Of the many species of moth, only a few can sting a human. When you find holes in your clothes, it’s likely due to moth larvae.

Most of us are familiar with the sinking feeling of finding moth holes in a beloved item of clothing. Fabric that’s kept in closets, drawers, or other storage spaces are subject to becoming moth-eaten, creating tiny holes that leave a patchwork of damage in your clothing fibers.

It might surprise you to know that, in general, adult moths don’t actually bite. So what’s creating those moth holes? And can moths pose a danger to your health in other ways? Keep reading to find out.

Moths and butterflies are classified as one order of insects. These types of insects are identified by their scaly wings that emerge when they’re adults. Many species of moth are nocturnal, which is why you’ll often see them drawn to outdoor light fixtures like street lamps on warm evenings.

The vast majority of adult moths don’t have mouths and are incapable of biting anything, much less you. For the most part, they also don’t sting. However, moths begin life as larvae, called caterpillars, before they go through a metamorphosis process and emerge with wings.

Some of these caterpillars are responsible for the holes you find in clothing. Not only can they eat through fabrics, but a few of them can cause skin irritation and worse in humans.

However, the irritation is caused by stings, not bites. Out of 165,000 moth species, only about 150 of them can sting. Within the United States, more than 50 caterpillar species are known for causing a painful sting.

As caterpillars mature and become moths, they lose their tiny teeth and their mouths become atrophied and disappear. Adults moths use a long, straw-shaped organ to drink nectar and other liquids. That’s why almost all the adult moths you may see flying around aren’t physically capable of biting you.

There are notable exceptions to this rule. Moths from the genus Calyptra, also known as vampire moths or fruit-piercing moths, are equipped with a feeding tube (proboscis) with tiny projections that can penetrate human skin.

These moths are native to some areas of Europe, Africa, and Asia, and they mostly prefer to use their proboscis to suck out the nectar from sweet fruits.

Most adult moths aren’t physically able to bite you. And, besides flying out of a place you don’t expect and startling you, many species of adult moths can’t do much to harm you in other ways. However, there are some things to be aware of.

Lepidopterism is a skin condition that’s been linked to contact with moth and butterfly caterpillars and less commonly adult moths.

To defend against predators, some species of moth have spiny hairs that can easily become lodged in your skin. This is usually quite harmless, but it can provoke a reaction of red patches of bumps that looks similar to hives. These bumps may burn and sting for several minutes.

In most cases, lepidopterism may simply be an allergic or nonallergic contact reaction to the hairs that certain moth larvae produce. A select few breeds of moth caterpillars have toxic venom coating their spines.

Injury from exposure to these moths’ spines can be significant. Giant silkworm moth larvae and flannel moth caterpillars are specifically noted for their ability to cause a painful sting.

Most types of moths are only poisonous if they’re consumed. This may be especially true if the moth or moth caterpillar has visible hairs or spines.

If your dog eats a moth every once in a while, it probably won’t have much of an effect on their system. But try to prevent them from making a habit of eating big, hairy moths.

You should also keep your dog and their food away from moth larvae, as they can contaminate food and cause intestinal problems.

Don’t let your child play with any type of moth. As curious as kids are, your child may be most at risk for oral exposure to a stinging caterpillar, which can be painful and have immediate adverse effects.

Lepidopterophobia refers to the fear of moths and butterflies, which can be very real and affect your mental health. Like any phobia, lepidopterophobia can cause panic attacks, anxiety, insomnia, and other symptoms.

Moths are an important source of food for many animals. As for moths themselves, they mostly eat plant matter like leaf fibers in their caterpillar (larvae) stage. The holes you find in your clothes are actually from hungry baby moths eager to fill up before they head to their cocoon.

Caterpillar moths might be “very hungry,” as the saying goes, but they’re equipped to do one thing: eat plant fibers and fabrics. You don’t have to worry about a caterpillar biting you.

If you keep finding that your clothes have been moth-eaten, there are some simple actions that you can take.

Keep adult moths out of your home

Even though adult moths aren’t eating your clothes, they may be leaving eggs behind in the fibers of your favorite garments. Make sure to seal screens and keep patio doors shut in the warmer months, when moths tend to try to sneak in.

You might also want to consider getting a moth-zapper or mosquito-killer device to hang in your outdoor space if moths have been a serious problem.

Clean and care for clothes if you suspect you’ve been near moths

Brush clothes that are made of natural fibers like wool or fur after you’ve been in an area where moths might have been present. When you store your clothes, wash them before putting them away, and always keep them in a dry, air-tight container or cedar chest.

Take steps if you see moths in your home

If moths do get in your house, take steps to protect your clothes and other fabric items. Cedarwood repels moths because of the cedar oil inside. You can store your clothes in airtight cedar chests to prevent moth damage.

Cedar chests can get expensive, and they aren’t always completely effective, especially over time. You might want to consider using cedar blocks in your storage containers or even use cotton balls infused with cedar oil to keep moths away.

Out of the 165,000 moth species that have been identified, only a very small few are capable of stinging humans. Moth larvae are the culprit when it comes to what’s eating your clothes.

Even though most moths don’t bite, try to avoid having them in your house. Moths may cause allergic reactions and some are toxic to consume.