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When you opened your closet door and a tiny moth fluttered out, you would have been right to groan. Clothing moths like to stick close to the scene of the crime. When you see the moth, you're seeing the end of a life cycle that can last over two years.
Know Your Moth
Generally, moths aren't a welcome sight in the house because it means they've been feeding on something. The food moth is looking for entrance into your pantry to infest your grains, while the clothes moth is interested in infesting your wardrobe. To get an idea of which type of moth you're dealing with, watch him fly. The food-infesting moth will fly in a steady, direct manner, while the clothes moth flutters about, sticking close to the items he's taken a liking to.
There are two types of clothing moths to contend with: the webbing clothes moth (Tineola bisselliella) and the casemaking clothes moth (Tinea pellionella). Both are about 1/4 inch long, with the casemaking moth having a brown color, while the webbing moth sports a gold color. The webbing moth eschews synthetics, cottons and other plant materials, preferring wool, hair, feathers, fur and similar animal materials. The casemaking moth isn't so picky and will infest felt, wool, carpets and tapestries, feathers and furs, as well as dried herbs, tea and seeds.
Making More Moths
Both types of clothing moths go through the same life cycle. During a two- or three-week period, a female moth will lay an average of 40 to 50 eggs. Hatching time depends on temperature and humidity, but generally, it takes four to 10 days for eggs to hatch. The eggs hatch as larvae, which is when they do their nasty work of eating your clothes. A larva can remain in his larval state for up to two and a half years, molting as many as 45 times. He'll spend his time eating his way through your wardrobe while he waits for the right time to transform into a moth. When he's the right size and the environmental conditions are correct, the moth will begin to pupate, spinning a cocoon for his metamorphosis. It takes about eight to 10 days for a moth to pupate. When fully formed, a moth will emerge, ready to help the cycle begin again.
Suck Them Up
The emerging moth isn't the problem, because he's not the one eating your clothes; however, don't roll out the welcome mat for him. He signals potential infestation and can be responsible for adding to the problem. Keeping a clean house can help with clothing moths; frequent and thorough vacuuming minimizes eggs and larvae on carpets and rugs, as well as upholstered furniture. Moths are drawn to animal hair, so clean up after Fluffy and Buddy. They're also drawn to human oils and odors in clothing, so make sure the clothes you put in storage are clean to keep from attracting the insects. If you have an infestation, launder and dry clean the items and don't use pesticides on clothes or bedding.
- University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources: Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program: Clothes Moths
- Penn State University College of Agricultural Sciences Entomology: Clothes Moth
- Moth Prevention: The Clothes Moth Life Cycle
- New Mexico State University College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences: Preventing Damage from Clothes Moths and Carpet Beetles
- Stewart Sutton/Digital Vision/Getty Images