Identifying and controlling clothes moths, carpet beetles and silverfish

Page last updated: Monday, 28 May 2018 - 3:15pm

Clothes moths, carpet beetles and silverfish can be destructive household pests. This information will help you recognise what they look like and understand their habits and where they live.

Clothes moths

Damage to fabrics and materials is caused only by the moth larvae (grubs), the adult moths do not feed.  The tiny white larvae eat holes through susceptible materials and damaged fabrics sometimes have silken cases or threads on their surface.

Clothes moth larvae preferentially feed on natural products such as cotton, silk, wool, feathers, fur, hair, leather and upholstered furniture.  Larvae will also feed on lint, dust and paper products.  They can feed on mixtures of natural and synthetic fibres, but cannot feed on materials made only from synthetic fibres. In nature, clothes moths infest pollen, hair, dead insects and dried animal remains.

Webbing clothes moth, Tineola bisselliella
Webbing clothes moth, Tineola bisselliella

Common clothes moths include the webbing clothes moth, Tineola bisselliella, and the case-making clothes moth, Tinea pellionella. The webbing clothes moth larvae are small white grubs and are rarely seen.  Case-making clothes moth larvae spin a silken tube or 'case' for protection and they drag this along as they feed. They are often noticed when attached to walls or draging themselves across smooth floor surfaces.

The adults are small (1cm), buff or straw-coloured moths with fringed wings.  They are reluctant flyers and may be seen running over the surface of infested materials. Unlike many other moths, clothes moths are not attracted to light and avoid lighted areas.

Carpet beetles

Carpet beetle larvae can damage fabrics, furnishings and clothing that contain cotton, wool, silk, hair, fur or feathers. Synthetic items are resistant to attack, but blends of synthetic and natural fibres can be damaged.

Their natural habitats are the nests of birds, rodents, insects, and spiders. Adult beetles are pollen feeders and can be found in large numbers in flowers. They can be inadvertently brought into the house in cut flowers and laundry, and are capable of flight.

Several species of carpet beetles occur in Western Australian homes, such as Anthrenus and Anthrenocerus species, and their biology and the damage caused are similar. In most cases it is the European carpet beetle, Anthrenus verbasci which rather than the native Australian carpet beetle, Anthrenocerus species (there are over 40 different species belong to this genus).

Carpet beetle, approx 2.5mm in length
Native carpet beetle, Anthrenocerus species

The adult beetle is a rounded insect about 4mm long, dark grey with distinct wavy white bands across the body.  Indoors, adults are attracted to light and are often found on window sills. The larvae are roughly 4–5mm in length, elongate and covered in hairs, with dense stiff bristles extending from the rear.

The larvae avoid light and actively feed in dark places like ceiling voids, crevices and folds, and can be found in wardrobes or within upholstered furniture. The larvae develop through a series of moults and as they shed their skins the empty, hairy skin castings can be seen as a sign of infestation.

Biosecurity interest

Carpet beetles and carpet beetle larvae are similar in appearance to Khapra beetle, Trogoderma granarium, an exotic beetle which poses a quarantine threat to Australia. Khapra beetle has been detected (and eradicated) in Australia in the past, after being found inside packages which were stored in infested shipping containers. You can help contibute to WA's biosecurity surveillance by reporting live insects in imported packages or commodities, and by sending in samples of suspect pests to our department. For further information, see the contacts at the bottom of this page.

Silverfish

Silverfish, Lepisma species cause damage by eating foods or other materials that are high in protein, sugar, or starch. They eat cereals, such as oats and wheat flour and can damage paper, especially on which there is glue or paste such as wallpaper and book bindings.   Silverfish can damage clothing, carpet, artwork and curtain materials containing natural fibres such as wool, cotton, paper, silk and also rayon fabrics.

Silverfish are nocturnal and not often seen by day.  They usually live and develop in dark, cool places, especially bathrooms and basements. Large numbers may be found in new buildings in which the masonry is still damp. Because silverfish need and seek moisture, they are frequently found trapped in sinks and bathtubs. They may also be found in bookcases, around closet shelves, behind skirting boards and window and door frames. Silverfish are often brought into new homes in cardboard cartons, books and papers from infested sites.

Silverfish, Lepisma species

The adult silverfish is carrot-shaped and about 1cm in length, with long tail filaments. The most common house species is covered with smooth and shiny silvery scales. They develop slowly under house conditions and can survive several months without food.

Control methods

Every attempt should be made to prevent infestations developing, and all of these insects can be kept in check by similar control methods.

The most likely places to find damage are areas of wool or wool blend carpet, behind and under pieces of furniture and where the carpet extends into walk-in wardrobes. Regularly inspect and vacuum clean these areas.

Clean woollen clothing, furs or blankets that are to be stored between seasons, and place them in sealed plastic bags. Camphor, mothballs or pest strips can be used to deter these pests in storage areas such as linen cupboards and wardrobes.

Protect pianos by hanging cloth bags of mothballs or camphor inside the instrument, renewing them when they cease to vapourise.

Commercially available surface-spray in cans are specifically designed for the treatment of surfaces and can assist in the control of infestations. These have limited residual effect and can only provide control for about two to four weeks. Spray the areas where the insects are most commonly seen. These pests hide or rest in tight cracks or crevices, so spray small amounts of insecticide into any crevices formed by shelving, loose mouldings, or floor tiles. Spray around skirting boards, door and window casings, bookcases, shelving, closets, and where pipes go through walls or floors.

Wettable insecticidal powders are also available for residual control of up to three months.   Control may not be immediate, because hiding insects must come into contact with the spray residue. Wait about two weeks before you decide whether or not the pests have been controlled, and if the pests are still evident repeat the spray treatment.  These sprays can be applied indoors to similar areas mentioned for the surface sprays.  Always follow label instructions and do not apply on or near food or food preparation surfaces.

Further information

MyPestGuide ReporterTM app

MyPestGuide online report

(08) 9368 3080

padis@dpird.wa.gov.au

Contact information

Pest and Disease Information Service (PaDIS)
+61 (0)8 9368 3080

Authors

Rob Emery
Marc Widmer
Andras Szito