What are the differences between a food moth and a clothing moth?


Food moths and clothing moths are both butterflies. If they look alike, they don’t belong to the same family. Let’s take stock of their common points as well as the differences that distinguish them.

Food moths and clothing: two butterflies

The food moth is called Ephestia kuehniella. The clothing moth is called Tineola bisselliella. They are two butterflies. Like all insects, they have three pairs of legs. They also have two pairs of wings covered with scales.

The food moth is gray while the clothing moth is more beige.

To reproduce, butterflies lay eggs from which caterpillars emerge which transform into chrysalises from which new butterflies emerge. These four stages of development constitute a so-called complete metamorphosis.

Two different diets

Even though these two butterflies look alike, you can hardly go wrong with the identification because you cannot find them in the same places of the house.

The food moth is found in your kitchen cupboards because its larvae feed on flour and cereals, from semolina to muesli. If you find them in your packages, you will find that they are only present on the surface.

The clothing moth is an insect called keratophagus, that is to say, which eats keratin, a protein found in hair and feathers. This moth is most often found in your bedroom closets. In nature, they are also present in bird nests.
They are insects useful because the ability to digest proteins is not widespread in insects: they eliminate and therefore recycle materials considered difficult to degrade. Larvae are able to store toxic metals (tissue dyes or, in nature, metals stored in the feathers or hair of an animal). These metals are eliminated at the time of pupation.

The nuisance of food and clothing moths

These two moths are not dangerous and do not carry disease.

But the food moth is considered a parasite because of its ability to multiply quickly. A female can lay up to 200 eggs: you get that many larvae in 3 to 4 days. After a month, they become butterflies which will reproduce. This cycle is repeated as long as the insects find something to eat. The cold considerably slows down this rate of reproduction. Summer is therefore more conducive to an infestation.

As for the clothing moth, the damage that it is likely to cause is all the more important since it can concern collector’s items of aesthetic, historical or scientific importance (old textiles, feather objects or collections of stuffed animals). It is also possible that the insect triggers allergies in sensitive people. While food moths appreciate heat, clothing moths appreciate humidity: they will develop more slowly in very dry environments.

Their use by humans

The food moth is used for the manufacture of trichogramma. 280 species of trichogramma are currently known. It is an auger hymenoptera insect which is widely used in biological control : it lays its eggs in those of phytophagous insect pests, thus limiting their development. This method was first proven to protect corn crops, then to control cabbage moth and codling moth. To produce trichogramma, it is necessary to find quality breeding hosts. However, the food moth is the species that has proved to be the most relevant from the point of view of fecundity, longevity and flight capacity.

The clothing moth is of interest to forensic medicine. Their pupae can serve as a clue to identify the date of a death, provided it is only a few years old.

Methods to get rid of it

The presence of food moths can be seen in the translucent white cocoons stuck on the rims of jars or cans, as well as small white worms that can measure 2 cm in the food. As for butterflies, they are more difficult to see because they are more active at night. At the slightest sign, all food boxes should be inspected and washed. Discard the larval-infested contents and immediately put them outside. Empty the cupboards and clean it thoroughly. Spray a specialized insecticide. To refill your cupboards, place all food in airtight boxes.

The presence of clothing moths is recognizable by the holes they make in clothing. To get rid of it, the range of actions is wider than for food moths:

  • sticky tablets soaked in pheromones to attract males,
  • dry cleaning of clothes in an infested closet,
  • microwave oven between 1 and 3 minutes for objects containing no metal part, including metal wires,
  • washing clothes at 60 ° C.

Regular vacuuming helps get rid of butterflies and larvae hiding in carpets and baseboards, as long as the vacuumed content is quickly discarded.

Photo credit: Sarefo

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