Carpet beetles (Family Dermestids)

Variegated carpet beetle adult and larvae
Variegated carpet beetle adults and larvae
Black carpet beetle adult
Black carpet beetle adult

There are a number of carpet beetles in the Destermid family, none of which are native to New Zealand.

Another member of the demestids family is the khapra beetle, one of the most significant stored product pests globally. The larva and adult can easily be mistaken for carpet beetles. It is not currently in Australia, but there have been a couple of recent incursions.

Carpet beetles are found across New Zealand and worldwide.

Carpet beetles are perhaps the most significant fabric pests eating a wide range of fabrics affecting clothes, carpets, curtain, upholstery and more. They can also be a significant pest of stuff animals in museums.

In New Zealand there are a number of carpet beetle species, including: the Australian carpet beetle (Anthrenocerus Australis), the similar, variegated carpet beetle (Anthrenus verbasci),  the larger black carpet beetle (Attagenus unicolor) and the common carpet beetle (Anthrenus scrophulariae).   The variegated carpet beetle is probably the most commonly encountered.

Carpet beetle larvae:

It is the larval stage, also called the ‘woolly bear’ as a result of its hairy appearance that does all the damage. The larvae can be up to 8mm long (bigger than the adults). They can be hard to spot as they tend to find in dark, undisturbed places. As the grow, they moult, leaving behind their hairy skins, which can cause irritation for some people.

Carpet beetle adults:

The adults live outside and feed on the pollen from flowers. The variegated and Australian carpet beetles are up to 3mm long, with the black carpet beetle larger and more elongated, up to 5mm long.

Carpet beetles go through complete metamorphosis, with egg, larva, pupa and adult stages.

Females can lay up to 90 eggs, which hatch within 2 weeks. They may remain in the larval stages for a year or more depending on the conditions (generally the warmer the temperature the quicker the life-cycle), however a more typical duration is between 2-9 months.

The main pest species – the variegated and black carpet beetles tend to have one generation a year, with the larvae tending to pupate in late winter with the adults emerging in spring. However, some species can have more than one generation a year. Adults themselves tend to live for only 2 weeks or so.

Carpet beetle larvae feed on animal fibres such as wool, fur, silk, feathers and leather. They are one of the few insects that can produce enzymes to digest keratin, the protein found in animal hair. They will also feed on a range of dry foods.

In the natural environment, carpet beetles will eat dead animal carcasses. So often the source of an infestation inside the house may be from a dead rat or possum in the roof or sub-floor.

The adult beetles feed on pollen from flowers, which is why they are often found on window sill – trying to get out after pupating inside.

Damage: They will chew irregular holes in fabrics. In carpets the damage will be in the dark, undisturbed areas such as under heavy furniture and along the edges of carpets and rugs, as the larvae will often hide and feed from underneath.

The larvae may be hard to spot, but they shed, hairy skins can build up in areas of activity. These hairy skins can cause irritation in some people so shouldn’t be picked up. Their droppings, which are the size of coarse sand (and likely the colour of the fabric on which they are feeding), will also be found at the feeding sites.

Adult carpet beetles on the window sill trying to get out are a sure sign of an infestation somewhere inside the house. Although the adults appear in spring and throughout summer, the larvae will be active (and eating your fabrics!) all year round.

To successfully get rid of carpet beetles, it is necessary to find all the sources of infestation.

This can be a challenge for homeowners, so often it is better to engage a professional pest manager.

  1. The first step in the process is to identify the source of the problem. Carpets and rugs (especially along the edges of rooms and under furniture), in clothes wardrobes and drawers, and in the roof void and sub-floor (looking for carcasses) are the first places to look.
  2. Any damaged clothes, food or dead carcasses need to be bagged up and thrown out.
  3. For any undamaged clothes, they should be placed in bags, sealed and placed in the sun for several hours to kill the larvae and any eggs. If the clothes are delicate and you are concerned about how the heat may impact them, they should be inspected individually and then washed in as hot a wash as the label suggests.
  4. The pest manager will spray any clothes storage areas with a suitable product to kill any eggs, larvae or adults still present are eliminated. If the infestation area is carpet, curtain or other fabric it will need to be treated similarly.
  5. Prevention of future problem should focus on regularly vacuuming of carpets (especially under heaving furniture) and making sure that clothes are stored in sealed bags at the end of each season
  6. Having well-fitted insect screens to prevent adult carpet beetles from flying in from outside will also help

It is also suggested to avoid having wool insulation as this can also provide a food source for carpet beetles.

More information on carpet beetle treatments.

  • Regularly vacuum under furniture and along edges and corners of rooms
  • Make sure unused clothes are checked and stored away in sealed containers at the end of the season
  • Ensure well fitted insect screens are in place to prevent adult beetles flying in and if possible avoid having flowering plants to close to any windows and doors

Other fabric pests.

Monitoring and treatment notes:

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