Carpet beetles are flying insects, part of the family Dermestids (leather beetles). They are a common pest in warehouses, museums, homes and poultry houses. While adults of those beetles feed on flower pollen, carpet beetle damage by larvae to leather, textile and fur items can be irreparable.
There are several different types of carpet beetles. All species have cased wings which provide them with flight. In the UK, there are three species commonly found in museums and homes. With some basic knowledge you can distinguish between them—in turn, this will help you prevent further damage and control population.
Varied carpet beetles are black beetles, 3mm long with irregular patterns of white. They have brownish-black transparent wings. Their larvae are hairy, brown in colour and reach 5mm in length. Because of their appearance, the larvae are known as “woolly bears”. Varied carpet beetles are the most widespread species of Dermestids and can be found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.
Fur beetles are 4-6mm long beetles with oval bodies. They are dark-brown to black in colour and have a white spot on each wing case. Without knowledge of their appearance, they can be easily mistaken for oriental cockroaches. The larva reaches 6mm in length, and has orange tufts of hair. It feed on fur (hence its name) and is common in bird nests.
The adults of the Leather beetle have black-grey bodies with white bellies. They reach 6-10mm in length. Their larvae are hairy, black, with a yellow “spine” on their backs. Leather beetle larvae can reach up to 12mm and can be mistaken for a moth or butterfly caterpillar. They feed on leather and can be found in poultry houses.
Carpet beetle damage on a woollen rug
Carpet beetle larvae cause damage to animal materials found in homes, offices and museums. Carpet beetle damage includes holes and trail-like patterns in fabrics of:
Carpet beetle larvae feed on dry protein so they are likely to attack any of the above items. Some of them can get quite expensive and the irreversible damage might be infuriating. Unfortunately, legal rental arrangements in the UK don’t cover carpet beetle insurance. The best way to deal with the problem is to stay ahead of it!
Carpet beetles borrow their name from the fact their larvae feed on carpet. The adults however feed on pollen and pollinate different flowers. They are attracted to light and actively seek it during night. Carpet beetles borrow through lead and hide in spider webs—two uncommon traits for the insect kingdom. They can even make home in old bee and wasp nests, provided the nests are empty.
Carpet beetles reproduce once or twice per year. They lay up to 150 eggs—it takes two weeks for the eggs to hatch. Depending on the climate, it takes larvae up to two years to develop as adults. This means that if they remain unnoticed, carpet beetles have over an year to cause destructive damage to textile and leather items.
As carpet beetles damage textiles and leather, sometimes the cause of infestation can be as simple as a dead rodent between the walls of the building.
Both adult and larvae carpet beetles can be seen crawling on various surfaces, especially leather and upholstery. Adult beetles fly and are attracted by light sources. The most likely evidence of an infestation is carpet beetle damage left behind by larvae. Irregular holes in leather and carpets indicate textile-eating insects infestation—either moth or carpet beetle. In both cases, immediate actions must be taken to prevent further damage.
As they grow, carpet beetle larvae shed skin, however the casings does not have any remarkable characteristics and only a professional can tell it apart from skin sheds of other insects. Adults also produce black, grain-sized excrements close to their food sources.
Unlike other insect pests, it is hard to prevent the occurrence of a Carpet beetle infestation. As they feed on textiles and leather, there’s also an abundance of food sources in your house. The only thing which can avert an infestation is high level of hygiene and frequent steam-clean of the carpets and upholstery. This is also the method used for small-scale infestations.
Some products are labelled as “protective sprays against Carpet beetles”. It is important not to use such products on leather items. They can also damage carpets. An alternative to those products are moth crystals, as they repel carpet beetles as well.
Heavy infestations must be dealt with with the help of insecticides. Limit spraying to the edges of your carpets, cracks, vents, crevices and other openings where Carpet beetles may hide. If their larvae burrow inside upholstered items (such as furniture, mattresses and pillows) special fumigation method is needed.
Images by: 1. Jean-Raphaël Guillaumin, 2. David Short, 3. Udo Schmidt, 4. Carpet Beetle
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