Most people think moths are responsible for eating up our woollen clothes, furs and rugs and making holes in them. This is because when we open these boxes in spring, a number of moths fly out. Don’t you believe it! Moths do not eat wool.
It is the larvae (caterpillar) of certain moths that cause holes in our woollens. Caterpillars feed on wool, furs and other fabrics and damage them. But where do these caterpillars come from? The lifecycle of moths, butterflies and sawflies is in four stages – eggs, larva (caterpillar), pupa and adult.
The female moth is a very smart insect. It lays thousands of eggs on rugs, furs and woolens or inside cupboards. Soon these eggs hatch into caterpillars. During this stage the caterpillar’s main function is to eat and grow. Caterpillars have strong biting jaws and chew up woollens easily.
Caterpillars then make their cocoon in a variety of ways. The cocoon is a protective shell-like covering the caterpillar forms around itself before entering the next stage – the pupa stage. For example, the case-making moth makes a little tubular case out of the wool it eats and lines it with silk while the tapestry caterpillar makes a series of tunnels and lines them with silk. When it is ready to go into the pupa stage it goes into one of these tunnels until it is ready to come out as a moth.
This is how our woollens and furs get those holes. To protect clothes against such damage one must ensure that it is free of eggs. Before packing woolens, furs or rugs for the summer, a good airing and brushing will help get rid of any eggs or moths. Clothes can be wrapped in heavy paper as moths cannot eat through paper.
While mothballs do keep moths away, they do not kill eggs or larvae already present in clothes or cupboards. However, keeping these insects among your woolens could be fun if you are a lepidopterist (one who collects butterflies or moths as a hobby). Imagine the wonderful collection of insects you could grow right out of your clothes!