Published: 06/10/2017 15:00 - Updated: 05/10/2017 12:39

Moths can eat you out of house and home


“To let moths fly out of your wallet” equals to open a wallet that hasn’t been opened for a long time...

It’s an old expression that I still enjoy and use from time to time.


When I was a kid there were a lot of moths on the wing of a summer’s night.

Cheating – reading in bed when I wasn’t supposed to after lights out (is that how I became short-sighted?), if the window was open, then in no time there would be a hoard of moths swirling round the bedside light.

“Look what I have found, Granny!”

I took my Tain grandmother out into the garden and pointed out the beautiful large yellow underwing moth sitting on the rim of the bird bath.

“A moth!” – and with that she took her forefinger and thumb and crushed it to a sticky death. I was appalled.

But of course she was of that generation – moths were nasty things that ate clothes, carpets and curtains. They were to be killed on sight. Never mind the fact that the large yellow underwing (Noctua pronuba) only sips the nectar of garden flowers, it too had to die. (Or did she know something? The large yellow underwing’s caterpillar is a garden pest, the “cutworm” which can kill herbaceous plants by nibbling through them at the base.)

“The bedroom carpet will have to go” – thus announced my son last week. But it was an antique, it had been in the room since, well at least since the time of the yellow underwing. We couldn’t chuck it out.

“Take a look, Dad. Where the old mattress had been on the floor under the bed.”

Oh, how nasty!  With the old mattress outside and destined for the Tain recycling centre, we could now see where it had been. That hitherto dark and hidden oblong of carpet was a frenzy of newly-exposed wriggling white clothes moth caterpillars. Ugh. The carpet would have to go. As soon as possible in fact. In the meantime my daughter-in-law got busy hoovering them up.

“A moth!”

This one was found in the kitchen, while I was giving the lad an old suit of mine that had shrunk owing to the damp Easter Ross climate. I killed it mid-air (I had no idea I could be so agile).

“Uh, a moth has had a wee go at the back of the trousers here...”

What? But my wardrobe was sacrosanct. However he was right – there was a small hole in the waistband, but we agreed that it would invisibly mend. And that it would be wise to get the suit dry cleaned. To kill anything that might be lurking and waiting. To make sure.

Last weekend I went through my wardrobe checking everything. Thank goodness the waist hole seemed to be the sum total. But it does go to show that you can’t be too careful. Granny was right. Vigilance is everything.

Tineola bisselliella, the common clothes moth, is a species of what is known as a “fungus moth” – ie it is related to moths whose larvae, caterpillars, feed on fungi and suchlike.

The point about Tineola is that it likes wool, rather than toadstools, and this begs a question in my mind – before man invented clothes, what did it feed on? The backs of sheep? Blowed if I know. And here is another question – I have read that they don’t have clothes moths in Switzerland. Why is this? It does seem very odd.

So should I buy a cuckoo clock? Or a glockenspiel?

I have also read that dried mint leaves keep moths away. As luck has it I have a huge clump of mint that is a real garden thug. I shall harvest it now, before the first first frost comes, and dry it and scatter it about the place.

Moths. Yuck. Nasty destructive brutes.

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