Light Theme · Dark Theme
Facebook Share Button Twitter Share Button Reddit Share Button

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. All product links on this page are monetized.
Special Offer: Try Backblaze Unlimited Online Backup for free!

Biology and Identification of Clothing Moths


Hole in fabric eaten by clothing moth larvae

Textile-infesting moths, or clothing moths, are economically important household pests. They annually cause millions of dollars in damage to stored woolens and furs, leather goods, tapestries, valuable artifacts, silk products, hunting trophies, leather furniture, and occasionally musical instruments that have silk or leather parts.

Clothing moths also infest some stored animal-based foods, especially dried meats and dry pet food.

Although they feed only on animal proteins, clothing moths can also damage synthetic fibers that are stained with human or animal by-products, as well as blended textile products that are woven from both animal and non-animal fibers (for example, a fabric that contains both wool and polyester). In either case, the damage occurs when they consume the animal-based component of the textile product. No specie of moth actually eats synthetic fibers.

As is the case with most stored-product pests, it is the larvae of clothes moths who do the actual damage by feeding upon the animal-based components of the products they infest. The adults do not feed. Their sole job is to reproduce, depositing as many eggs as possible on or near a suitable source of food.

Identifying Clothing Moths

RoboForm: Learn more...

Although clothes moths cause similar damage, do-it-yourself clothing moth control begins with properly identifying the specie of moth that is infesting your home or business. Proper identification will enable you to more effectively and permanently treat the moth infestation.

Effective moth control treatment methods usually rely at least in part on the use of clothing moth traps that emit simulated pheromones, which are chemicals that moths and other insects emit, especially as part of the mating process. Pheromone-enhanced traps are highly effective, but most are somewhat specific with regard to which species of insects they attract. A trap formulated to attract and trap one specie of moth might not be effective at attracting another. In order to be sure you're purchasing the correct trap, you need to know what kind of moths you have, and purchase traps that include that specie of moth on the label.

Other traps utilize food-based scents that are designed to mimic the preferred food sources of various moths. Once again, these tend to be specific to certain moth species (although not as much so as pheromone traps); so a trap designed to control one kind of moth may or may not be effective at attracting other moths.

Common Clothing Moth Species

Webbing Clothes Moths

Close up of a webbing clothes moth

Adult webbing clothes moths are about 1/2 inch (about 1.25 cm) in length and are buff or bronze in color with some reddish coloration on the head. The males are very strong fliers, but the females cannot fly very well. Typically it is the males who seek and find the females during the mating process.

As is the case for many moth species, adult webbing clothes moths don't live very long. They usually live for only 15 to 30 days after they emerge from their cocoons, during which their sole job is to mate and for the females to deposit eggs on or near a food source.

Although at least the females are attracted to potential sources of food, the adults of either sex do not feed and do not cause any damage to fabrics.

The females' ability to find food sources exists for the sole purpose of helping her find suitable places to lay her eggs. That will be her one and only child-rearing duty. As with moths in general, the young will complete their entire life cycle from eggs to adults without parental assistance.

Larval webbing clothes moths are creamy white in color and about 1/2 inch (about 1.25 cm) in length. They construct silken feeding tubes and patches, which have the appearance of webbing (hence the common name webbing clothes moth).

Casemaking Clothes Moths

Close up of a casemaking clothes moth

Adult casemaking clothes moths (also known as "case-bearing clothes moths" in some regions) are darker in color and slightly smaller than Webbing clothes moths, and usually have three dark spots on the wings that may be quite prominent or rather pale.

Casemaking clothes moth larvae have a distinctive habit of constructing a silken "case" around themselves and carrying it about with them. The case is usually close in color to whatever food they're eating. When it is time to pupate, the larva fully pulls itself into the case, seals both ends with silk, and pupates inside of it; so the case eventually becomes the cocoon.

Like the webbing clothes moth, casemaking clothes moths feed only as larvae. The adults do not feed and they die shortly after mating.

Casemaking clothes moth larvae prefer feeding on animal-derived foods such as wool, leather, feathers, animal carcasses, and so forth. They'll also eat plant-based foods if need be, however, especially tobacco, tea leaves, potpourri, and some spices. Like webbing clothes moths, they ignore synthetic fabrics unless they are blended with organic fibers or have been stained with food, sweat, blood, or other organic matter.

Casemaking clothes moths are much less common than webbing clothes moths and are encountered primarily in the Southern United States and points south.

A useful guide to identifying and treating clothes moths and other textile pests can be found here.


Related Page: Clothing Moth Control


Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial