A Wool Eating Wonder

September 2010

What made these colourful cases?

 

Answer

The wool of an old dilly bag from Cape York was being eaten by clothes moths.

The caterpillars of clothes moths (subfamily Tineinae) feed on hair, wool or feathers. In nature they live in places where these materials naturally occur such as the nests of birds or mammals, or in dried–up carcasses. To a clothes moth human homes are like big nests! Our homes often contain delicious clothes moth food such as wool, wool carpets, hair or down feathers.

There are 38 species of clothes moths in Australia of which at least 9 are introduced pests. One native species is known to occasionally infest homes.

Most clothes moth caterpillars make a protective case for themselves by taking some of the fibres they have been chewing and binding them with silk. There is one common pest species that doesn’t make a case however.

The keratin that makes up hair and feathers is difficult to digest and only a small handful of insects can perform this amazing feat. They are more attracted to wool if it is nutritionally-enriched by sweat, urine, or even beer.

 

Colourful case of a clothes moth and chewed wool Yum! Wool is good for chewing if you’re a clothes moth.

 

One case is broken open where the moth has emerged A moth would have emerged from this 8 mm long case.

An adult clothes moth An adult clothes moth.

Queensland Museum's Find out about... is proudly supported by the Thyne Reid Foundation and the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation.