larvae cause the most damage, making it crucial to promptly address a moth infestation to preserve fabrics.

Comparison table of different moth stages:

Stage Damage Potential Time Frame Characteristics
Eggs None Few days Microscopic, laid on suitable materials
Larvae High Weeks to months Feeding on fabrics and materials, causing the most damage
Pupae None 1 week to 1 month Transition stage; no feeding occurs
Adult Indirect Short-lived Lay eggs, do not cause direct damage

Preventing and Controlling Moth Infestation

Proper Storage and Cleaning

To prevent moth infestations in your clothes, it’s important to store them properly. This includes:

  • Washing clothes before storing them, as moths are attracted to food stains and body oils.
  • Choosing airtight containers or plastic bags to store delicate garments, especially those made from natural fibers like wool, silk, or leather.
  • Regular cleaning of your closets and drawers to remove dust and lint, as these can harbor clothes moth larvae.

For example, regularly vacuuming and dusting closets and furniture can help keep moths at bay.

Natural Repellents

Natural repellents can be effective against moths. Some popular options include:

  • Cedar wood or cedar oil, as moths dislike the scent.
  • Dried herbs such as lavender, rosemary, thyme, or cloves can also deter moths.

Place these natural repellents in drawers, storage containers, or hang sachets in closets to protect your clothes.

Chemical Solutions

There are also chemical solutions for moth infestations:

  • Naphthalene, commonly found in mothballs, can effectively repel moths.
  • Paradichlorobenzene is another option, but be cautious as both chemicals have health risks if not used properly.

It’s important to follow instructions and precautions on chemical repellent packaging.

Professional Pest Control

Sometimes, a moth infestation may require professional pest control services. This may be necessary if:

  • Moths persist despite using natural or chemical solutions.
  • You are dealing with a major infestation that affects multiple areas of your home.

Professional pest control experts have access to effective tools and treatments for eradicating moths and their larvae. However, weigh the pros and cons, such as potential costs and chemical exposure risks.

Below is a comparison table of moth control methods:

Method Pros Cons
Proper Storage & Cleaning Cost-effective, eco-friendly, promotes hygiene Requires regular maintenance
Natural Repellents Non-toxic, pleasant scents, easy to use May not be as effective as chemicals
Chemical Solutions Could be more potent, strong deterrent Health risks, environmental concerns, possibly less sustainable
Professional Pest Control Expert assistance, efficient eradication Can be expensive, potential chemical exposure

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Green Blotched Moth from Australia

 

Green-patterned Aussie moth
April 29, 2010
Hello! I have a rather lovely moth for you to look at, and I hope you have better luck identifying it than I have!
I’m writing for a friend who lives somewhere in the southeastern portion of Queensland, Australia who discovered this little moth sitting on her computer screen. She was kind enough to send me a photo since I’m typically pretty good at tracking down an identification. This time, I’ve come up empty handed. 🙁
Any help solving the mystery would be much appreciated!
An inquiring mind
southeast Queensland, Australia

Unknown Moth

We haven’t the time to research this moth this morning since we must leave for work, but we will post it in the hope that our readership might have some luck.  We would probably start the daunting task of identification by looking through the Owlet Moths in the family Noctuidae on the Australian Moth Website.

Thanks for the site link! A quick browse over it and I believe our mystery moth is an aptly named green blotched moth, cosmodes elegans. What a cute little fellow!

Letter 2 – Heliotrope Moth

 

Arctiid Moth from Tuamotus
Location:  Fakarava, Tuamotus, French Polynesia
August 23, 2010 12:18 am
Hi Daniel,
In July we were on the island of Fakarava in the Tuamotus, French Polynesia. I photographed this day flying moth which I believe is Utetheisa pulchelloides marshallorum (Rothschild, 1910) – The Heliotrope Moth. This was the only moth or butterfly I saw there.
Donald Gudehus

Heliotrope Moth

Hi Donald,
We agree that you have the genus correct, but there are other similar looking specimens that are closely related so the species may be different.  The picture you submitted is a close match to the image on Csiro and the Oz Insects website has this information: “The Heliotrope Moth is brightly coloured have white wings with red, brown and black spots and markings. It is active by day fluttering low over the ground like a small butterfly. The caterpillars are black with orange spots and broken cream lines along the body. Larvae contain poisonous alkaloids that deter predators from eating them.
”  Is it odd that you didn’t see any butterflies in Polynesia?  We were curious about that and found this troubling article about a bacteria that is killing male Blue Moon Butterflies.

Letter 3 – Is It: (a) new to science? (b) an introduction from some exotic locale?, or (c) a submission by someone trying to pull our leg?

 


Hello,
I have attached a photo of a moth taken here in Yellowstone County in Montana. Could you identify the scientific name for this moth? Thanks!
K. Gustafson

Hi K,
We hope Rainer Connell, whose name is on the photo, is a friend of yours. This is some species of Tiger Moth in the family Arctiidae, but we are having difficulty locating an exact match on either the Moth Photographers Group or BugGuide or on the Butterflies and Moths of North America. We hope our friend Julian Donahue can assist with this.

Hello Daniel, Thank you for your reply. Rainer is a great friend! Thank you for your help with this, because it has stumped us both also.
K. Gustafson

Update: (10/10/2007)
Wow, Daniel!
If this is from Montana it’s REALLY interesting. It doesn’t look like ANY arctiid I know. In fact, my first impression was that it is a Neotropical megalopygid. I have forwarded the photo to an arctiid specialist in Canada to see what he thinks. Any chance your informant obtained a specimen? Is he sure it is from Montana? Any chance it arrived on some tropical produce (e.g., as in a grocery store, or found inside a house)? Puzzled,
Julian

Update (10/11/2007)
Daniel,
Here is the response I received from Dr. Chris Schmidt, tiger moth expert in Canada: “I agree, if that’s from Montana, it hitched a ride from the tropics; definitely not a tiger either.” So we’re back to possible Megalopygidae (Flannel Moths; the larvae are what we used to call “puss caterpillars” in Texas; they are covered with fine “hair” with an abundance of urticating hairs. Brush up against one and you know it!). There are several species in the U.S., but this is not one of them. Another possibility that popped into my head: it may be a member of the African moth family Thyretidae. At any rate, it does not appear to be a native North American species. A SPECIMEN WOULD BE HIGHLY DESIRABLE, AND ESSENTIAL FOR DEFINITE IDENTIFICATION. The moth is (a) new to science, (b) an introduction from some exotic locale, (c) or a submission by someone trying to pull your leg. Your writer might want to post the photo on the “unknowns” page at www.LepSoc.org to see if any of our members have a clue.
Julian

Letter 4 – Lunate Zale

 

Lunate Zale
Hi,
Love your site – what great information and pictures! Thanks for having all that out there. I was watering newly-planted azaleas last October and thought a piece of bark had flipped out from the mulch around the plants. When I took a second look, this is what I found! He/she sat still long enough for me to get and set up the tripod and camera, and very nicely let me take a dozen or so pictures. I checked your site and thought at first it might be a Black Witch, but the markings just didn’t quite match up. So today I used one of the links on your site to get to Butterflies and Moths of North America, and I think I’ve got it – a lunate zale! Thanks again for a great site!
Kathleen Haines
Newport News, VA
(southeastern VA)

My Kathleen,
What a well camoflauged Lunate Zale, Zale lunata, you have there. This is a new species for our site and we located some additional information about it on BugGuide.

Letter 5 – Mating Moths: probably One-Spotted Variants

 

Furry Mating Moths
Mon, Apr 27, 2009 at 6:57 AM
Found these two almost furry looking moths mating on my window this morning. At least I think they’re mating. Since they were on the glass I was able to photograph them from the top and bottom. I apologize for dirty window. It’s pollen season down here.
Resa
Atlanta, GA

Mating Moths
Mating Moths

Hi Resa,
Our best guess on this is a Noctuid Moth, possibly in the genus Zale. We couldn’t find an exact match on either BugGuide or the Moth Photographers Group, and we are hoping one of our readers may have a more exact answer for you. Even if we can’t positively identify your amorous couple, we are thrilled to put their photos on our Bug Love page.

Mating Moths
Mating Moths

Comment: Tue, Apr 28, 2009 at 4:30 PM
How about One-spotted Variant, Hypagyrtis unipunctata?
Artemisia

Thanks so much Artemisia,
Hypagyrtis unipunctata , the One-spotted Variant, as pictured on BugGuide is a much better candidate than our original guess of a moth in the genus Zale.  According to BugGuide: “Size wingspan 20-47 mm  Identification
Adult: note scalloped hindwing; extremely variable sexually, seasonally, and geographically; both sexes yellowish-tan to orangish, mottled with white, brown, and blackish; lines and discal spots on all wings black; forewing has pale subterminal spot near costa; colors in spring specimens contrast more than in summer brood; females usually larger with more deeply-scalloped hindwing; melanics commonly occur but paler spot still visible near forewing apex ”  and  “larvae feed on leaves of alder, apple, ash, basswood, birch, cherry, dogwood, elm, fir, hazel, hickory, maple, oak, pine, poplar, rose, serviceberry, willow.”

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts

2 thoughts on “Do Moths Eat Clothes? Unraveling the Truth”

Leave a Comment