© Stuart M Bennett 2000
Tineola bisselliella
(Webbing or Common Clothes Moth)

This cosmopolitan species is the common clothes moth. It is very destructive. Damage to clothing occurs most commonly in dark, hidden areas, as under collars and cuffs, but sometimes the larvae are very active and may be seen crawling on clothes or on the floor beneath badly infested furniture. When feeding between the carpet and the floor, the larvae may extend their silken feeding tubes along the floor cracks, and the feeding pattern is indicated by the webbing beneath the carpet.

Besides feeding on clothes, carpets, rugs, and upholstered furniture, the webbing clothes moth feeds on furs, stored wool, and such miscellaneous articles as the animal bristles of brushes and the felts in pianos. In nature, it feeds on pollen, hair, feathers, wool, fur, dead insects, and dried animal remains.


Adult webbing clothes moths have a wingspread of about 1/2-inch and that of the male is somewhat less.. The body is about 1/4-inch long with wings folded and golden-yellow with a satiny sheen (see picture below). A tuft of reddish golden hairs on the head is upright and reddish-gold. Eggs are oval, ivory, and about 1/24-inch long. Larvae are a shiny, creamy white with a brown head, up to 1/2-inch long. The larvae spin long threads and construct tunnels of silk.

Life Cycle and Habits:

Clothes moths rarely fly to lights at night and instead prefer darkness, such as a closet or storage chest. The adults are very active, can penetrate through surprisingly narrow cracks, and can fly considerable distances. Gravid females are weak fliers. Any clothes moths fluttering around the house are probably males, because females travel by either running, hopping, or trying to hide in the folds of clothing. The female dies after attaching about 40 to 50 eggs, singly or in groups of 2 or more, to the threads of infested clothes over a period of 2 to 3 weeks. The eggs hatch within an average of 4 to 10 days in summer, but take as long as 3 weeks in winter. The life cycle is about 65 to 90 days.

The newly hatched larvae are only about 1 mm long, and translucent white. Some larvae may spin a small, frail, silken tube or tunnel, incorporating into the silk some fibres, excrement, or cast skins. They then feed within the confines of the tube. Others may merely spin flat mats under which they crawl about, or remain naked for several days before they spin any webbing. Some larvae leave the webbing and crawl about unprotected (see picture below). The feeding tubes and silken mats make up the webbing that characterises an infestation.

Shows adult,larvae and pupal case

The number of larval moults can vary from 5 to 45, and the period required for larval development can vary from 35 days to 2.5 years, depending on the availability of food as well as relative humidity and temperature. The full-grown larva is shiny, creamy white, and about 12 mm long.

When preparing to pupate, it spins a pupal case of silk about 8 mm long, again incorporating textile fibres and excrement. The period required for pupation varies with temperature, but can be as brief of 8 or 10 days in summer or as long as 3 or 4 weeks in winter. The length of the life cycle varies from 50 to 90 days, but can be extended to as long as 4 years under unfavourable conditions. There are about 2 generations a year.

Control and Treatment:

Obviously before you can treat you have to locate the source of infestation. Examine closets and stored goods for larvae cases, moths, and damage. Larvae prefer to feed in secluded, dark places. Use a flashlight and nail file to check for woollen lint and hair under baseboards, in and under seldom moved upholstered furniture, in air ducts, in carpets at the corners of the room and along edges, under settees and chairs that are not often moved, in stored clothing, and in other places not readily accessible. Check furs or feathers, such as stuffed birds or animal heads, antique feather beds, or felt in pianos, woollen scrap piles, etc. Adult moths do not feed in fabrics, but may be seen in darkened corners at night.

It is best not to treat clothing with insecticides due to possible damage to the garments. All cracks and crevices in infested areas should be treated with a residual insecticide. After thoroughly cleaning rugs, rug pads, under heavy furniture, and carpets, especially around the edges, dust with bendiocarb (Ficam D) under the edges of carpeting, cracks in closets, under baseboard, and moulding or other hiding places. Any wall void that might contain old rodent, bird, or insect nests should be drilled and dusted.

Lots of people world-wide, including children under the age of six, are annually poisoned by naphthalene and paradichlorobenzene (PDB) - the harmful chemicals contained in mothballs - either by ingestion or inhalation of fumes. Not only are mothballs toxic, but their unpleasant odour can linger on clothes and the ingredients can cause discoloration if they come into contact with clothing, so be careful what you go throwing your balls, why not try lavender oil instead.


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