Clothes Moths Undressed

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Published on: Sep. 2, 2002

Last revision: Nov. 12, 2010

such as felt, hair, silk, fur and feathers. Outside, they survive on rotten wood, fungi and dried carcasses.

Many moths have the beauty of butterflies. Who hasn't come across a striking green one or paused to admire an especially fuzzy, long-antennaed moth clinging to a screen door? Moths outnumber butterflies 14 to 1, and like some butterflies, some beneficial species are vanishing as a result of lost habitat and, possibly, due to pesticides and other pollutants. Moths are near the bottom of the food chain and are eaten by countless birds, mammals, fish, frogs, lizards and turtles. Songbirds eat them by the zillions, and grizzly bears pig out on army cutworm moths to fatten up for hibernation.

Moths recycle nutrients, enrich the soil and pollinate many plants. For the last 5,000 years, the almost completely domesticated species, Bombyx mori, or silk moth, has been responsible for spinning most of the world's supply of silk. Computer scientists have imitated the moth's three-dimensional, grid-patterned eye to design optical software.

Many moths, such as the gypsy moth or corn earworm, damage products useful to humans. People spend millions trying to keep them from eating crops and stored goods. The clothes moths are no exception. They rarely bother items that are used regularly, but they infest stored wool sweaters, pants, coats, carpets, down pillows and comforters, mounted animal trophies and upholstered furniture. Sometimes they turn up in air ducts where larvae feed on lint or fur shed by a family pet. They also can originate from an animal carcass or nest that finds its way into your attic, basement or crawl space.

Moths don't live long as adults. They do their damage as larvae.

Like all lepidoptera, clothes moths undergo metamorphosis. Your favorite sweater tucked away on that top, dark shelf was a perfect place for an adult female to lay 100 to 150 tiny eggs in small spaces between your sweater's fibers. In about five days, the eggs hatched and became small, creamy-white caterpillars, no more than 1/16-inch long. They were equipped with well-developed chewing organs and immediately began moving around in your sweater, eating and searching for a protected place to prepare for cocoon-building. The damage was done.

How long they remain in this larval stage depends on conditions and food supply. A fully grown larva can be up to 1/2-inch long, living in a case that gets bigger as the larva

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