Possibly a Clothes Moth

2024 February 3

On January 13, 2024, I found this little moth (about the length of an uncooked rice grain) fluttering around in our front hallway. So I caught it for pictures. This is another one where the head is covered by a messy mass of fuzz.

I also refrigerated it so that it would hold still while I got pictures of its underside and side.

The side view came out a bit dark because it was caught in the lid of the jar I refrigerated it in.

Normally there would be a lot of possibilities for a little moth like this, except that I found it in mid-January, which narrows down the field quite a lot. It was either something that came in as a pupa on our Christmas tree[1], or it was one of the very small set of moths that can actually live and mature in houses.

And, that second possibility would be basically clothes moths.

So, checking Tineola_bisselliella, the Common Clothes Moth, we see that this is, in fact, a pretty close match. Google Lens concurs on this, it doesn’t really suggest any other plausible matches.

This could, potentially, be bad. While adult clothes moths do not feed, their caterpillars eat wool clothing and other animal products. Depending on conditions, they can apparently live as caterpillars for up to two years before maturing. And we do have some wool clothing (mainly coats and jackets) in our hall closet.

The question then becomes, if this is a clothes moth, is it only the first appearance from a large, hidden population? Or do we have (as yet) only a small infestation? And in any case, where might they be?

The Wikipedia page lists a bunch of control measures for clothes moths, but they mostly kind of depend on spotting the infestation on particular articles of clothing. So far, I haven’t seen any evidence of caterpillar activity, or found any more moths, so presumably we have caught them fairly early.

It turns out that you can buy pheromone-lure sticky traps that can be hung in the closet. These will attract and catch any male moths that emerge, making it impossible for female moths to mate and lay eggs. More importantly, they provide a means for detecting whether the moths are even present. So, I bought a 6-pack of “Dr. Killigan’s Clothing Moth Traps”, and hung them up in all the closets that contain woolen clothing. These just went up yesterday, and I haven’t caught any more moths yet, but I will obviously keep an eye on them for the next couple of months just to make sure.

Anyway, clothes moths have a diet similar to carpet beetles. In addition to wool clothing, they will eat hair, feathers, skin flakes, dried meat, and even flour, bran, and other grain products. They are evidently fond of the underside of handmade wool carpets, too. They originated somewhere in Asia, but have followed humans all around the world, eating all sorts of stored wool and related things.

I wondered if they would also infest hair that is still on the animal, particularly sheep. If they did, it would be kind of a disturbing picture, with a sheep that hasn’t been sheared for a while having little caterpillars rummaging around in its thick wool, eating the hairs and pupating. In fact, I could picture this happening to any heavy-furred animal that retains its hair for a long time, maybe even humans with dreadlocks. However, this thankfully is apparently not the case. The consensus appears to be that clothes moth larvae do not eat hair that is still on a living animal, they apparently don’t like the skin oils or the constant disturbance as the animal moves around.

And while sloths have_moths, they are something entirely different. They hang out in the sloth’s hair, but actually feed on their feces.

[1] It is still possible that this is not in fact a clothes moth. We did have a Christmas tree, and I found the moth about a day after we took the tree down. So it could be a false alarm. Better safe than sorry, though.

One Response leave one →
  1. February 19, 2024

    As for the moths living on sheep, I would think that the motion of the sheep would be too rough for the tender bodies of a caterpillars. One brush against a tree and SMUSH! Sloths, being slothful, might be as wild a ride as the caterpillars can handle.

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