Introduction to Moths

Moths, which are flying insects related to butterflies, are mainly nocturnal and often smaller than butterflies. They eat plant matter, and mainly cause damage in three areas: living plants, stored foodstuffs, cloth, and other plant material used indoors.


Some moth larvae, sometimes called stinging caterpillars, have poisonous hairs or spines. Their diet, like the hagmoth, is primarily ornamental plants and shade trees. They are a direct danger to people, if disturbed, as well as to plants. People who are allergic to insects should wash the area immediately and consult a physician in case of contact.


The moths that can cause problems in grain storage and pantry items often have one of these words in their name: meal, pantry, kitchen, flour, or grain. They may be found in flour, dried pet food, nuts and seed, grains such as cornmeal and oatmeal, chocolate, powdered milk, and dried fruit. Moths may even be found in unopened containers.

It is recommended that pesticides never be used in the kitchen. It is too difficult to control and contain them. What is recommended includes the following:

  • Maintain good sanitation, including immediately cleaning up any dropped bits of food.
  • Store the foods that may attract moths in heavy plastic, metal, or glass, making sure the containers are carefully sealed.
  • Discard infested food in a closed container.
  • Since larvae cannot survive freezing for one week or heating to 140ºF (60ºC) for 15 minutes, these are two measures that can be taken, and some items can simply be stored in the freezer.
  • Vacuum food storage areas (cupboards or shelves) and discard the vacuum bag.


The first sign of clothes moths may be small irregular holes in stored clothing items. Though chiefly known as eaters of wool, clothes moths also feed on other material, such as hair, fur—including taxidermy mounts—silk, felt, feathers, and leather, and may be found in rugs or carpets, as well as in the clothes closet.

As with other types of moth infestation, the suggested approach begins with cleaning. Badly infested items should be discarded. Others should be dry-cleaned or washed in hot water and dried at as high a temperature as the fabric will bear or wrapped in plastic and frozen for a week and then cleaned, as appropriate to the fabric. Vacuum clean the area, and restore the clothes, in suitable wrapping. If any of the clothing items is fur or a personal treasure, such as a wedding dress, consult a professional.

To prevent infestation in the first place, recommended devices are:

  • pheromone traps—these catch moths, alerting you to their presence.
  • cedar—cedar oils kill clothes moth larvae, when they are very young. A cedar closet is most effective; cedar blocks, periodically “re-constituted” by brushing with cedar oil or sanding to give a fresh surface, may be effective.
  • lavender sachets—lavender or lavender oil may repel moths, but it will not kill them.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), exposure to naphthalene—the active ingredient in moth balls and moth crystals—can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, and in large doses or when ingested directly, it can damage or destroy the body’s red blood cells. For this reason, the EPA classifies it as hazardous.

Other Plant Material

The clover hayworm moth is an example of a moth that will adapt to both indoor and outdoor environments. Outside, as its name suggests, it prefers clover hay. Inside, it will infest dried flowers, straw or hay wreaths, and other plant matter, included coarse-ground spices. Spotting clover hayworm moths indoors should send you on a search for the infested material, which should be discarded prior to the area being thoroughly vacuumed. Depending on the location in the house (i.e., if it’s not in the kitchen, pantry, or a child’s bedroom), insecticide is sometimes used. Unfortunately, it will only work temporarily, and addressing the infestation through discarding and cleaning is the advised approach.

Written by Mary Elizabeth

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