Pantry Moths vs. Clothing Moths

By Julie Miller
Pantry Moths vs. Clothing Moths

Though they may look similar from a distance, pantry moths and clothing moths are very different from each other, as are their paths of destruction. Without knowing the difference, you could spend a short eternity attempting to eliminate one species, while you actually have another on your hands that is quickly multiplying. 

There are numerous ways that moths can find their way into your home. Clothing moths may have hitched a ride on that favorite bright green cashmere sweater of yours that you found at a second-hand store, that handwoven woolen blanket that you snagged for pennies at a neighbor’s garage sale, or that gorgeous plush leather couch that you recently bought from a consignment store. Pantry moths may be stowed away inside that massive bag of dry dog food that you just purchased at the grocery store or perhaps that breathable paper sack of whole grain flour, cardboard box of cereal, or 25-pound bag of beans that you acquired at the bulk food store. 

Though not as common, these moths may also enter through an open door or window or via damaged areas in the foundation or floors of a house. 

In this article, we’ll discuss two of the most types of moths: the pantry moths and clothing moths. Both can find their way into your home. Both are a nuisance, can wreak havoc in your abode, and are pests that you want to quickly eliminate. 

 

What is a Pantry Moth? 

A pantry moth, also known as the Indian Meal Moth, is the most common household pantry pest in the United States. Pantry moths are not known to carry diseases and injesting one (or thier larvae) will not make you sick. Also known as the grain moth, weevil moth, and flour moth, this winged pest is about a half-inch long, with wings that are whitish gray near the body and dark reddish brown at the tips. The pantry moth flies in an erratic, zigzag pattern. 

These moths are often found indoors, where food packaging is stored, such as grocery stores, food storage facilities, and food processing plants. If (or more likely when) you bring them into your home, they’re going to nest and breed near their favorite foods. If you have a pantry, that’s the spot. The closer they are to stored, typically dry foods like rice, grains, flour, pasta, baking chocolate, cake mixes, dog food, birdseed, teas, herbs, spices, cereals, dried fruits and beans, spices, seeds, and nuts, the happier they are. 

A pantry moth’s entire life cycle lasts from around a month to possibly 10 months or longer, depending on temperature, food source, and environmental conditions. 

After mating, the female moths begin to think about their babies. Choosing a location where their soon-to-be barely-visible cream-colored wiggling worm offspring can feast to their heart’s delight, they lay their eggs on a food source. When the eggs hatch, the pantry moth larvae eat themselves silly and grow and grow. As they grow, these worms produce large amounts of silk webbing and fecal pellets, which contaminate food, along with their cast skins and egg shells. The moth larvae then leave the food source in search of a safe space to make a cocoon. This space may be a poorly sealed food container, a spice lid, a crack, a crevice, or a corner directly on or near a food source. It is here that they spin a web, enter the pupa stage, and later emerge (just a few short weeks later), as a winged adult, who does not feed and is ready to begin the cycle again.  

 

What is a Clothing Moth? 

The two most common types of clothing moths in North America are the webbing moth, Tineola Bisselliella, and the casemaking moths, Tinea Pellionella. 

The adult webbing moths are gold to yellowish-gray in color and have reddish-gold to coppery hairs on their head. Their larvae, about ⅓ to ½ inch long, look like little caterpillars and are creamy-white with dark-colored small heads. 

The adult casemaking moths are gold in color, have light gold hairs on their heads, and have brownish wings with spots. They are easier to identify than the webbing moth, as the casemaking moth makes a cigar-shaped, open-ended silken case that it drags around with it. The casemaking moth feeds from both ends of this case and use it for shelter when disturbed. Their larvae, about ⅓ to ½ inch long, look a little bit like white rice grains (that wiggle) and are yellowish with brown heads. 

Clothing moths eat more than just clothes. Their larvae feed on animal fibers, especially wool, fur, feather, silk, felt, and leather, as these materials contain keratin, a fibrous protein that the worm-like larvae can digest. They will also feed on hair and nails, carpets, rugs, blankets, upholstery, piano felts, spices, and animal-bristled brushes. Although keratin substances are their preferred food-eating materials, clothing moths will attack other fabrics, such as cotton, linen, silk, and synthetics if the fabrics are strained with bits of protein-rich substances, such as urine, perspiration, oil, and beverages, including beer, milk, and fruit juice. 

A clothing moth’s life cycle lasts approximately 65 - 90 days. Post mating, the female clothing moth looks for a choice piece of fabric in which to lay her eggs. In the course of three weeks or less, she lays 40 - 50 eggs on this fabric. These eggs hatch into ravenous feasters. With an insatiable appetite, these cream colored or yellowish worms (larvae) swarm their food source and gnaw away, growing and gaining nourishment. They may feed for quite a long time before pupating. To pupate, the larvae snuggly wrap themselves up in their own little sleeping bags, a silken case sealed with fiber and excrement, and then drag their sleeping arrangements along as they continue to eat. They then become adult moths and carry on the cycle again. 

 

How is a Pantry Moth different from a Clothing Moth?  

Being able to properly identify whether you have pantry moths or clothing moths in your home is of vital importance, as how to get rid of each is very different. 

Here’s a list of identifying traits for easy reference: 

Pantry Moth Identifying Traits

  • Color: Distinct dark reddish-brown color at the tip of their wings 
  • Length: ½ inch long 
  • Drawn to light: Yes
  • Flight: Strong, can fly great distances to seek out food sources, and are often seen flying around your home
  • Behavior: Active 
  • Feed on: Dry food items, such as pasta or beans 
  • Location: Primarily found in your pantry or other food storage areas

Clothing Moth Identifying Traits 

  • Color: Uniformily gray 
  • Length: ¼ inch long
  • Drawn to light: No 
  • Flight: Weak, tending to flutter about rather than fly in a direct, steady manner.  Remains close to their food sources at all stages of their lifecycle
  • Behavior: Shy, shunning light and hiding in dark areas  
  • Feed on: Animal fibers, such as wool or cashmere
  • Location: Primarily found in the dark recesses of your closet or other areas where animal fiber fabrics are stored 

What’s tricky is that, in a home with a severe infestation of pantry moths, you may find that these pantry moths will sometimes use nearby fabrics for egg laying. If a clothing storage area is located close to your pantry or food storage area, it’s possible that pantry moth webbing and larvae may be present in fabrics in this clothing storage area. Pantry moths, however, do not consume these types of fibers. If you find holes in the clothing, it’s actually a clothing moth infestation that you have on your hands. 

 

Final Word on Difference between Pantry and Clothing Moth

I hope that you feel well informed as to the difference between pantry moths and clothing moths. If you have pantry moths, make sure to purchase Dr. Killigan’s Pantry Moth Traps. Whereas if you’re now certain that you actually have clothing moths on your hands, buy Dr. Killigan’s Clothing Moth Traps. If you don’t currently have moths, I would still highly recommend purchasing a set of traps to have on hand (or to give to a desperate friend, neigbor, or co-worker in need). Unopened, our traps remain potent for three years from the date of manufacture. Dr. Killigan’s Six Feet Under is our non-toxic kill-on-contact spray that aids in the thorough removal of moth eggs and larvae. 

If you have any questions about these two types of moths or any product questions, please leave a comment, give us a call at 844-525-2779, or chat with us at drkilligans.com. We would truly be happy to hear from you.


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