Within the dark corners of your wardrobe, hiding in-between cashmeres, all is not what it seems…
The female clothes moth, the Tineola bisselliella, is busy laying miniscule eggs which are poised to hatch into destructive invaders and commence the downward slope of wardrobe disintegration.
All moth species undergo a number of phases in their lifecycle when they reproduce, feed and develop into adults. Understanding the lifecycle and behaviour of the clothes moth is the first step to understanding how to determine if you have an infestation, the severity of the infestation and how to deal with it. Dealing with each life stage will require different methods and tools which are described below.
The lifecycle of a clothes moth
- The eggs are laid: Once mating has occurred, the females lay 40 to 50 eggs over a course of 4-21 days that hatch into eating machine larvae.
- The larvae hatch: These live for an unusually long period of 50 days before they pupate, all the time feeding on the fibres of your clothes.
- The larvae pupate: They wrap themselves in a silken case sealed with excrement and fibre. Whilst pupating they drag their bodies along in their silk turban, eating as they go.
- They become moths: The moths mate and carry on the cycle again, and again, from May until October.
The lifecycle lasts for about 65-90 days, with the female adult moths living for about 30 days and potentially laying up to 300 eggs.
The larvae that hatch from the eggs do the damage, as the adult moths themselves, known as ‘millers’, pose no threat to your knitwear. The larvae are notorious for feeding on wool, hair, leather, cotton, linen, silk and synthetic fibres – practically anything they can get their mouths onto.
Adult stage of the clothes moth
The common clothes moth, also called the Webbing Clothes moth, Tineola bisselliella, is surprisingly small in its adult form at 5-8 mm long.
The adult moth is a buff or beige colour with a small patch of light red hair on the head.
The adult moths are not strong fliers and prefer darkness over light, so you are less likely to see them flying about unless your infestation is heavy, and if you do, you are most likely to see them fluttering about in lower parts of the room. If you do see them higher up it is most likely that they have scaled curtains.
Due to their size, they are difficult to see unless they catch your eye by fluttering about.
The adult clothes moth mates and reproduces but does not feed or cause damage to materials directly.
The adult female clothes moth emits a pheromone which the male clothes moth can detect via his antennae. The male seeks out the female by flying up the pheromone cloud and then mating occurs.
If you see lots of clothes moths fluttering about it is likely that they are males.
Tips to stop adult clothes moths
If you are seeing adult moths flying around you are likely to have a well-established infestation.
Moth trap/moth box
The Moth box attracts male clothes moths to a sticky board to monitor infestation levels.
The Moth decoy uses the same pheromone in a unique tablet like product which spreads the pheromone on the bodies of the males moth, preventing them from finding mates and reducing reproduction and consequent egg laying.
Egg stage of the clothes moth
Once mated, an adult female clothes moth will lay 40 to 50 eggs over 2 to 3 weeks and then dies.
The eggs are laid singly or in small groups, hidden away in materials such as folds of clothing or soft furnishings. The eggs are the size of a pinhead.
In summer the eggs hatch between 4-10 days and take up to three weeks to hatch in winter.
Larval stage of the clothes moth
The eggs hatch into larvae, which look like little creamy coloured worms with a dark head.
The newly emerged larvae are about 1mm long but grow up to 12mm. This is the destructive phase as the larvae have chewing mouth parts and feed on natural materials containing the protein keratin such as cashmere, wool, silk, feathers, furs and leather.
They are unlikely to feed on synthetic fibres, but it is possible if they are soiled with food stains, skin cells and human secretions like sweat.
The larvae create silken threads which looks like webbing. They eat, grow, shed their skins and repeat.
With the right conditions, such as plenty of food, the right humidity and temperature the larvae become fully grown in 35 days however if conditions are not as favourable, then this could take as long as 2.5 years.
Tip to kill clothes moth eggs and larvae
As the temperature starts to rise in spring, the conditions become more favourable to the clothes moth and the life cycle begins to speed up which is why its common to start seeing adult moths at this time of year.
Use this time wisely to get a handle on an infestation as part of a spring clean, wardrobe clean out and change over to spring season garments. Dry clean winter coats and woollen garments as dry-cleaning fluid kills eggs and larvae.
Replace your clothes putting precious out of season items in moth proof breathable storage bags and repel adult moths from returning by using products with natural ingredients which repel clothes moths.
Pupation stage of the clothes moth
The fully grown larvae spins a case like a sleeping bag made of silk approximately 8mm in length and transforms inside to an adult moth.
The adult moth emerges in approximately 8 to 10 days in summer or up to 4 weeks during the winter and the whole cycle starts again.
If left unchecked, each lifecycle leads to a multiplication of the destructive larvae.
What attracts the moths to clothes?
The larvae convert the protein keratin, that is present in hair and wool, into useful nutrients. They do not drink water, so depend on their meal of jumper sleeve for moisture.
Old sweat and liquid spillages provide a perfect feeding site for the hungry hatchlings. The female clothes moths will find a prime site for their eggs to hatch – the dirtier the better!
Not only do they munch away holes, but they also leave their silken cases, silken threads and fecal pellets all over the surface or your garment, which in turn provides new food sources for the next batch.
Stop clothes moth at every stage
Each stage of the clothes moth lifecycle, egg, larvae and adult, require different methods. The best way to get rid of a clothes moth infestation is to use the tools and methods targeted to each life stage in an integrated way.