Clothes moths have a complete metamorphosis. That means they have an egg, larvae, pupa and adult stage just like a butterfly. Adults are unable to feed and it is the larvae stage, which are small cream-colored caterpillars with brown head capsules, that damage fabrics. In houses, they are most frequently pests of clothing, carpets, rugs, upholstery fabrics, piano felts, brush bristles, blankets, hair from pets, furs, lint from woolens, and any stored wool or silk products. These products all contain the animal derived protein keratin. |
The term "clothes moth" is properly used in connection with the webbing clothes moth, the casemaking clothes moth, and the tapestry or carpet moth. The first two species are more common, while tapestry moths occur only infrequently. These are all small moths, as adults have a wingspread of less than 1/2 inch. Their habits are different from most moths because they are rarely seen flying around lights at night. Rather, they prefer dark closets, attics or other areas and tend to live in dark corner.
Fabric-destroying insects cause much damage each year. In addition to large losses in commercial fabric manufacturing and storage operations, the many small damages caused in households add up to a significant figure. A hole in a $250 suit usually means a new suit will be purchased, a patch of carpet damaged under a sofa may require purchase of new carpeting the next time furniture is re-arranged. Other materials which are readily infested include sweaters, coats, upholstery, piano felts, blankets and any other woolen products. Furs, hair, leathers and hides, feathers, horns, insect and animal collections and such stored foods as meat, fish, meal and milk products are also vulnerable to these insects. Synthetic fibers and cellulose materials are damaged only incidentally, often because they are soiled with greasy food stains, body oils, or other residues which are the primary object of the insect attack.
Just as the termites and some other pests create problems because of their ability to attack and utilize cellulose, the insect pests of fabrics are troublesome because of their ability to digest and utilize keratin as an energy source. Although the word keratin may seem rather foreign, it is a very important material to people. Keratin is the chief protein constituent of such human tissues as hair, fingernails and skin. In other mammals, keratin is the chief structural protein in horns, hoofs, and feathers. Keratin is a protein which is quite stable chemically and is very resistant to most means of digestion. Few animals are able to digest keratin, and these include only a relatively small number of insects. This peculiar ability to digest keratin, coupled with our widespread use of wool and other animal hair, is the basis of fabric pest problems in our societies.
There are other insects capable of damaging fabrics by chewing or shredding, but they do not have the ability to digest keratin. Silverfish, cockroaches, crickets, and earwigs fall into this category. However, they are not considered true fabric pests.
The most important fabric-destroying insects in the United States include two moths and four carpet beetles, although various other insect species may cause some damage occasionally or may be important locally. In recent years, there seems to have been an increase in carpet beetle problems throughout much of the United States, more so than clothes moth problems. The reasons for this resurgence are not clear. However, contributing factors probably include a trend in consumer preferences toward garments made of wool, silk, furs or feathers (and away from polyesters and other synthetics) and cancellation of registrations for use of long residual chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticides (e.g., DDT and Chlordane) against these fabric pests.
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