Fabric pests: What’s in a name?


July 8, 2016

Photo: ©iStock.com/Dario Lo Presti

Photo: ©iStock.com/Dario Lo Presti

The common name of some fabric pests can be misleading for pest management professionals (PMPs) battling persistent infestations. In most accounts, one is less likely to find carpet beetles and clothes moths in floor coverings and garments than in other natural fiber sources. Carpet beetles (Dermestidae) and clothes moths (Tineidae) commonly infest items containing materials made from natural animal materials like furs, wool, feathers or hides. All of these items are found far less frequently in carpets and clothes today compared with just a few decades ago, so alternative food sources must be considered to locate the source of the infestation.

Fabrics of vegetable origin (cotton, for example) and synthetic fibers will not be attacked unless they are interwoven with animal fibers (wool, cashmere, angora, etc.) or they have been soiled by food, urine or sweat. Because most fabrics in today’s household closets are made from cotton or synthetic fibers, PMPs should carefully inspect infested structures for other materials such as animal hides, bird nests, fishmeal, dried milk, and down comforters or pillows.

Dead insects and rodent baits are of particular concern, because availability of these items in a structure are often directly related to the activities of the PMP. Overwintering pests such as multicolored Asian lady beetles (Harmonia axyridis), boxelder bugs (Boisea trivittata), cluster flies (Calliphoridae) and brown marmorated stink bugs (Halyomorpha halys) that have perished inside wall voids can sustain large populations of carpet beetles. Rodent baits that have been forgotten in dark corners of attics or hidden away by rodents can also be suspected, and should be identified and eliminated.

The bottom line: When inspecting a structure for fabric pests, don’t automatically assume the source of the infestation is clothes or carpets. Instead, start with an interview with the customer to identify all of the items that may be infested.

Contributor Dr. Jim Fredericks, VP of technical and regulatory affairs for the National Pest Management Association, at jfredericks@pestworld.org.

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