Do moths eat your clothes? These are actually their hungry little caterpillars – here’s how to get rid of them


By Ying Lou, Australian National University and Andreas ZwickMolecular Systematist, CSIRO Canberra, January 5 (The Conversation) Have you opened up your post-containment wardrobe to find that some of your beautiful summer clothes have holes in them? You probably blame the clothing moths, but the real culprits are the larvae (caterpillars).

But who are these butterflies? The fact that they feed on your precious clothes, fabrics and threads actually reflects an interesting and – for moths – unusual biology.

An Old Enemy The earliest references to clothing moths in Greek and Roman literature suggest that humans have struggled with clothing moths for thousands of years. Clothing moths are part of an ancient lineage of moths (Tineidae) and as such have retained some bizarre behaviors and adaptations that have led a few species to become parasites.

The most well-known moth species in Australia are the clothing moth (Tineola bisselliella) and the clothing moth (Tinea pellionella). These common names refer to the appearance of silk spun by caterpillars as a shelter.

Adult clothing ringworm ranges in size from 4mm to 9mm, about the size of a grain of rice. Once the larvae turn into adult butterflies, they never eat again.

An Inconvenient Diet The evolutionary origin of clothing moths diverged from 98% of all other moths a long time ago, so these moths do some things differently from most other moths.

Most tineid species do not feed on living plants like “normal” caterpillars, but on rotten wood, fungi, lichens, trash, and even bat poo in caves. So it’s no surprise that some species even feed on the keratin (a kind of protein) found in natural fibers.

They love to nibble on objects derived from animals such as fur, wool and silk. But synthetics or blended fibers in your wardrobe aren’t safe, either. Clothing moth larvae are known to feed on synthetic and mixed fibers, especially those stained with sweat or food. The preferred diet of these caterpillars means that some species have become unwanted pests in our homes.

Not all clothing moths are pests! Fortunately, only a few species of this group containing more than 2,600 species are pests. In Australia, we have over 190 known species of moths belonging to the clothing moth group, and many other anonymous specimens in the Australian National Collection of Insects are waiting for scientists to officially name them.

Researchers are working to better understand the diversity and behavior of moths that feed unconventionally, including the authors of this article. One of us (Ying Luo) is currently studying moths whose larvae feed on the inside of a leaf rather than the outside of a leaf. Fortunately, you won’t find them in your wardrobe.

Why are they with me and how can I get rid of them? Introduced clothing moths are a well-established pest in Australia and were brought here by accident. But how did they get into your house? Unfortunately, you probably brought the eggs or larvae home yourself. They may have been hidden away in an item of clothing bought in the op-shop, borrowed from a friend, or even bought new at a branded department store.

One of the best ways to control clothing moths is to check your clothes regularly. Like their wild cousins, clothing moths like dark, enclosed spaces.

You can try storing your clothes in bins or plastic bags, but that may mean you check your clothes less often. You might risk sealing some moth larvae with your clothes.

If you haven’t used certain clothes – summer clothes stored in the winter for example, or any work or go-out clothes that were left in the closet during the lockdown – then this is the perfect environment for the larvae of clothing moths to settle down for a good quiet feast.

Take them out to wash and air them every now and then, and you can even freshen up your wardrobe while you’re at it.

If you already have an infestation, you should remove all of your clothes from the closet and give the space a good vacuum. Some larvae may even be present in the carpet (if you have any). Wash all clothes before putting them back in the closet.

What about mothballs? Modern mothballs are a crystallized form of a chemical known as 1,4-dichlorobenzene (C₆H ₄Cl₂).

Over time, it transforms (or “sublimates”) into a gas, which produces the strong odor you probably associate with mothballs.

They are used to deter moths, but if you already have an infestation, mothballs won’t help.

And you may need a high enough concentration to be effective. At this point, you may not particularly like the strong smell of mothballs on your clothes.

Here at the Australian National Insect Collection, even we have to keep an eye out for unwanted insects! We use a commercial form of ‘mothballs’ to deter pests and quarantine incoming specimens to prevent future infestations. But don’t worry about quarantining your clothes, we’ve found that careful observation is also an effective way to stay on top of harmful moths! (The conversation) VM VM

(This story was not edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)


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