The life of a clothes moth

The life of a clothes moth and its impact on you

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.

The lifecycle of a moth

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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.

What should I look for?

If you do find an unexpected hole in your jumper, chances are that the larvae are at work. To identify them look for cream caterpillars with black heads. They may already be pupating or have already pupated, in which case there will be small tubes made up of the garment’s fibre.

Look out for the female moths that are about 2cm wide, with white heads and white wings, and that have a black and cream front with a pale grey on the hind. These moths rarely fly, it is in fact only the males that flutter around locating the females. It is the females who prefer to hop around and try to find food and hideouts.

What can I do?

Persistent care is imperative to keep the moths away. However, if you do have an infestation, it is only by destroying the eggs and disrupting the vicious lifecycle that the problem can be solved long term.

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