The name textile pest is a general term given to any insect that has the ability to digest a natural protein called keratin. This protein is generally found in wool, fur, animal hair and feathers.
The usual signs of a textile pest infestation include live or dead insects on or around natural textile products and damage to the infested items. Textile pests can often originate from birds nests. If not recognised and treated textile pests can cause serious damage to carpets, clothing, soft furnishings and even historic artifacts.
Brown House Moth
The commonest of the so-called clothes moths, with characteristic golden-bronze wings, flecked with black, folded flat along its back. The adult is about 8mm long and prefers to run rather than fly.
The related White Shouldered House Moth has mottled wings with a white head and “shoulders” where the wings join the body. Eggs are attached to fabric on which grubs will feed. The larvae are creamy-white caterpillars with brown heads.
They grow up to 18mm long, feeding on wool, hair, fur, feathers, cork or debris from food such as dried fruit or cereals, and are common scavengers in old birds’ nests, from which they may enter buildings.
The caterpillars spin silken cocoons in which they pupate. The life cycle takes several months to complete. Only the larval stage feeds, as a general scavenger as well as a textile pest.
There are several species of clothes moths, all of them characterised by folding their wings tent-wise along their backs. The adult Common Clothes Moth is 6 to 7mm long with pale, plain golden-buff wings fringed with hair. The rarer Case-Bearing Clothes Moth, is duller and has three dark brown spots on each of its wings.
The adults do no damage when feeding. It is the larvae which hatch from the sticky eggs that eat wool, hair, fur or feathers - with a preference for blankets, wool carpets, wool garments or upholstery that have been soiled with perspiration or food. The grubs are white caterpillars with golden-brown heads, which spin a hiding place of characteristic loose silk webbing, beneath which they feed.
They make irregular holes in textile fabrics and pupate as silken cocoons. The Case Bearing Clothes Moth grub produces an open ended cylindrical case of silk as it feeds, and attaches fibres of its food material to this in order to camouflage itself.
An oval black beetle 4-6mm long with a white spot on each wing case. Grubs are about 6mm long, with a tuft of golden hairs on the end of their bodies.
They can often be detected by their cast-off skins as they moult. Grubs feed on fur, hair, skins, feathers and wool and may damage upholstery.
The larvae (known as “woolly bears”) of these small, oval beetles have outstripped the clothes moths as the major British textile pest. The Variegated Carpet Beetle is 2 to 4mm long, like a small, mottled brown, grey and cream ladybird. The related Fur Beetle is black with one spot on each wing case, and there is a rarer Black Carpet Beetle.
The larvae are small (about 4mm long), covered in brown hairs, and tend to roll up when disturbed. As they grow, they moult - and the old cast-off skins may be the first sign of infestation. Adults are often seen in April, May and June, seeking egg-laying sites; and the grubs are most active in October before they hibernate.
The adult Carpet Beetle feeds only on pollen and nectar of garden flowers but lays its eggs in old birds’ nests, felt, fabric or accumulated fluff in buildings. It is the larvae from these eggs that do the damage. They feed on feathers, fur, hair, or wool and tend to wander along the pipes from roofs into airing cupboards - which house the clothes and blankets which constitute the food.
The life cycle takes about a year, and the grubs can survive starvation in hard times for several months.
Carpet beetle damage consists of fairly well-defined round holes along the seams of fabric where the grubs bite through the thread.
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