Extension Educator, Horticulture
One evening you're snuggled up on the couch doing your best cocoon impersonation. You notice there is something in the room moving much faster than you. It's those annoying small brown moths flying around the television. You know, those moths that just turn to powder when you squish them. Indianmeal moths have come for a visit.
A variety of beetles and moth larvae can be found in stored grain products, nuts, dried fruit and spices. Some pantry pests can bore through commercial wrappers or containers. Some may enter homes in infested food or its packaging. An adult female can lay more than a hundred eggs, so it doesn't take long to get large infestations that destroy large quantities of food.
A food label on a caterpillar might be a nutritionist's dream - high in protein and low in fat. Although in our culture insects are rarely listed on menus, many cultures rely on insects in their diet. The concern in stored food are the microbes and fungi that may come in with the insects which may not be killed by cooking the product. People are strongly urged to destroy products infested with pantry pests.
Indianmeal moths are 3/8 inch grayish brown moths which infest food as caterpillars, also called larvae. The larvae are white and spin silken threads throughout and over the surface of the food. When full-grown, larvae migrate out of the food source often across walls and ceilings to make silken cocoons in cracks and crevices. I even found one on the back side of a picture frame. A few days later adult moths emerge from the cocoons. The complete life cycle from egg to adult moth takes one to two months.
Indianmeal moth larvae are general feeders on dried fruit, crackers, nuts, powdered milk, cake mixes, candies, pasta, bird seed and dried pet food. One homeowner found some in the bathroom infesting a bath treatment that contained oatmeal. Larvae will even feed on the kid's seed craft project. Adult Indian meal moths do not feed. These are not the same moths that attack clothing.
To prevent infestation by pantry pests:
If pantry moths or beetles are seen:
No chemical controls are recommended or are as effective as prevention and sanitation. There are sticky traps available to capture the adult moths.
Several small beetles may also infest stored food but the control measures are the same.
Even after going through all of these procedures, you may still see a few moths flying. However as long as food is stored properly it should mean the end of your unwelcome guests.