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Small holes in dearly loved clothes are very annoying. If you discover them (pitting), small animals are the main suspects, so-called textile or material pests such as moths and beetles. But who exactly are the culprits?

In a nutshell

  • Holes in clothing, indication of textile pests
  • First signs of dead or live insects, usually near the window
  • Get into the house via nearby nest boxes, bird, bee, wasp and squirrel nests
  • Control often difficult and lengthy
  • The most common textile pests are clothes moths, fur and carpet beetles

Ravenous moths and bugs in the closet

An infestation with moths and beetles in the closet is not that rare and can occur even in the cleanest of households. The larvae of textile or material pests mainly target animal fibers. Modern synthetic fibers and cotton are largely spared. Moths or beetles are usually content with nectar and pollen and migrate from outside during the warm season. In addition to clothes moths, fur and carpet beetles, fur moths and brass beetles are also worth mentioning. But how can you tell which animal it is?

Clothes moth (Tineola bisselliella)

The moth itself has a body length of four to nine millimeters and a wingspan of 12-16 mm. It lives for two to three weeks and appears more frequently between May and September. Only the larvae, yellow-white caterpillars four to nine millimeters in size, cause damage.
Clothes moths live in warm, dry, and dark places, such as closets, and tamper with clothing, fur, carpets, and other fabrics. A possible infestation can e.g. can be recognized by the empty webs that the larvae build from the textiles.

Source: Syrio, Tineola bisselliella Piazzo 01, edited by Plantopedia, CC BY-SA 4.0

Tip: As soon as you suspect an infestation, you should check which pest you are dealing with. For example, with the help of sticky traps, based on the food marks or where eggs, larvae or webs are located.

damage and control

The larvae of this moth eat holes and bald spots in wool, silk or leather. When it comes to blended fabrics, they attack the wool content. Holes made by the clothes moth have highly irregular edges. The fibers around the holes appear cut off. Scents can help keep lone moths out of the closet. If an infestation is present, it is usually too late for fragrances. Better to quickly sort out affected items of clothing.

  • Dispose of infested clothing in plastic bags with household waste
  • Still usable, wash at a minimum of 60 degrees
  • Heat sensitive for 24 hours at least minus 18 degrees in the freezer
  • Alternately expose non-washable textiles to extreme heat and cold
  • Or direct sunlight for a while
  • Eggs and larvae dry out and die
  • In case of severe infestation, additional use of the parasitic wasp (Trichogramma evanescens)
  • The use of the plant extract neem is also recommended
  • Can stop the development of insect larvae
  • Thoroughly clean the wardrobe, especially all corners and cracks

Tip: To control infestation, it is advisable to set up pheromone traps after control. They are not suitable for direct control, at best for reducing infestation.

Carpet beetle (Anthrenus scrophulariae)

In this animal, which is three to four millimeters in size, it is the larvae that cause the damage. They are about five millimeters in size, black-brown with white rings and very hairy. They often sit between floorboards, where they also feed on hair and dander. Carpet beetles can come into the house to lay their eggs between May and June.

Tip: In sensitive people, the so-called arrow hair can trigger allergies. They can cause allergic reactions of the skin and respiratory tract.

damage and control

The larvae leave similar holes in woolen textiles as the clothes moth. However, the characteristic webs are missing here. If the textiles in question are soiled with sweat or food leftovers, this also attracts these pests.

  • First determine the extent of the infestation using sticky traps
  • Thorough vacuuming of cupboards, chests, etc.
  • Dispose of, wash or freeze infested clothing as previously described
  • Store clothing that is not needed for a long time in sealable bags
  • Control with neem oil or mineral powder preparations
  • Small, sharp-edged particles of natural silicic acid or finely ground diatoms
  • Lay out powder at the hiding places of the animals
  • Pests must come into contact with it

Tip: Commercially, combined preparations of insecticides and essential oils are offered. However, they should only be used to combat and not as a precautionary measure.

Fur beetle (Attagenus pellio)

The fur beetle is one of the most common pests in German wardrobes. A distinction is made between the brown, 2.3 to 4 mm long fur beetle with a darker head and pronotum, and the 5.5 mm long spotted one. It is dark reddish brown to black with lighter elytra, three white hair spots on the neck and one more on the head.
The larvae of the brown fur beetle are about seven millimeters long, golden yellow to light brown and covered with scaly bristles. The bristle tail sits at the rear end. The spotted fur beetles are very hairy, light to dark brown and about nine millimeters long. At the rear end they have long, golden to bronze colored hair.

Source: AfroBrazilian, Attagenus pellio 01, edited by Plantopedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

damage and control

Fur beetle larvae are very voracious and can cause great damage to textiles. In less thick tissue, they eat sharp-edged holes with irregular outlines. In thicker, velor-like fabrics, grazing marks are only visible on one side. The areas look like they have been shaved afterwards. In contrast to the clothes moth, the webs are absent. If you look closely, you can see the typical larval skins. Control is similar to that of the clothes moth and carpet beetle.

Fur moth (Tinea pellionella)

This animal looks very similar to the clothes moth, but occurs mainly in damp and poorly heated homes. Because of this, it is much rarer in this country than, for example, the clothes moth. The moth grows up to six millimeters in size, has yellowish wings with three to four black spots and a wingspan of 9 to 13 mm.
The white-yellow larvae have a brown head and grow up to ten millimeters in size. They live in a self-woven so-called quiver, which they carry around with them. The fur moth also loves textiles containing keratin, but does not disdain food either. It is often brought into one's own home with imported goods.

Source: Michael Kurz, Tinea pellionella E-MK-17524a, edited from Plantopedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 AT

damage and control

In addition to pitting clothing and other textiles, they also pounce on animal and plant foods. As a result, you shouldn't just assume they're in the closet. Quivers or their remains are often found.

  • Discard infested clothing
  • Freeze for several weeks, wash at 60 degrees or dry clean
  • Use the killing effect of the sun
  • Same procedure with nearby textiles
  • Only wipe out cupboards with a damp cloth if good drying is guaranteed
  • Use parasitic wasps if necessary
  • In addition, use the scents of lavender blossoms and cedar wood

Brass beetle (Niptus hololeucus)

Brass beetles are spidery-looking, flightless insects 2.4-4.7 mm in size with dense, shiny brassy hairs on the elytra. Their feelers are remarkably long. The larvae, up to 7.5 mm in size, are whitish-yellow with a brown-yellow head capsule. A red longitudinal line can be seen on both sides of the head.

Source: Udo Schmidt from Germany, Niptus hololeucus (Faldermann, 1835) (27794234173), edited by Plantopedia, CC BY-SA 2.0

damage and control

In contrast to the other textile pests, the type of food for beetles and larvae is similar, with the fully developed beetle being the main pest here. Consequently, the extent of damage in the form of feeding holes is much greater. Breeding sites can be in false ceilings with organic insulation, in voids in the ground, or other hard-to-reach places. This makes it difficult to find and combat, so there is no getting around the help of a professional pest controller.

Prevent moth or beetle infestation

  • Install fly screens on windows and doors
  • Check clothing repeatedly for infestation
  • If necessary, lay out sticky traps
  • Store particularly valuable items in garment bags
  • Also applies to items of clothing that are not needed for a longer period of time
  • Wash and air things regularly
  • Ventilate rooms and cupboards from time to time
  • Thoroughly clean cavities in floors and ceilings, and cracks in cupboards
  • Use off-putting scents
  • Lavender, cedarwood, clove spice, bay leaves, peppermint and patchouli are fragrant

frequently asked Questions

How fast can a moth infestation spread?

It spreads very quickly. Hatched moths have a short lifespan, but reproduce multiple times during that time.

How useful is the use of parasitic wasps?

Ichneumon wasps are a natural means of combating moth populations completely, provided they have not gotten out of hand. They need between three and six weeks to do this.

What is particularly important when combating textile pests?

Early and comprehensive control is particularly important. Don't forget the pre and post care.

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