There over 12,000 different species of moths in North America that grow from caterpillars. In their Caterpillar form, they usually feed on plants but there are some that live on dry, dead food. There are two species of clothes moths in North America; the casemaking clothes moth, and the webbing clothes moth.
The caterpillars of clothes moths eat clothes to extract moisture to nourish them through their life cycle. Clothes moths do not have tongues and do not eat or drink so rely on this early nourishment.
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What Do Clothes Moths Eat?
The caterpillars of clothes moths live on dried fungi as well as deadwood, and the skin and fur of dead animals. This also includes fabrics that are used in closes such as leather, wool, fur, and silk. They do not usually eat synthetic fibers or cotton.
These moths used to live in birds nests and the nests of bees and wasps but have moved indoors as houses are an ideal habitat. As houses are kept warm throughout winter, the moths do not need to hibernate. More than one generation of clothes moths can live each year and adults can be found in all seasons.
Most species of moths that come into your house are not clothes moths. Moths that come into the house that are attracted to the light are harmless, night–flying species. Close moths are not attracted to the light and can be seen trying to hide when disturbed. Close moths are much smaller than most species of moths, about a quarter to half an inch.
Clothes moths cannot eat or drink as they have no tongue. This is also true for many outdoor moths which is one of the reasons they have short lives. House moths can live indoors for up to a month as adults in which they survive on the food stores from the caterpillar stage. As their food supply is provided by what they eat as a caterpillar, it is the caterpillars that do so much damage to clothes.
What Do Clothes Moths Look Like?
Clothes moths have a different shape than house moths. Around the tip of their front wing, they have a row of long hairs which can be seen above the level of the head and body from the side. They are a golden brown color, and much smaller than typical house moths.
The casemaking moth is slightly larger than the common clothes moth and has dark spots on their brown wings. The caterpillars make a silk case that protects their bodies. This is an open-ended case which it drags around with it. The tube is open at each end so the caterpillar can feed.
The female clothes moths mate soon after they hatch before spending the next few weeks to find places to lay between 40 and 70 eggs. Although you may see moths in your wardrobe these will have already laid their eggs and killing them will not protect your clothes.
Caterpillars of clothes moths live on dry food in a dry habitat but maintain the moisture in their body. Clothes made from animals such as wool, hair, or feathers are made of keratin. Keratin is indigestible to most insects and all mammals, however, the caterpillars of clothes moths can break down keratin with a special enzyme produced in their gut. This allows the moth to produce nourishment and moisture in dry habitats.
Caterpillars have waterproof skin which is covered by a very thin layer of wax and it is this waxy layer that stops the body fluids of the caterpillar from drying out. However, if this layer of wax is damaged then the caterpillar will dry out and die very quickly.
Preventing Moth Damage
Clothes moths often find their way into houses from birds nests which they build on the eaves and in lofts. Clothes and will and articles should not be stored in the loft where they will attract the moths from the birds nests.
Clothes that are stored for regular use should be cleaned often as should carpets and curtains. Items made from wool or fur are the most at danger from these types of moths.
There are many types of clothes moth traps which you can find on Amazon. Many of these use pheromones to attract clothes moths.