Moths are winged insects that resemble butterflies in most ways except for several key differences to the naked eye; moths have branching antennae and a more “fuzzy” cast to their wings and bodies. While both types of insects are winged and go through metamorphic life cycles, moths are a far older type of insect than the butterfly. Moths can be both nocturnal and diurnal and therefore the time of day is not always the best way to tell if an insect is a moth or a butterfly. Moths are more likely to be subdued in color than butterflies and are found in more varied climates.
Moths are related to the butterfly and are of the order Leidoptera. There are over 100,000 species of moth, most of which are nocturnal. Moths are a major pest to farmers around the world, especially as caterpillars. Several species of moths are also destructive to fabric and clothing within the home and are a significant source of damage to stored clothing, as evidenced by the large and successful moth ball repellant industry. There are moth species, however, such as the silkworm, that are farmed for their use to humans.
Signs of Infestation
While there are several thousand species of moths, very few are directly harmful to human interests. Of those species, the ones most likely to infest human habitations are the smaller species, such as the webbing clothes moth, which can do extensive damage to organic fabrics in the home. The most common sign of infestation in this case is damage to fabrics such as clothing and tapestries in areas of the home that are the least disturbed. With other, more agricultural pest types of moths, such as gypsy moths and diamondback moths, signs of infestation include damage to foodstuffs, damage to timber and also to crops. Most times, however, damage is done by the larval stage of the moth. Moths can be spotted as they fly around as well.
As most damage by moth infestations is done by the larval form of the moth, moths prefer dark areas that are undisturbed. As with most broad categories of pests, a moth’s most common environment is dictated by their food source. Webbing clothes moths are fond of warm, undisturbed areas of the home where they have ready access to organic fibers to feed on. Moths such as the gypsy moth and the diamondback moth are likely to be found in agricultural areas such as fields, grain storage areas and timber stands.
Moths have a varied diet according to their species. Moths such as webbing clothes moths spend their larval stage eating organic fibers in the home. Other, agricultural pests, have chewing mouth parts that they use to feed on organic crop materials either in the field or in storage. Most moth species are the most damaging when they are in their larval stage and do not feed at all as adults or have a significantly different diet as adults.
Treatment and Prevention
Webbing clothes moths are most easily prevented by sealing organic clothing and fabrics in airtight containers and making sure to regularly rotate storage areas to keep those areas from becoming welcoming to moth populations. Treatment often involves getting rid of infested fabrics and thorough sterilization of the infested area. With agricultural pest species of moths, the best treatment is with insecticides, though it is difficult to treat certain types of crops due to the toxicity of some types of insecticides and the care that must be taken with food crops.