What Do Moths Eat?

logo by Editorial Staff | Updated on August 3rd, 2022

During the summer, moths are infamous for flying aimlessly about your front entrance light. Their dusty wings flutter as they decide whether to be near or far from the lighting. Have you ever pondered what moths consume while observing their uncertain behavior?

While there are few exceptions, moths’ main diets, consist of liquids derived from flower nectar, sap, and decaying fruit. Some adult moths may not even have an appetite and spend their time obtaining fluids from dirt and moist sand.

Gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) on a twig in a forest

It’s a popular misperception that moths are ravenous garment eaters. The truth is that they perform most of their damage while they are larvae. Clothes moth larvae consume virtually all natural and animal fibers. Caterpillars of moths like eating plant blossoms and leaves.

What exactly are moths?

Moths are sometimes seen as the underdogs to the magnificent and brilliant butterfly. While they both flutter beautifully on the wing, there are considerable differences between them. So, what exactly is a moth, and how is it different from a butterfly?

What do moths look like?

Clothes moth adults are little (1/2″ long), beige to grey, and have short, hairy wings. Because they shun light at all costs, these moths are rarely seen. They are occasionally confused with pantry moths, which are somewhat different in color.

Adult Pantry moths are approximately 1/2″ long, with slender grey wings that are reddish-brown in hue with black stripes on about two-thirds of the body. If you notice them buzzing around your kitchen/pantry area, you may have an infestation on your hands. Pantry moth larvae are off-white in appearance, about 1/2″ long, and create silky webs as they dig within dry food containers.

The Common Moth

A moth is a polyphyletic group of insects that comprises all members of the order Lepidoptera. There are around 160,000 species of moths. The fungus moth, which belongs to the Tineidae family and feeds on fungus rather than plants, and the cobweb clothing moth are both common North American moths.

Moths are not the same as butterflies for a few reasons. Moths sleep with their wings open, while butterflies sleep with their wings closed. Moth antennae are small and feathery, but butterfly antennae are long and thin. A butterfly eats throughout the day, whereas moths are mostly nocturnal.

You may be thinking, what exactly do moths do? They benefit the ecosystem in a variety of ways. They pollinate flowers and aid in the formation of seeds. Unfortunately for the moths, they are also a source of food for various insects, amphibians, birds, bats, and other creatures.

What’s the distinction between a moth and a butterfly?

Is that a butterfly or a moth? These two insects share many similarities. However, there are significant distinctions when comparing moths and butterflies. Moths and butterflies both have scales on their wings and may coil their proboscis (the tube they use for eating).

Butterflies are normally more colorful than moths; however, certain moth species, such as the Madagascar Sunset Moth, are vivid. Moths are often smaller than butterflies. Butterflies may be more recognizable since they are active during the day, whereas most moths are nocturnal, appearing only at night. Moths and butterflies eat similar foods.

What Do Moths Eat?

While it’s easy to discern what spiders, ants, and other insects consume, it’s more difficult to tell what moths eat. You notice them fluttering here and there, but that’s about all. What encourages moths to feed is as follows.

The appetite of a Moth

There are many different sorts of moths, and the majority of them consume nectar from flowers that bloom at night. As adults, these nocturnal insects acquire a proboscis. This tube-like mechanism allows them to siphon liquids from flower nectar, tree sap, animal feces, keratin, and droppings as a food source.

Do moths consume clothing? There are a few species that will eat the natural fibers present in woolen clothes and soft cashmere. Tineola bisselliella, also known as clothing moths, and Tinea pellionella, also known as case-making clothes moths, are two such species.

Adult moths lack the necessary mouthparts to consume your garment lint. Instead, the moth larvae’s insatiable hunger is performing the feeding.

What Kinds of Materials Do Clothes Moths Prefer?

Clothes moths are a type of moth that feeds on keratin, a type of structural protein found in natural fibers. We’d want to highlight once more that the adult clothing moth isn’t the one consuming your shirts and sweaters. The female clothing moth will lay up to 1,000 eggs on a garment composed of material edible to the moth larva.

Animal-based textiles include wool, fur, cashmere, silk, angora, alpaca, and other keratin-based fibers. Clothes moth larvae will also go for the keratin in leather, feathers, and the hair clinging to the dust bunnies beneath your bed if it is accessible.

For example, cotton and synthetic textiles (polyester) are frequently resistant to the ravenous clothing moth larvae. The cause of this is a deficiency of keratin. Case-making moths will occasionally employ cotton fibers for constructing cocoons. As a result, your cotton items are not completely impenetrable to moth damage.

Moths eat what kinds of carpets and rugs?

Did you know carpet moths have a high sense of smell and may sniff out the most valuable Persian rugs? You may not even realize these pests have been drawn into your house until you notice ragged edges and holes in your wool carpets or hear adult moths fluttering their wings in the middle of the night.

By the time you realize you have a carpet moth problem, your carpets and rugs may have already been severely damaged. The larvae are small and difficult to see unless you look for them, but that doesn’t mean they won’t eat the natural fibers of a carpet in months.

Carpet moths are less picky than their cloth-eating relatives. They can gnaw holes in wool and synthetic fabrics at rapid speed. Carpet moths will gnaw on rugs and carpets coated in pet fur and human hair as long as it is sufficient food for them.

Make it a habit to vacuum up pet hair as regularly as possible. Even rugs made of synthetic materials are not safe. The larvae will seek out any dust or human hair caught inside the threads for nutrition.

Remember those taxidermy creatures you or your husband brought home from that hunting trip? Before you hang them up, reconsider. Carpet moths also enjoy eating old animal skin. And what about that food stain on the carpets you never totally removed? If there are any surviving proteins, the larvae will enjoy that rug portion.

What moths eat is a list of what moths consume:

  • Liquids from flower nectar
  • Rotting fruit
  • Bird droppings
  • Sap
  • Honeydew
  • Animal dung
  • Wool
  • Silk
  • Cotton
  • Pet fur

Do Moths Consume Bugs?

Although many people believe that all moths are herbivorous, numerous species have been shown to eat insects. Depending on the species, certain moths may consume meat during their larval stage, while others may consume meat as adults.

Some moths have even been observed engaging in cannibalism, consuming their siblings. The following is a list of some of the most well-known meat-eating moths.

  • Harvester Moth
  • Cherry Gall Azure
  • Planthopper Parasite Moth
  • Scale-feeding Snout Moth
  • Kermes Scale Moth
  • Webbing Clothes Moth
  • Sooty-winged Chalcoela
  • Pegasus Chalcoela
  • Corn Earworm
  • Tobacco Budworm
  • Fall Armyworm Moth
  • Bertha armyworm
  • Salt Marsh Moth
  • Isabella Tiger Moth
  • Rattlebox Moth
  • Satellite Moth

Are moths capable of biting humans?

No, moths do not attack people since their biting strength is lost during the chrysalis stage. They live as full-grown moths by sucking in liquid fluids high in salt, sugar, and other nutrients.

Their feces and cocoons, on the other hand, can be hazardous. Contamination can develop if they come into contact with edible substances, such as the underside of a leaf. We may become unwell if we consume this tainted food. Furthermore, many people have allergic responses when they wear clothing that moths have previously infested.

Surprisingly, some adults refuse to eat at all! They rely on the energy they collect while feeding among the surrounding flora as juvenile moths, which they eventually utilize for flight and reproduction!

Moths: Where Do They Get Their Food?

Moths can perceive motion well but struggle to focus on forms and pictures. To find food, they must smell it out.

Moths utilize the sensory structures on their antennae to locate flowers that provide nectar, fruits, or other food sources. They have specific organs on their feet that allow them to sample and taste everything they come across.

Moths must utilize their lengthy proboscis to swallow their liquid food. This straw-like tubular device unrolls from the moth’s head and enters the liquid supply.

Many people believe that the moth then swallows up the liquid. However, this is nearly impossible. The honey, sap, and feces that moths consume are so thicker than water that the moth cannot generate enough suction to lift them into its mouth.

Consider the last time you saw a paper towel used to clean up a spill. When you contact the paper towel with the liquid, it immediately absorbs the liquid as it spreads through the paper towel. This physical phenomenon is known as capillary action, which is the same principle that propels honey and other fluids into the mouth of a moth.

The moth’s digestive system is divided into three sections: the foregut, the midgut, and the hindgut. The crop and gizzard organs comprise the foregut, the stomach, and the ceca comprise the midgut, and the rectum comprises the hindgut, which is equivalent to the large intestines.

The proboscis’s small grooves propel the moth’s liquid food upward, and as it hits the mouth, saliva from the salivary glands mixes in. The meal then travels down the esophagus to the crop, which serves as a storage organ.

The crop releases small amounts of food into the gizzard, where digestive enzymes begin breaking down the meal.

Once the fats, carbohydrates, and proteins are broken down sufficiently, they enter the stomach in the midgut, where digestive acids from the stomach and ceca further break down the meal.

The hindgut absorbs the nutrients, and everything that cannot be absorbed is excreted as feces.

Why Do Moths Consume Clothes?

It’s bad enough if moths have chewed a hole in your favorite cashmere sweater, but get this: their slimy larvae devour your garments, not the moths themselves.

Adult moths cannot consume your threads. Moths only have mouths during their larval, or caterpillar, stage, which lasts around two weeks until the insect reaches the age of a month.

Here’s how the scumbags get there. First, a female moth drops a mass of fertilized eggs ranging from 50 to 1,000 onto a piece of fabric suitable for her progeny.

Because moth larvae have a highly specialized diet, female moths prefer clothing made of keratin-containing animal fibers such as silk, wool, cashmere, angora, or fur. Keratin is a protein in our skin and hair and is made up of fibrous structural proteins. Moth caterpillars will devour leather, feathers, and even lint and hairballs from humans or pets.

Fortunately, moth larvae will not devour synthetic or cotton garments unless combined with animal fiber. This is due to the lack of keratin in synthetic and cotton materials. So, at the very least, your spandex is safe.

The most prevalent textile destroyers are the larvae of the clothes moth (Tineola bisselliella), sometimes known as the webbing clothes moth. Clothing moths, unlike other moths, dislike light and prefer to hide away in the dark recesses of closets, where they may deposit their larvae discreetly onto the closest suitable item.

How to Recognize a Moth Infestation

Clothing moth larvae are difficult to notice. The casemaking moth, for example, spins a case the same color as the garment it eats, making it difficult to notice the little case among the folds of material. Webbing moths are a little simpler to identify since the webs, albeit minute, can frequently be seen with the naked eye.

Adult clothes moths fly around the infection site. Although they appear similar to pantry moths, another common domestic insect, they do not fly far from their food supply. On the other hand, pantry moths will fly about your house looking for food.

On the other hand, damaging your garments is the quickest way to detect a clothing moth infestation. Moths love to nibble along collars and cuffs and in concealed areas along seams. The size of the holes varies, but there may be multiple locations in a single garment where the cloth has been eaten clear through.


Editorial Staff

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