Moths come in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes, and are most commonly seen outdoors at night. They are the well known cousin of the butterfly, and are widely considered a nuisance pest. Though they have a short lifespan, they serve primarily as a food source for other animals.
While moths are not difficult to eradicate, the key to controlling their damage is in prevention. The adult moth that we see flying around is mainly concerned with reproducing and laying eggs; it is the larvae that does all the damage. So then the question is: what are moth larvae, where do we find them, and how do we prevent them from causing damage in our homes?
There are two main types of moth infestation that may occur in the home; that of the pantry moth, and the clothes moth. Pantry moths, or grain moths, will produce larvae that feed on cereal, flour, and other foods. Clothes moth larvae feed on animal based fabric – wool, hair, silk, fur, felt, and even feathers. Moths are seldom seen because they avoid light. They are commonly found in basements, attics, or closets, where they may live in corners and in the folds of fabric. Because moths tend to seek undisturbed dark spaces, it is often only after we find their damage, that we become aware of an infestation.
The most common way for moths to enter the home is through an open door or window. Grain moths may also enter in infested food items, and clothes moths may enter in infested fabric. Some ways to prevent an infestation in your home are to limit using outdoor lighting, which attracts moths, and to inspect the food and fabric you bring home for webbing or cocoons.
If you have seen signs of moths in your home already, it is important to treat the problem. They will only repopulate until they have extinguished their food sources. Pantry moths will likely be the easiest to spot, because they infest areas with stored food. You may notice small, whitish worms (up to 2/3 inches long) or clumps of webbing in your food, small brownish moths flying around the lights, and cocoons on the tops of cabinets or in the corners of drawers. To get rid of these pests, you have to dispose of all infested food, vacuum up any crumbs inside cabinets, and thoroughly scrub shelves. To prevent further infestation, you should store food in airtight, rigid containers (rather than in plastic bags) and keep pet and bird food stored in containers away from the kitchen.
Clothes moths may be more difficult to spot right away, but you will find evidence of them in fabric that has holes in it or irregular patterns of surface feeding. These pests cannot digest cellulosic fibers such as cotton, linen, and rayon, or synthetic fibers such as nylon and acrylic; they prefer wool, hair, silk, fur, and felt. Clothes moth larvae are creamy white caterpillars that reach up to 1/2 inch in length. They commonly infest wool sweaters, coats, or blankets that have been stored. However, they may also infest carpets, toys, upholstered furniture, or down pillows and comforters. Clothes moths avoid items that are in regular use. Sometimes though, they can breed in hair-based accumulations under furniture, behind base boards, or inside vents and air ducts.
To remove these infestations, it’s important to thoroughly vacuum all carpeting and upholstered furniture. While doing this pay special attention to corners and out of the way places by using vacuum attachments such as crevice tools. Clothing and bedding should also be laundered or dry-cleaned, especially before it is stored, as body oils on clothing can attract the pests. For severe infestations, it may take up to three weeks of treatment to ensure that all stages of the pest are removed.
Moth larvae are rarely seen, but can easily cause damage that can become very costly. Whether the affected items are expensive furs or sentimental items like old blankets, unless you thoroughly treat the infestation, the moths will return. It’s important to protect those irreplaceable items. When it comes to moth infestation, prevention is key. Knowing how to store items and what areas may need extra attention when cleaning is essential. This will create an environment that is not conducive to the life cycle of moths. Awareness is more than half the battle with these pests; the best way to protect your home is to identify the signs early and prevent them from repopulating.