Moths

Identifying Moths in Your Home or Business

General Information

There are hundreds of moth species found throughout New England, most of which remain outdoors and rarely affect humans. However, some species may enter the home by accident or to find food. Depending on the species, moths can contaminate stored foods, destroy fabrics, and persist as reoccurring nuisances.

Picture of Clothes Moth
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Appearance & Identification

What Do Moths Look Like?

Similar in appearance to butterflies, moths feature two large wings that typically enable fluttering flight. Unlike butterflies, which have slender antennae with club-shaped ends, moths possess feathery antennae without clubbed ends.

Moths generally exhibit muted or dull colors on their wings. Most species are murky gray, brown, and rusty red in color. In contrast, a few species feature shiny metallic appearances or vibrant hues of green or orange.

Patterns on moths' wings often resemble tree bark or foliage. Size and appearance vary greatly between moth species. Most varieties that enter the home are smaller, with wingspans measuring about 2 cm.

Species

Habits/Habitat

Numerous species of moths thrive in the wooded areas of New England. Important to many ecosystems, moths serve as food sources for many species of:

  • Amphibians
  • Arachnids
  • Birds
  • Mammals
  • Reptiles

As nocturnal insects, moths seek shelter from the sun during the day and emerge in the evening. The majority of species are attracted to light, and outdoor moths often flutter around streetlights and porch lights during summer evenings.

Diet

What Do Moths Eat?
Moths only feed while in the larval, or caterpillar, stage of the life cycle. Dietary preferences vary by species. For example, the gypsy moth, one of the most common moths found outdoors in the Northeastern United States, feeds almost exclusively on tree foliage.

Clothes moths, such as the webbing clothes moth, casemaking clothes moth, and tapestry moth, feed on animal hair, feathers, and hides in the wild. However, when living in the home, clothes moths feed on fabrics and garments made with of natural fabrics, silks, or furs.

Other moths feed on foodstuffs typically found in the home. These pantry pests include the Indian meal moth, Mediterranean flower moth, and almond moth. The insects commonly consume:

  • Cereals
  • Coarsely ground grains
  • Dried fruits and herbs
  • Pet food
  • Nuts

Reproduction

Moths go through complete metamorphosis, which includes egg, caterpillar, pupal, and adult stages. The length of each stage depends on species and environmental factors like food quality and temperature.

Common outdoor moths such as the gypsy moth generally lay egg masses on trees and stones in late summer or early fall. Egg masses overwinter, and when temperatures rise in the spring, caterpillars, or moth larvae, emerge from eggs.

The young insects molt numerous times and grow larger after each molt. After several weeks, or sometimes months, caterpillars spin themselves into protective cocoons. This stage, the pupal stage, generally lasts between several days and a few weeks.

Adult moths emerge from cocoons and begin mating. Female moths die soon after laying eggs, but males continue to breed for several weeks before dying off. Food and clothing moths, which prefer to live in seclusion, generally spend more time in the larval stages and experience shorter time in the egg and adult stages.

Problems Caused by Moths

Moths may cause serious problems both inside and outside the home. Indoor moths look unsightly and annoy residents with erratic fluttering around the home. Clothes moths destroy clothing and upholstery by feeding on the materials throughout larval development.

Pantry moths may infest food at production mills or storage facilities or even enter weakly packaged food sources in the home. Any food the pests come into contact with becomes contaminated by their waste.

Large infestations of gypsy moths may inflict serious defoliation damage to many species of trees native to New England. The caterpillars prefer to feed on the leaves of oak, maple, elm, birch, and apple trees. Excessive feeding can lead to complete defoliation of trees.

Signs of Infestation

Different problem-causing moths leave different signs of infestation. Homeowners may easily detect indoor moths, which enter homes incidentally, by spotting the pests hovering around light sources or resting in windows or on walls.

Clothes moths prove harder to detect. Preferring dark, secluded areas, fabric-feeding moths themselves are rarely seen. Homeowners usually detect the presence of fabric-feeding moths by noticing damage left behind to garments and upholstered furniture. Pantry pests leave evidence of infestation though damage done to food and webbing left behind from larval feeding or pupation.

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Prevention

Getting Rid of Moths in the House Homeowners may take a few courses of action to curb exterior moth infestation, though the tactics do not guarantee elimination. First and foremost, residents want to keep objects that provide shelter to moth larvae and pupae away from the home. Tree limbs, old tires, cans, and compost all serve as hiding places to the developing moths and should remain at least 15 feet from the perimeter of the home.

Homeowners also want to destroy any egg masses found around the outside of the home or on nearby trees. To properly destroy eggs, individuals need to remove egg masses and dump them into soapy water. By wrapping burlap around trees, residents can create enticing shelters, which will collect larvae in one place. Individuals then simply need to remove the material, collect the caterpillars, and drop them into soapy water.

To keep the house free of moths that live in clothing and furniture, homeowners need to maintain a clean household. In addition to regular vacuuming, residents want to vacuum lesser-used areas like under furniture or in dark and hard to reach corners. Food spilled anywhere near furniture should immediately be cleaned up, as the new scents may further entice hungry larvae into the home.

Lesser-used or seasonal clothing should be laundered before being packed away for a long period of time. Hutches and chests made from red cedar provide ideal defense against the pests because the wood contains natural oils that may kill clothes moths in the larval stage.

To keep food-infesting moths out of the pantry, homeowners should seal food products in hard plastic containers. If opting to leave food in its original packaging, homeowners should check the foods for any signs of webbing. Food with traces of moth presence should be immediately discarded. If moth infestations persist, contact a local pest control professional for assistance.