Our Moth Hotline received the following question from Rodney in Baltimore about whether moths can eat dust:
I have a severe moth infestation in my basement. What puzzles me is the fact that there is no carpet down there, nor is there any clothing or anything that they could eat. It’s a dusty old row home basement. Are they eating the dust? They creep up through the floorboards at night. I just don’t understand how they are still alive down there.
Rodney – I’d hate to get all philosophical on you so early in the morning, but alas! First, we must ask ourselves: “What is dust?”
Let’s turn to Wikipedia:
Dust in homes is composed of about 50% dead skin cells. The rest, and in offices, and other human environments is composed of small amounts of plant pollen, human and other animal hairs, textile fibers, paper fibers, minerals from outdoor soil, burnt meteorite particles, and many other materials which may be found in the local environment.
I would venture a guess that if you did an analysis of indoor house dust, you’d see a relatively high amount of keratin. Keratin is a naturally-occurring protein that can be found in wool, hair, skin cells, and in basically any organic matter.
If you’re seeing clothes moths in your basement, then it’s very likely the moths are living, eating, and breeding in the dusty environment you describe. So, you many not have any wool sweaters, carpets, cats, or anything that would generate favorable conditions for moths except, that’s right: you! Humans produce dust just like all other animals. They are probably feeding off of you.
Prescription: (1) vacuum cleaner, (2) broom, (3) dustpan, (4) bucket, (5) rag. Call me in 3 months.
-The Moth Guy