What Do Moths Eat?

What do moths eat

So, what do moths eat?  If you have ever searched through your dresser to find an old wool sweater from a past Christmas, then you might also know about the destructive powers of the common everyday moth. They are called the Tineola Bissellella, or the common clothes moth. They can cause extremes of damage to clothing, fabrics, furnishings, books, furs, and many other belongings.

Many people understand that moths will destroy clothing, but these are creatures that do not just eat through cloth. So what is it that moths eat?

A short answer is keratin, but more about that in a second. First we should discuss how moths become full grown and where their eggs are laid, which maybe unnerving for some readers. Because it is in your very own clothing, that moths lay eggs that hatch into larvae. Oh my goodness.

Larvae on Clothes

Moth Larvae on Clothes

The Larval Stage of Moths

The first reason that clothes moths seem to only eat fabrics and similar materials is due to the primary stage of their life cycle. It is during the larval stage (also known as the caterpillar stage) that a moth eats and destroys sweaters, and the like. Mature clothes moths lay eggs between fabric fibers or other areas with suitable food sources for the eggs after their hatching occurs.

The common moth will emerge from an egg and immediately begin to feed. The larva feeds on a constant basis, until it spins a complete cocoon, and only stops when it is large enough to fit its exoskeleton. Once this is shed and the molting process is over, a newer larger one is formed, then the larvae continues to eat.

Larvae have white translucent bodies measuring just a millimeter in length. The larvae has modified mandibles that perform tasks such as eating and spinning silk for a cocoon. The larvae seeks out a proper meal from a large enough food source. Once it finds a good place, it will start spinning silk into a fine tube-like webbing around its body. This silk webbing extends ahead of the larvae as it eats its way moving around. This silk tube attaches the larvae to its primary food source.

Common clothes moth

Common Clothes Moth

What Makes Moths Eat Clothing?

Many fabrics contain the protein keratin. It is a protein that makes up most human nails and hair. This acts as a fibrous protein in many natural materials. High keratin content in any particular material makes those materials stronger. The majority of insects cannot eat or digest keratin readily, nor can they eat a hole through paper, wool, or silk products.

The common clothes moth can do these things. It has the ability to digest and eat keratin. With the large abundance of natural fibers in most households, and that other insects do not compete for it, makes keratin a resourceful choice to eat for moths. The dresser drawer contents in your home make for a feasting buffet, one that nobody but the clothes moth comes to eat. Moth larvae can eat all they need, which is why many sweaters have been destroyed in their wake.

How to Keep Moths Away From Your Clothing

Today there are new techniques to prevent moths from laying their eggs and eating away at your stored clothing. Some companies use the chemicals cypermethrin and permethrin on wool clothing directly. It is also possible to deter moths with very extreme heat or cold, because such temperature shifts can kill adult moths and their hatching larvae.

Another method is storing clothing that is potentially moth damaged in air tight containers. You can do this with vacuum sealed storage bags, when the clothing is not in regular use. If this all seems a bit much, an easy way to prevent clothing damage from moths is using good old mothballs. The smell from mothballs maybe a bit strong, but they contain a strong chemical repellent that works like a charm. That chemical scent repels moths, even more than it does human beings. So that Christmas sweater will be safe until next year again, if you choose to keep your home moth free with one of these proven clothing safe methods. Good luck!