University of Illinois Extension
Bruce Spangeberg

These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.

Stateline Yard & Garden

Don't Let Bugs Ruin Holidays

December 10, 1998

Baking materials and bird seed are common sights around many homes in December. An unwelcome visitor sometimes carried into the home with these cereal and grain products is the Indianmeal moth. Although they may show up anytime during the year, they are often most noticeable at the start of winter and the holidays.

Rice, oatmeal, cornmeal, pasta, cake mixes, granola, walnuts, pecans, and dates are among the food products infested by these insects. Indianmeal moths frequently are brought in with birdseed used for wild birds and then spread to the rest of the home. Dry dog food can be another source.

Once in the home, Indianmeal moths may be noticed as either a very small moth or small whitish "worms" crawling up the wall or across the ceiling. Adult moths are only about 3/8 inch long with a 1/2-inch wing span and are brownish-gray, with a two-tone appearance to their wings. Adults do not feed, but lay eggs in or near dried food. From these eggs emerge small whitish larva (caterpillars) with dark heads. Larva spin silken webs over the surface of the infested food source; keep this in mind when inspecting products that have been in storage.

When full-grown, larva migrate out of the food source and often across walls and ceilings, making cocoons in cracks and crevices, emerging a few days later as adult moths. The complete life cycle from egg to adult moth takes 1 to 2 months.

Proper food storage and sanitation is the key to dealing with this pest. Thoroughly inspect all open and unopened dried food packages from cabinets, discarding any showing signs of insects. Next, vacuum shelves and cracks and crevices in cabinets and storage areas. Dispose of vacuumed material.

Placing stored food into insect-proof containers, such as glass jars and plastic canisters with air-tight seals, is a key to managing this insect and similar pests. Avoid purchasing crushed or damaged packages of cereal or grain products. As a general practice, dried food products to be stored more than six weeks should be transferred into insect-proof containers, whether open or not. Store birdseed in air-tight containers or in the garage.

Even after going through all of these procedures, you may still see more moths around. But as long as they cannot get back into food sources, the problem should be solved.


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