There are two main types of clothes moth found in the UK – the Webbing Clothes Moth and the Case-Bearing Clothes Moth.
The larvae of this clothes moth are considered a serious pest, as they can derive nourishment from clothing – in particular wool, but many other animal-based natural fibres such as cashmere, angora, silk, leather, fur and feathers.
The Webbing clothes moth larvae prefers moist conditions, although low humidity will merely slow down its growth and transformation into adult moths. Webbing Clothes Moths are small moths whose adults grow to between 1 and 2 cm in length. Their eggs are very small, most being under 1 mm long and very hard to spot. A female adult will often lay several hundred during her short lifetime; the site for laying eggs is carefully found to maximize the chances of survival of the emerging larvae.
The eggs are attached with a glue-like substance and can be quite difficult to remove. After the egg hatches, the clothes moth larva will immediately look for food. Clothes moth larvae can obtain their required food to turn into adults within two months, but if conditions are unfavorable they will feed intermittently for a long time and can live for up to 2 ½ years. The larva will spin a cocoon in which it will pupate and change into an adult webbing clothes moth. Clothes moth larvae stay in these cocoons for between six and eight weeks and then emerge as adults ready to mate and to lay eggs.
The Webbing Clothes Moth is notorious for feeding on clothing and natural fibres; they have the ability to turn keratin (a protein found in hair and wool) into their food. The moths prefer dirty fabrics and are especially attracted to carpeting and clothing that contains traces of sweat or other liquids that have been spilled onto them. They are attracted to these areas for the moisture imparted to the fabric: the clothes moth caterpillars do not drink and hence their food sources must contain moisture.
Adult clothing moths and their larvae dim or dark areas. The clothes moth larvae will also crawl under skirting boards in search of darkened areas where debris has gathered and which consequently hold good food. Once the reproduction is complete, the adult Webbing clothes moths die. Contrary to what most people believe, adult moths do not eat or cause any damage to clothing or fabric. It is the clothes moth larvae which are solely responsible for damage to clothing and carpets, and which spend their entire time eating and foraging for food.
The adults of the Case-bearing Clothes Moth are typically found during summer and early autumn (e.g. between June and October in the UK), but Case-bearing Clothes Moths that live in centrally-heated houses may be seen all year-round.
The adults of the Case-Bearing Clothes Moth have a wingspan of 9–16 mm and their forewings are mottled brown with one large and a few smaller indistinct black spots (see picture). The back wings are plain pale brown-grey. Both the forewings and the hindwings are edged by a hairy fringe. The case-bearing moth larvae eat similar food sources to the Webbing Clothes Moth. They can become a pest in the home due to their feeding on carpets, upholstery and woolen fabrics. But they also eat other suitable detritus, including cobwebs, bird nests, stored vegetables and wallpaper. The Case-bearing Clothes Moth builds itself a portable case out of food debris such as fibres and hairs, in which they can hide.
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