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Entomology (Study of Bugs)/Can you help tell me if this is a clothes moth case?


QUESTION: Hello there,
A few weeks ago I had asked you a question regarding some larva I had found in my room. It turns out that they were clothing moths and I am currently trying to get rid of them. Could you please tell me if this looks like a case to you? I found the more solid portion peeking out of a pillow but upon pulling on it I found it was still attached to the fibres inside. Are cases usually detached or could they be attached? If there are larva inside the pillow what would be the best way to kill everything and have a clean pillow?

Thank you in advance

ANSWER: Dear Greg - If it was firmly attached, I doubt very much that it would be a case-bearing insect of any kind, let alone a clothes moth. See for an image of case-bearing clothes moth (Tinea pellionella; Lepidoptera: Tineidae) caterpillars in their cases. Also, it is extremely unlikely that even if you did have clothes moths, that they would be inside the pillow as they tend to crawl about on the surface of whatever they are feeding upon. I suggest that you try to obtain some clothes moth 'traps' and set them out to see if you have any clothes moths present. These devices contain a pheromone that clothes moths find attractive, and therefore should be fairly specific for these insects - see for an example. These 'traps' are not intended as a control method, but rather a monitoring system to let you know if you have a problem.

Hope this helps,

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Please Help with ID
Please Help with ID  
QUESTION: Hello and thank you!! Sorry just one more question, do the cases ever vary in size? I've found these under the mattress cover and although it could be just lint, I found many threads on the mattress are broken and there were a lot of these white things... Could these be cases?

Thanks, sorry I'm a bit paranoid

Also, if there was a larva on my clothing is there a possibility of bringing it into the work place or public areas? If so how can I prevent this? Thanks again!

ANSWER: Dear Greg - These objects look more like the result of a natural process called 'pilling' - see for an explanation (the illustration accompanying the article is not terribly helpful, though) - than any insect case. However, they only way to tell for certain would be for you to use a couple of needles or tweezers to tease some of them apart to see if there is any caterpillar-like creature within. As for the risk of having a clothes moth larva accidentally hitching a ride on your clothing, I would call that very unlikely. First off, these insects usually are a problem only on clothing/fabric that has been left undisturbed in a closet or other storage for an extended period of time, and one would think that you would inspect such an item before donning it. Then, these insects will be on the surface of the fabric rather than hidden within, and thus should be visible via casual inspection.

Hope this helps,

p.s. - I showed your image to my wife, who is an accomplished seamstress far more knowledgeable on fabrics than I am, and she thinks it looks like pilling.

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Could this be a case?
Could this be a case?  
QUESTION: Hi Saugy, thank you that gives me a lot of peace of mind.

When I was cleaning today though, I found two dead moths, but they were of different size... Is t because of male/female? Age? I've attached a photo, if you could take a look that'd be great.

Also just one more question on cases then.. If there's no larva inside does that mean its most likely just dust/pilling? Is the texture of the cases easily crumbled, or more solidly woven? And finally, does the size of the case vary? I've seen a lot of possible looking cases around the apartment but they're all different sizes lengths and widths and any help on ID would be great... Sorry I've googled this to death but can't find much.

Thank you again

Dear Greg - Indeed, if you find nothing inside any of these objects, they would be fabric 'pills.' If they were empty caterpillar cases, you should at least find remnants of the pupal case from whence the adult moth would have emerged. Also, as caterpillar cases are constructed primarily of silk threads, they should not crumble but would need to be teased apart (as this may also apply to some fabric 'pills', the distinguishing characteristic would be finding something within them).
  As for the moths you found, they appear to be the right size for clothes moths, but the distinguishing character for that family (Tineidae) cannot be seen in your image - see for an image of an adult case-bearing clothes moth. Just FYI, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of tiny moths in several families that are lumped under the general term 'microlepidoptera,' and they can be devilishly difficult for a non-expert in the group to identify to the species level.
Hope this helps,

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Ed Saugstad


Will accept most questions in general entomology, including those related to medical entomology, taxonomy, ecology, arthropod surveillance, and pest management. If you are requesting a 'mystery bug' identification, PLEASE either attach an image to your question, or post an image on a web page (such as Flickr) so that I can look at it, as verbal descriptions frequently are insufficient for a definitive identification.


21 years in the U.S. Army as a medical entomologist; duties varied from surveillance of pest populations (including mosquitoes, cockroaches, ticks, and stored products pests) to conducting research on mosquito-virus ecological relationships and mosquito faunal studies. Ten years as a civilian analyst for the Department of Defense, primarily on distribution of vector-borne diseases worldwide. Limited experience on surveillance of agricultural insects in North Dakota and Indiana.

Entomological Society of America, West Virginia Entomological Society, Society for Vector Ecology, National Speleological Society, West Virginia Association for Cave Studies.

American Journal of Public Health, Contributions of the American Entomological Institute, Japanese Journal of Sanitary Zoology, Journal of Economic Entomology, Mosquito News, and Mosquito Systematics.

B.S. in entomology from North Dakota State University in 1963, M.S. in entomology from Purdue University in 1967.

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