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Over the Garden Fence

Where gardeners come to find out what's happening out in the yard.

What do Bird Seed, Dry Pet Food and Flour have in Common?

Posted by Richard Hentschel -

Down the Garden Path

Richard Hentschel, Extension Educator

The obvious answer is birdseed; dry pet food and flour are all something that gets eaten. The not so clear answer is that each of these three foods can also be attacked by one of our common pantry pests, the Indian Meal Moth. I bring this up because between January and early Spring, Extension gets many calls of a small two toned moth flying around in the kitchen or pantry or the bulk bird seed stored inside the home. When the moth is discovered, it is never clear where they are coming from until we begin to investigate possible sources. The moth is attracted to light sources so that is the reason we find them around light fixtures and windows. The other two stages of the insect are limited to the food product they are eating and nearby cracks and crevices. Once the moth is spotted, that is a guarantee that at least one or more life cycles has begun. Somewhere along the way a product was introduced into the home that contained the egg stage of the moth. Birdseed is often the prime suspect since this product is not held to the same standards as pet food or flour. Once the moth has been spotted, a thorough examination of the birdseed, bulk pet food is in order, followed by the pantry. When you find the offending product you will know since the container will have both webbing from the larval stage and the larvae themselves in the container. Any product contaminated will need to be carefully disposed of. If it is the birdseed, consider setting it outside and use it up, leaving the insects outdoors.

The hard part will be going through the kitchen cabinets and pantry to find out if an adult moth has laid eggs that have hatched and infested any kind of product that contains flour regardless of how it is wrapped, opened or unopened. Can goods are not going to be contaminated but the larvae could have moved to under the label to pupate and emerge as an adult. Common examples of products often infested are oatmeal, cereals, cake mixes, unused flour left over from the holiday baking, pasta products, pancake mixes and Bisquick. It is usually products that have not been used for a while which has allowed the insect life cycle to develop. Anything containing flour as an ingredient is suspect.

There are no sprays that can be used and you must rely on sanitation. Once you have removed the offending products, clean the cabinets thoroughly with a vacuum and be sure to think like a bug and be sure to get into all cracks and crevices, like underneath the shelves where the shelve itself sits and inside of the top of the cabinet too. Any food products that appear to be free of insects should be considered suspect because they could have eggs that have not hatched yet. Separate those products by putting the contents into tightly sealing containers. If you find insects later, you only have to deal with the one container, not the whole pantry again. If you do not use flour very often, keep it in the Refrigerator. If you were using shelf paper, throw that away too wait awhile before you replace it.

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