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Clothes Moth Identification

Updated on July 24, 2017
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I have studied insects for nearly forty years, and I have also done battle with my share of garden pests.

YES, THIS IS A CLOTHES MOTH -- FAMILY TINEIDAE
YES, THIS IS A CLOTHES MOTH -- FAMILY TINEIDAE

Is This a Clothes Moth?

Clothes moths are small, nondescript brown moths. They are a very specific kind of moth whose larvae -- caterpillars -- feed on stored organic fibers like wool. Contrary to popular belief, the adult moths do not damage your sweaters -- it's their tiny caterpillars. Also contrary to popular belief, none of the moths that come to your porch lights have larvae that eat fibers. Nearly all moth caterpillars live outside and eat leaves. There are only a couple of kinds of moths that you need to worry about, and It's the caterpillars that do all the damage. So it's the caterpillars that you want to control if you want to save your sweaters, rugs, and valuable textiles.

A Clothes Moth and Caterpillars

THIS IS THE CATERPILLAR OF THE CLOTHES MOTH
THIS IS THE CATERPILLAR OF THE CLOTHES MOTH

The Small Caterpillar of the Clothes Moth

The caterpillar that does all of the damage to your stored textiles is a plain, white larva about a half-inch long when full grown. Like all moths, and also like all butterflies, beetles, and many other insects, the caterpillar's main job is to eat. Then it spins a cocoon, and turns into a moth. The moths themselves don't eat. Which means..

The moths do not eat your sweaters! In fact, many kinds of moths don't even have functional mouthparts -- they rely on the caterpillar stage to store up all the energy they'll need for their short life as an adult moth.


This is the Adult Clothes Moth

The adult clothes moth is a plain, drab little insect that you could easily overlook. The moths that come to lights, the larger ones that notice on window sills and so on, are not clothes oths and have no interest whatsoever in your sweaters. They live outside on plants, and if they're in your house the only thing they're really interested in is getting out.

How Clothes Moths Damage your Sweaters

Instead of eating leaves like most caterpillars, the larvae of the clothes moth feed on organic fibers like wool and silk. Aside from being a serious annoyance, it's also pretty amazing that they can get enough usable energy out of these "dead" materials to sustain life and grow. But they can -- unfortunately for your sweaters.

The caterpillars of Tineidae moths often live in shelters made of bits of the material they eat. The very few Tineidae moths that eat stored fibers in your house -- clothes moths -- have larvae that make nests or tubes from tiny bits of fiber held together with silk. They hide in these shelters to stay away from predators. This is a very effective strategy, and Tineidae moths are common insects in nearly all outside environments.

After they have fed and grown to their maximum size, clothes moth caterpillars spin a cocoon among the sweater fibers and go into a resting phase. During the cocoon stage, the organs and tissues of the caterpillar rearrange into the organs tissues of the adult moth. When the time is right, the adult moth emerges from the cocoon. It then goes in search of a mate. After mating, the female moth lays eggs amid organic fibers -- sweaters, for example -- and the tiny caterpillars hatch out and start eating. In this way the entire process is repeated. It's not unusual for several generations of caterpillars and moths to be present in the galleries eating your woolens.


An Adult Clothes Moth and its Larva

The clothes moth caterpillar in its silk shelter

Here's a good photo of a Tineidae larva in the tube it has made to hide in.

Another Tineidae Species in Shelters Made with Sand

If You See a Moth in Your House...

Often the only way you know you have a moth problem is if you find one of the adult moths flying around. Other than holes in your sweaters, when the damage is already done and it's too late, the best way to see the problem coming is to keep your eye out for moths in your house.

If you see little gray moths flying in your house, especially in winter, you probably have a problem. But the problem, as you know, is not the adult moths -- it's their caterpillars. It's time to act to drive those caterpillars out of your house, and away form your sweaters.

Moths Hate Napthalene

The tried and true method for controlling moths is, of course, moth balls. This is naphthalene, a chemical that drives them away. Some people, though,a re sensitive to this chemical, and there is some evidence that it's not healthy for humans. Fortunately, there are natural options that don't use naphthalene to control moths.

I Hope This Article Helped!

Leave a comment if you have any thoughts or feedback. Thanks!

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    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for sharing the useful information about clothes moths. They are interesting insects, even though they are pests!