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Carpet Beetle Biology and Control


Larval and adult furniture carpet beetles (photo courtesy of James Castner, University of Florida)"Carpet beetles" include several species of Dermestid beetles that commonly feed on animal-based textile products. These species include the black carpet beetle, the varied carpet beetle, the common carpet beetle, and the furniture carpet beetle.

All of these beetles are small, averaging between 1/16 and 3/16 of an inch, have similar biology and habits, and cause similar damage.

Like all beetles, carpet beetles undergo complete metamorphosis (egg, larvae, pupa, adult), and it is the larval stage that does the damage.

Adult females deposit their eggs on or near susceptible fabrics or other products. The eggs hatch in about two weeks, and the larvae feed on the animal-based fibers of the fabric until they go into pupation. The larval stage can last anywhere from six weeks to six months after they hatch, depending on environmental factors such as temperature and availability of food.

The pupation process can take anywhere between three days and three weeks, after which the adult beetles emerge. The adults don't damage textiles. They feed on pollen, nectar, and other sugary liquids, and live an average of one to three months.

Carpet Beetle Damage

The term "carpet beetle" itself is somewhat of a misnomer. Although often found eating, carpet beetles will attack almost any animal-derived material including clothing, tapestries, woolen blankets, upholstered items, furs, feathers, down, pet foods, and even animals carcasses in attics, crawl spaces, and basements.

They may also attack "mixed" foods that contain both animal and plant products (such as dry pet foods); and if they get desperate enough, they may even eat strictly plant-based foods such as cereals, grains, and nuts. They can also damage synthetic fibers that are stained with animal by-products such as food stains, sweat, body oils, blood, or other bodily fluids.

Non-Chemical Carpet Beetle Control

Non-chemical control is the first and most important step of achieving lasting control of carpet beetles, beginning with a thorough inspection. You or your PCO should thoroughly inspect the home to determine where the source of the infestation is located, and exactly what the beetles are feeding upon.

In many cases, the place where you see the adult beetles may be far removed from the actual source of the infestation. Possible food sources include: stored clothing; tapestries; woolen blankets; upholstered items; furs, feathers; down; pet foods (especially meat-based foods such as liver bits); and dead animals or insects in attics, crawl spaces, and basements.

Once the source (or sources) is found, it should be cleaned if it is something of value, or discarded if it is not. For example, if the beetles are found to be feeding upon clothing, tapestries, or carpeting, then the infested items should be thoroughly vacuumed, shampooed, laundered, or dry cleaned, as appropriate to the fabric and the item; and the area in which it was located thoroughly cleaned, as well. But if the source turns out to be something like an old bag of dog food in the garage or a dead bird in the attic, then simply dispose of the item and thoroughly clean the area in which is was found.

Chemical Control of Carpet Beetles

In many cases, insecticide treatment may be necessary as an adjunct to non-chemical control. Due to the difficulty of properly treating a carpet beetle infestation, you may wish to hire a professional pest control operator to perform this part of the treatment.

If you choose to perform the treatment yourself, select an insecticide labeled for the control of carpet beetles in the area that you will be applying it (for example, in homes), and for the surface on which you will be applying it (for example, on carpeting). Before applying the insecticide to any textile item, test it on a small, inconspicuous area to check to see if it causes any staining or other damage. Always be sure to read, understand, and follow all label instructions when using any pesticide product.

Thoroughness and precision are important when treating for carpet beetles. You should treat the areas known to be infested, as well as the immediately adjacent areas. Pay special attention to cracks, crevices, and other protected places that may harbor beetles or their larvae. Remember that over time, fibers from carpeting and other textiles may have shed off and become embedded in crevices under baseboards and in other hidden areas, and these shed fibers may be sustaining beetles.

Because insecticides generally are ineffective against pupal stages of insects, it may be necessary to retreat the infested areas to control newly-emerged adults who were in pupation during the original treatment. The need for this varies, however, because many insecticides have residual effectiveness that lasts for some time after application; so consult the pesticide label to see if and when any re-treatments should be performed.