Facts, Identification & Control
Moths typically have two pairs of wings covered in scales. They have a coiled proboscis and large compound eyes. Moths vary dramatically in appearance and size depending on the species. Some are massive and others tiny. Certain species of moths are brilliant with metallic colors while other are drab in browns or grey. Most indoor infesting moths are smaller than 2 cm wingspan and often are shades of grey or brown to reddish brown.
Behavior, Diet & Habits
Moth behavior, diet and habits are as varied as their appearance. They range from beautiful pollinators to sneaking blood feeders. Some moths are major agricultural pests, while the majority complete their life cycle with no significant direct impact on man. They often are the food source for many animals, including birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, arachnids and even some plants. Indoors, homeowners most likely encounter moths that are either feeding on stored pantry items or on fabrics.
Although they are most famous for their ability to ruin wool clothing, webbing clothes moths are also attracted to a variety of other natural materials, including silk, hair, felt, fur and feathers. These moths tend to measure 2.5 to 5 cm in length and are buff colored.
They avoid light and are most commonly found in dark locations such as basements, attics and closets. Within these locations, moths can be found in the folds of fabrics or hiding in corners. Moths are capable of infesting a home long before their populations are noticed. As a result, substantial damage can occur to clothing or furnishings.
Webbing clothes moth larvae, not the adults, are responsible for destroying clothing. They prefer animal-based fabrics. Moths may consume sweaters, coats, blankets, carpets, decorative items, comforters, pillows and toys. They prefer not to feed on synthetic fibers, but will consume blended and stained fabrics.
While some are harmless and others are known to be beneficial for their silk and nutritional value, most moths and caterpillars are considered nuisance pests. A few, including the Io moth, the saddleback caterpillar moth and the southern flannel moth, are more concerning because the larvae can sting. Particularly in agricultural communities, some moth and caterpillar populations cause severe damage. Gypsy moth caterpillars are known to damage forested areas in the northern United States. Fruit farms suffer from codling moth infestations, while cabbages and mustard crops are often destroyed by the diamondback moth. Some moth larvae are known to consume cotton, tomatoes and corn. These larvae are commonly referred to as cotton bollworms, tomato fruitworms and corn earworms. Some moth species are also known to eat fabrics made from natural fibers, such as wool and silk.
How Do They Get Inside the Home?
The most common ways that moths get inside are by flying through an open door or window and being unintentionally brought inside via infested food products, infested plants, on infested fabric items and on our clothing when a moth lands on a piece of our clothing and is unknowingly brought inside a home or business.
To prevent or minimize moth entry, inspect all food products brought into the home. This is particularly important with pet foods and grain-based products. Be sure to inspect clothing, furniture, fabrics and rugs and plants for the immature or the adult moth stages before bringing them inside a home or business. Another effective way to limit moth entry into a structure is to use outdoor lighting only when necessary since lights are a significant moth attractor around the home at night.
Signs of a Moth Infestation
Moth signs depend greatly on the species. Indoors, moths are detected by the adults as they fly about the room or rest on surfaces. Fabric-feeding moths are detected when feeding damage to fabrics is discovered. Some will also leave webbing, cocoons and even droppings as evidence of their activity. Stored product moths may leave behind damaged food items, webbing and droppings as well. Some moths will leave their food source when it time to pupate. The pupae may be seen in corners of cabinets, drawers or walls.
The use of common pesticides is not advised in treating a moth infestation. The most effective solution for indoor infesting moths is to identify the moth and the breeding materials. Once found, the breeding materials should be addressed according to the item. For professional assistance, contact a pest control professional.