What Do Moths Eat? What Eats Your Clothes and Ways to Stop It


Here we’re going to provide the answer to what Moths eat in the wild and in your home. As simple as it may seem, moths feeding habits or what moths feed on are too complicated to be generalized.

This is because the feeding patterns of moths vary based on its species and growth stages. So this article will give you a comprehensive look at this topic along with their alleged appetite for clothes!

But first, let’s give you a quick takeaway answer, then we’ll dive into a bit more detail…

What Do Moths Eat? With 160,000 species of moth, it’s difficult to thoroughly detail their feeding habits. Generally, most adult moth species feed on liquids for nourishment. But moths are omnivores and even eat protein-based materials such as clothes. Their appetite is affected by different stages of life.

What do Moths eat at different stages

As mentioned, adult moths eat only various liquids to maintain their water balance and energy levels. But again, their feeding habits differ and change depending on their stages of growth. So below is a clear breakdown of each stage and the food they look to consume while in each stage. 

What does Moth larva eat

When a moth larva emerges into existence, it will have only two main objectives at this stage, one is to gain weight for growing and moving in order to make it to the next stage of their life cycle.

The other is to not get eaten by its predators. Not getting eaten by predators is helped by the use of its camouflage of colors. It’s the eating part that’s the main challenge.

Usually, the mothers lay the eggs in the vicinity of a host plant – from which the larva emerges, and that’s where the Larvae will dwell and feed …depending on the moth species.

Examples:
A cherry dagger moth only feeds on cherry trees and common oak moths feed on oak trees – as you might have guessed! So they either live or prefer to grow closer to their host plants.

It’s at this stage that the larva moths develop chewing mouthparts. So they will just about eat (or chew on) anything natural they can find.

Other than the host plants we mentioned above, larva moths are known to be a voracious eater and will munch on pretty much anything in their proximity -.apart from …unusually, the plants they live or grow in.

This can include even random things like hair, fur, paper, dust, furniture, etc. So it then makes sense that it’s at this stage that moths often eat clothes. We’ll get into that in more detail below.

And now moving onto the next stage “The Moth adult Stage”

adult moth
adult moth

What do Moths eat in the adult stage

The only aim of an adult moth at this stage is to find a mate and facilitate the reproduction process, naturally, they are driven to continue the species.

So at this point, the adult moth needs much fewer nutrients or food as it needed at its larval stage.

It’s also during the pupal stage that the mouthparts of a larva moth are transformed into a tube-like apparatus called a proboscis. Very similar to a butterfly, this proboscis gives the adult moth a fluid sucking mechanism helping moths to suck on flower nectar and other liquids.

During their adult stage, moths show a preference to consume food that is rich in sodium and other minerals that will help it enhance its virility. This is because the main purpose of an adult is to develop the energy source (gained from minerals) that will help them reproduce effectively. 

So with that purpose influencing their feeding patterns, adult moths will look to feed on nectar, sap, honeydew, open citrus fruits and even the wounds of animals or animal droppings. Anything rich in sodium and minerals.

Of course what minerals moths exactly feeds on depends on the species. But there is, for example, one such species that sips muddy water to absorb the nutrients from the soil. 

However, as much as it may surprise you, some adult moths don’t feed at all. That’s right – nothing. Instead, they utilize energy stores obtained as a young moth foraging through vegetation. It’s this precious stored energy that the adult moth sometimes uses for flying and even reproducing.

Moths have certainly acquired an infamous reputation for chewing holes in our best clothing,

Not only do they not possess the mouthparts, the adult moths no longer have the desire to feed or in some cases “eat” anything. And it’s also why they prefer more minerals in their adult stage.

To emphasize this, even more, the mouthparts of moth larva generally only last for about two weeks before turning into an adult. 

So at which stage do they eat clothes? Or do they eat clothes at all? So with that, I’ll take you into the last or perhaps the most famous question on what moths eat….. 

what adult moths eat
what adult moths eat

Do Moths eat clothes?

Moths do eat clothes, but not in their adult stage. A female moth lays a mass of fertilized eggs that can range from 50 to 1,000 eggs onto a piece of clothing or on host plants. These clothing are usually those that the female moth thinks are suitable for her offspring. This means targeting clothing that contains materials that will feed their larvae with the necessary nutrients.

So moth eggs are laid within a specific range of clothing – especially those made with animal fibers, such as wool, angora, fur, cashmere, silk, fur and any other materials that contain keratin.

For those who don’t know, keratin is composed of fibrous structural proteins, which can even be found in our skin and hair.

Moth larvae will sometimes also eat leather, or feathers, and even lint and hairballs of a pet – or human hair.

But thankfully, moth larvae avoid eating synthetic and cotton fabrics. Provided these materials are pure and not blended with animal fiber. This is because cotton and synthetic materials do not contain keratin (which is what they need).

So now you know, it’s moth larvae that eat clothes – and in fact, has the capability …or the right organs to eat them.

The main culprit is the larvae of the clothes moth (Tineola bisselliella), also known as the webbing clothes moth which is the most common cloth eater or destroyer.

But these moths usually get deposited by their mothers (when laying eggs) in the darkest depths of closets and clothes as they do not like the light and prefer to hideaway.

How to stop Moths eating your clothes

There are six ways you can prevent moths from eating your clothes.

  1. Only buy synthetic clothes that contain no natural fibers, that way the moths will not hunt for the Keratin in the material.
  2. Be sure to only hang clean items in your closet, free from human or pet hair.
  3. Ensure you wrap all clothes containing natural fibers in a polythene wrap or bag. Make sure you reuse the wraps each time (for the sake of the environment)
  4. Use a Ceder Wood product to act as a natural repellant for moths – our preferred and natural method. There’s a link to a good option below.
  5. If all else fails, install Moth traps, discard and replace regularly
  6. If the problem persists or becomes a swarm, call your local pest control

Resources

Here are some helpful resources for educational purposes and to bring some more Moth fun to your lives.

For those wanting to discover more about the world of moths, we’d recommend this field guide to moths on Amazon.

Moths: A Complete Guide to Biology and Behavior

And rather than have to trap and kill moths that want to munch on your clothes, why not just repel them with Cedarwood. Here are the perfect easy hangers for that purpose.

Moth Repellant Cedar Wood Hangers, Balls and Sachets kit

To close…

We hope this guide has been useful in understanding what Moths Eat and what they don’t, as well as which clothes they want to eat! If you have anything to add then we’d be happy to hear it in the comments.

Michael

A Certified Ecologist and an Entomologist, Michael has been interested in all aspects of Nature for many years. It's only now he's decided, along with his partner Fran, to begin documenting what he knows.

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