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About Some Pantry Pests

The Indian meal moth is the most common food-infesting moth found in homes, grocery stores and any place where dried pet foods are produced or stored. It feeds on a large variety of stored food products, but home infestations often get started through dried pet food or birdseed. Nuts are a favorite breeding source; infestations have been found in nut caches of squirrels in attics and chimneys.

The larva prefers coarse grades of flour, whole grains, cereal, dried fruits, seeds, and spices. Foods infested with these insects will have silk webbing present, especially near the food surface.

Adult moths are nearly 1/2-inch long and have distinctive wing markings. The base of the forewing is pale grey, and the outer two-thirds is reddish-brown with a coppery luster. They have a distinctive way of "resting" on the wall at an angle with their wings folded. The larvae are generally dirty-white in color with shades of yellow, pink, brown or green. Mature larvae, which are about 1/2-inch long, usually move away from the feeding site before pupating within silken cocoons.

When female Indian meal moths are ready to breed, they emit a sex pheromone which only the male moths can smell. This pheromone has been identified and synthesized and made into a lure that can catch male moths in a sticky trap. This is an ideal, non-toxic method of detecting the earliest signs of an Indian meal moth infestation and help pinpoint areas of activity. These lures attract males 25 to 50 feet away and last eight to 12 weeks. In a typical home environment, only one trap is often needed. These pantry pest sticky traps are available at many retail locations.

These common insects scavenge and feed on the animal matter like dried meats, dead insects, hides, and woolens. The species that feed on wool and other natural fibers or blends are sometimes called carpet beetles. Closely related species, such as the warehouse beetle, varied carpet beetle, and larder beetle, have expanded their diet and also feed on grain and grain-based products. They are especially common in flour and cereals but also are found in candy, cocoa, cookies, cornmeal, nuts, pasta, dried spices and many other dry foods.

The adult beetles are small, oval and variously colored. The full-grown larvae are similar in size to the adults for each species and tend to be cigar-shaped and banded with dark, long hairs. In some species, the larvae have a tuft of hair at the tail-end of the body.

Typically, only larvae will be seen in infested food because the adults feed on pollen and leave the food once they have emerged from their pupal stage. Sometimes only the larval "skins" will be found. Dead adults are often found in window sills because they fly to the light, trying to get outside. Because some of these species feed on woolens, infestations in the pantry may spread and damage valuable clothing, woolens, and furs. Proper cleaning and storage of natural fabrics will help prevent damage.

The Sawtoothed grain beetle is another very common pantry pest. It does not feed on intact whole grains but feeds on many processed food products such as breakfast food, bran, dried fruits, nuts, sugar, chocolate, and macaroni. It is especially fond of oatmeal and birdseed. These flat beetles can even get into sealed boxes and packages of food.

Adults are nearly 1/4-inch long, slender, brownish-red and active. Their name comes from the six saw-like teeth on either side of the thorax behind the head. After finding a potential food, the female lays white, shiny eggs that hatch into yellowish-white larvae. There can be as many as seven generations each year, but sawtoothed grain beetles often stop breeding in the winter, unless buildings are heated, and moisture is sufficient. Adults are very long-lived and remain active in the winter.