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Moth Facts, Identification and Control moth pests

Scientific Order: Lepidoptera

Common species:

Pantry moths, including the Indian Meal Moth (Plodia interpunctella) 

Fabric pests, including the Webbing Clothes Moth (Tineola bisselliella) and the Casemaking Clothes Moth (Tinea pellionella)

Appearance

 Common pantry pest, the Indian Meal Moth

Indian Meal Moth

  • Size: 12.7 mm (½ inch) body with a 18-20 mm (¾ inch) wingspan. 

  • Color: Prominent wings are multi-colored; the outer ⅔ of the wings are bronze or red-brown with a copper sheen. The last third, closest to the moth’s head, is grey or silver-white. The Indian Meal Moths’ head and thorax are grey-brown, and its abdomen is brown with a copper sheen.

common fabric pest, the Webbing Clothes Moth  

Webbing Clothes Moth

  • Size: Roughly 6.35 mm (¼ inch) body with a 12 mm (½ inch) wingspan. 

  • Color: Gold, wheat-yellow, or tan, with red-golden hairs on the end of its head and tiny gold hairs spanning the length of its wings. Lower wings are lighter gold or tan than upper wings. 

common fabric pest, the Casemaking Clothes Moth 

Casemaking Clothes Moth

  • Size: Roughly 6.35 mm (¼ inch) body with a 12 mm (½ inch) wingspan. 

  • Color: Gold or tan-yellow. Short golden hairs run the length of its body, particularly along its wings. Casemaking clothes moths look similar to webbing clothes moths, but their wings are darker and have faint black spots.

 

Other Characteristics

Indian Meal Moth

  • When not in use, the Indian Meal Moth holds its wings over the top of its body like a roof. The meal moth is capable of quick flight, but tends to look clumsy or erratic while doing it.

Fabric Moths

  • Fabric moths are particularly afraid of humans. If the items they’re resting or feeding on are disturbed, they’ll either run away or fly to another dark, concealed location.

  • Fabric moths are also capable of flight, and also only do so clumsily. Unlike pantry moths, fabric moths prefer to find a source of food and stick close to it. They don’t fly frequently or for long periods of time.

Diet

Indian Meal Moth

  • Contrary to popular belief, adult Indian Meal Moths don’t eat. The adult meal moths you see flying around aren’t directly damaging the grains or sugars in your pantry. Meal moths do lay eggs in food, however, and the resulting larvae eat the food they’re hatched in and the surrounding foods. While they’re at it, they’ll leave behind their telltale silk wherever they feed.

  • Indian Meal Moths are general feeders, which means they’re not picky. They’ll grow and feed on grains, cereals, seeds, sugars, flour, cornmeal, rice dried fruit, dog food, spices, and many other perishable home food staples.

  • Indian Meal Moths and grain pest moths like them are particularly attracted to pantries because they are the part of the house where the moths can get both food and the darkness and dampness that they need. 

Fabric Pests

  • Like pantry moths, adult clothes moths don’t eat. They hatch eggs on fibrous fabrics such as clothing, carpeting, and drapes. When the larvae hatch from their eggs they begin eating that fiber and using it to produce their silk.

  • Fabric moths feed on any dry material of animal origin, not just fabrics.

Behavior

Indian Meal Moth

  • Like most moths, the Indian Meal Moth is active at night and attracted to light.

  • Meal Moths tend to fly in fluttering, erratic patterns rather than straight lines.

  • Fertile females seek out food products to lay their eggs on, so your kitchen, pantry, or food cabinets are all likely targets.

  • Meal moths will often fly into rooms far from their eggs or initial infestation site, including into closets. They’re often mistaken for clothes moths. 

Fabric Moths

  • Famously, Webbing Clothes Moth larvae spin silk webs over the clothing or fabric fibers they feed on. Casemaking Clothes Moths actually spin themselves “cases” that they live inside and drag along with them wherever they go.

  • Fabric moths like the Webbing and Casemaking Clothes Moths crawl considerably more than they fly. If you see moths flying around inside your house, even in your closet, chances are they’re pantry moth pests.

  • Fabric moths gravitate toward closets in particular because, like most pests, they prefer dark, humid locations.

  • Shortly before pupation, both the Webbing and Casemaking Clothes moths seek out a tightly enclosed, dark, and out-of-the-way location like a crack in the wall or ceiling.

Reproduction

Indian Meal Moth

  • An Indian Meal Moths’ full life cycle depends on the temperature of the environment where it happens and can take anywhere between 27 and 305 days. During that time, the meal moths undergo a full metamorphosis from larvae to caterpillar to pupae to adult.

  • Indian Meal Moths reproduce sexually. Female meal moths lay 100 to 400 eggs in their lifetimes. The length of meal moth egg incubation depends largely on the temperature of the area where the eggs were laid. In warm weather, eggs will hatch in 4 to 10 days.

  • Once hatched, larvae eat continuously while spinning webbing, which acts as a temporary shelter and food tunnel. Larvae molt frequently from the time they’re born until they pupate.

  • Pupation occurs when the meal moth larvae has consumed enough food and grown large enough to survive it. Then, it leaves the feeding area to find a good place and spins a silk cocoon, usually on fabric. Pupation lasts roughly 8-10 days in a warm climate and longer in cooler climates. When pupation completes, the moth emerges as a fully-formed adult ready to mate.

Fabric Pests

  • Female adult fabric moths lay an average of 40 to 50 eggs over the course of a couple weeks and die shortly thereafter. Males can continue to live and reproduce throughout their lives.

  • Fabric moth eggs also depend on climate to create favorable hatching conditions. In a warm climate, pantry moth eggs hatch in 4 to 10 days. Hatched larvae begin eating the fabric they hatch on and spinning silk almost immediately.

  • Fabric moths molt between 5 and 45 times, leaving behind their shed skin when they’re finished with it. This type of moth lives longer than fabric moths, and their cycles may take longer too. The larval period, for instance, may be as short as 35 days, or as long as 2 and a half years!

  • However long it takes them, a fabric moths’ pupal stage generally occurs in the larval feeding area. It lasts between 1 and 4 weeks. Like pantry moths, fabric moths spin silken cocoons to finish their metamorphosis and emerge as complete adults.   

Signs of Infestation

Indian Meal Moth

  • Indian Meal Moths primarily infest pantries, cupboards, and other places where they can get food in the dark or damp. Look for small rips or tears in cereal or pasta boxes. Examine bread and other grain products for bite marks, droppings, or remains.

  • Like fabric moths, Indian Meal Moths and other pantry moths lay eggs on food, so newly-hatched larvae have something to eat. They’re particularly fond of laying eggs on cereals or other grain products kept in enclosed containers. Look for small moth eggs or larvae on food products, particularly those stored in the pantry or kitchen.

  • Like most moths, Indian Meal Moths are attracted to light. You may see them flying around lamps at night, particularly on humid days. Try turning off lights around your kitchen and leaving one on, to watch for them.

Fabric Moths

  • Fabric moths infest closets and clothing drawers, where they can eat fabric in the dark. Look for small, telltale bite holes, tearing, or other damage on hanging or folded clothing. Look for any larvae that may still be on the clothes. If you can’t find any but you notice damage, look in corners and crevices for pupae.

  • Fabric moth eggs are tiny, round-or-oval-shaped, and a translucent clear color. They can stick to semi-sheer surfaces such as clothing and may only look like dust or dirt until closer inspection. Look for larvae or eggs on all of your clothing if you suspect an infestation.

  • Larval fabric moths don’t move from the initial hatching site until they’re ready to pupate. At that point, they crawl to a secluded location where they’ll be safe. If you find larvae or adult moths, look for pupae, too. 

Treatment and Prevention

Indian Meal Moth

  • The easiest way to prevent meal moth infestation is to keep all pantry-stored food products in hard plastic containers. Transfer cereal from its original cardboard box into a plastic container, keep all pastas in their own sealed container, and don’t leave bread or sweets out in the open or in plastic wrap. If Indian Meal Moths can’t eat, they won’t want to stay.

  • If you happen to find signs of infestation, dispose of any potentially-infected food as soon as possible by removing it from your home entirely. Don’t just throw it in a indoor garbage can. Then, thoroughly vacuum and scrub down the infected site with a cleaning solution.

  • Thoroughly wash and clean countertops and tables after preparing and eating meals. Don’t leave dishes in the sink, soaking or otherwise, and don’t leave leftovers out on the counter. Vacuum or mop the floor of your dining room frequently.

Fabric Moths

  • Consider keeping cloth clothing, especially clothing made of animal bi-products like wool, in hanging plastic covers.

  • Wash clothing frequently. If you own clothing you don’t wear at least once every two to three weeks, and you don’t keep that clothing in a plastic cover, consider disposing of it or washing it once a month.

  • Make sure the rooms where you store your clothing are dry. If humidity is a problem, consider investing in a dehumidifier.

  • If you find an infestation, dispose of damaged or infested clothing by removing it from your home. Then, run all the clothing you can dry in a machine through your dryer on high for at least 20 minutes. This should kill eggs or larvae still attached to it.

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