Webbing Clothes Moth

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Overview

The webbing clothes moth, Tineola bisselliella, is one of the most common pests of fabric and feeds on feathers, horn, hair, wool and silk. Items attacked include the carcass of dead animals, wool carpets, horse hair insulation, wool clothes and furs. This moth is mostly hidden from view and after damage has been done and the moths have built up in numbers, then they are noticed as they fly to new locations.

Identification

This common moth is a uniform light brown color with a tuft of reddish-golden hairs on top of its head. The edges of the wings are fringed. Adult moths are one quarter inch long. Weak flyers, most are found close to their food source. The moths tend to flutter around and are easily collected for examination.

The catterpillar stage feeds directly on the fabric of choice, with a red head and white body these insects crawl rapidly over the surface. Small patches of silk webbing are constructed into feeding tubes and the caterpillars attach excrement and particules of fabric to the web as a temporary cover.

Biology

Female moths can lay up to 50 eggs in three weeks before they die. Eggs are attached by an adhesive to the fabric threads. After about one week the eggs hatch into the caterpillar or feeding stage. Depending on the quality of the food caterpillars can take anywhere from one month to two years to develop into an adult. In many cases a piece of fabric is re-infested repeatedly by a population of moths so that extensive damage can occcur over time. The caterpillars avoid light during feeding and prefer to be in hidden locations such as under rugs beneath furniture. Fabrics with food or moisture stains are more subject to damage.

Control

Individuals can first attempt to locate the source of a moth infestation prior to any chemical application. One of the most important steps to take in a home with wool items including rugs and clothes is to inspect these items on a regular basis to see that they are not being damaged by moths. This includes checking under the edge of floor carpets, especially in dark corners or where furniture is resting on the carpet. Lift up the edge of the carpet and if you see small amounts of fabric debris beneath this is a likely infestation area.

Cleaning of suspect wool items by laundering them in hot water is effective. Also brushing and vacuuming rugs and other wool items.

Napthalene, the active ingredient in moths balls has a very limited affect on moths. In a sealed container such as a heavy garmet bag, the crystals evaporate creating a very high concentration that can impregnate clothes with a strong unpleasant odor. In the past, the odors from solid cedar heartwood had a better result but most ceder in the present is veneer or not heartwood and has less value.

Trapping moths using a sex attractant will bring in male moths but is unlikely to eliminate the infestation. This is because there are still many females near the infested item that continue to mate and lay more eggs.

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