According to the BPCA, carpet beetle larvae or “woolly bears” have overtaken clothes moth as the main textile pest in Britain.
Their impact on museum collections is well known, but they’re also common in domestic settings, where clothes moths often get the blame for holes found in clothes and carpets.
Here’s everything you need to know about this destructive pest, and what you can do to get rid of them.
Adult carpet beetles feed on pollen and nectar. Like clothes moths, it’s the larvae that do all the damage.
Carpet beetle larvae feed on keratin (found in hair, feathers, fur, wool) and chitin (the material insect bodies are made out of).
If they go unnoticed, they can do serious damage to clothes, carpets and furniture as well as – much to the annoyance of museums, art galleries and antique shops – taxidermy and insect collections.
Carpet beetle larvae live for around 1-3 years before pupating and emerging as 2mm-long adult beetles, which fly off to find pollen, nectar and mates for 2 weeks before dying.
Compare this to the clothes moth, which have a larval stage of 1 month to 2 years depending on their conditions (usually on the lower end in central heated houses) before the clumsy adult moths start bouncing around the house.
Almost anyone could identify a clothes moth, but would you be able to describe a carpet beetle off the top of your head? The combination of a longer larval stage and harder-to-spot adults allows carpet beetles to go unnoticed for months, even years.
Carpet beetle larvae range from 0.5-5mm depending on their age. Their bodies are plump and covered in fine hairs which give them their nickname “woolly bears”. The eggs they hatch from are microscopic, and not worth looking for.
Adult beetles are 2mm long with a round body and a distinctive mottled white, black and brown pattern – similar to a camouflage pattern.
When we look for evidence of carpet beetle infestation, we search for other signs of their lifecycle, such as empty husks left over when larvae shed their carapaces or clusters of tiny, pinhead-sized black droppings.
Pheromone traps are also useful for identifying a carpet beetle infestation, as adults are attracted to the scent and become stuck. It is important to note pheromone traps should only be used for identification as they have a minimal effect on the extent of infestation.
When people see small beetles crawling around their bed, their immediate fear is that they have bedbugs. This is further confused when they wake up with what appear to be bedbug bites.
But these “bites” are actually allergic reactions to detritus left behind by larvae, with their fine hairs believed to be especially allergenic. The reaction appears as clusters of small, irritated bumps, which can be easily confused with bites.
We often discover carpet beetle infestations during bedbug surveys, which is good news, as they’re much easier to exterminate. Carpet beetles are also found during clothes moth surveys, as they feed on the same materials.
You prevent carpet beetles the same way you prevent clothes moths: regular, thorough hoovering and smart storage of items.
Like clothes moths, carpet beetles thrive in undisturbed locations where they have a food source. In domestic settings, the corners of carpets, seems in mattresses and rolls of unused fabrics in attics all provide opportunities for carpet beetles to feed and breed.
Unused clothes should be dry cleaned and then vacuum packed to kill any larvae and to prevent spread from one item to another.
You should also look out for birds nests on your property, as nests are the natural habitat for carpet beetles. It’s believed that infestations are primarily spread by eggs and larvae hitching a ride on birds, which then crawl from the nest inside buildings.
It’s the damage carpet beetles cause to taxidermy and insect collection which makes them notorious pests of museums, art galleries and antique stores. Such items may be stored for months or years without being seen, allowing carpet beetles to cause catastrophic damage.
Anyone who is responsible for such collections must regularly check all items, or arrange a contract with a pest controller (such as Environ) who can provide ongoing inspections and prevention.
We are also happy to train staff in identifying and preventing carpet beetle infestation.
Unfortunately, like clothes moths, once an infestation has taken hold, there’s little you can do to get rid of them without professional help.
If you catch an infestation very early on a small item, vacuum bagging and freezing the item can kill any larvae – though eggs my survive.
For larger items, you will have to arrange for a heat tent or residual application of insecticides if they will not damage the item. Fogging or fumigation may be required if infestation has spread to a wider area.
As carpet beetles have a frustrating love for very valuable, delicate items, it’s important that you hire a pest controller with experience working for art galleries, museums or antique stores – otherwise you might end up with more damage than the beetles were causing!
Following carpet beetle extermination, you should also have your building thoroughly proofed to prevent repeat infestation in the future. This includes sealing windows, holes around pipework and removing bird nests.
Overall, like all pests, prevention of carpet beetles is cheaper than the cure. Regular hoovering and careful storage of vulnerable items will save you from the heartbreaking discovery that carpet beetles have chewed through irreplaceable items.
If you’ve found evidence of a carpet beetle infestation, you can book a completely free, no obligation survey to confirm the level of infestation and a quote for extermination and proofing.