The Pantry Moth
Indian Meal Moths (also known as pantry moths) are common household pests that are a major nuisance throughout the country. In fact, Indian Meal Moths are more problematic than any other pest as far as stored food infestations (hence the term “pantry moths”). Attracted to food, shelter, and light, these moths are resilient, persistent, adaptive and stubborn. In other words, once Indian Meal Moths get into your house, they’re quite difficult to get rid of. However, there are multiple approaches to Indian Meal Moth treatment. So, what is the best way to get rid of these unwelcome intruders?
Meet the Indian Meal Moth
Indian Meal Moths are also known as pantry moths, Indian meal moths, grain moths, and flour moths. They are not just a problem in the United States. Antarctica is the only continent not affected by the moths due to the extreme climate.
Cold temperatures are one of the few combatants against Indian Meal Moths. They are most numerous in areas that are hot and humid (e.g. Florida). They are able to bite through and enter foods stored in plastic and cardboard containers, even if the containers are unopened. The food, ideally flour or grain, provides not only nourishment but also a place where the Indian Meal Moth eggs are laid, allowing the moths to multiply.
Why are Indian Meal Moths a Problem?
Indian Meal Moths are more than a nuisance; they cause damage and are problematic. They use our food source as their food source. The moths contaminate our food with fecal matter, cast off skin and egg remnants. When an infestation has lasted for a considerable amount of time, the moths will have cycled through several generations. In other words, there will also be dead moths in the food, along with the eggs and larvae of the next generation.
Incredibly, the eggs can go dormant. This is known as “dispause.” When temperatures are too extreme in either direction for the moths to live, the life cycle is essentially put on pause. When the temperature either warms up or cools off (depending on what the case may be), the eggs will hatch. The life cycle continues.
Therefore, any food that has been infiltrated by the moths will need to be disposed of. Simply throwing the food away isn’t the best approach. It’s best to freeze the contaminated food for a week prior to disposal so that the larvae and eggs can’t get anywhere else.
Indian Meal Moths often target:
- Dog food
- Dried Fruit
- Larvae (though uncommon, in some extreme cases, the adult moths will cannibalize the larvae.)
The larvae are able to travel considerable distances from the original infestation site, making the moths even more difficult to eliminate from the home. The moths continue to rapidly multiply (the typical lifespan is 25 days, but it can be much longer if the conditions are right). The larvae will travel throughout the pantry, allowing the infestation to grow. Action must be taken to determine how to get rid of moths in the home.
Identifying the Moth
Before determining how to get rid of Indian Meal Moths, it is important to properly identify them in order to rule out a different type of infestation. Indian Meal Moths are relatively small; they only reach about eight millimeters in length. Wingspan can reach up to 20 millimeters. The larvae are so small that they are difficult to see with the naked eye. Indian Meal Moths are winged, but their flying abilities are limited.
The moths can only fly short distances at a time. The wings are typically brown or grey, with a distinctive copper coloring on the edge of the wings. Female moths can lay up to 300 Indian Meal Moth eggs at a time. While the moths are mostly active at night, you may observe the moths during the day. They dart around quite quickly. The moths are harmless to humans and do not bite or sting. However, their larvae are problematic for us, as discussed in further detail below.
Indian Meal Moths do have some natural predators, such as other moths, wasps, larger insects, spiders, and so forth. Additionally, the moths are susceptible to parasites, disease (though the moths do not spread the disease to humans), and other ailments. Because the moths are so evolved and resilient, however, predators are a much bigger threat to Indian Meal Moths than a disease.
Natural predators are very effective at controlling Indian Meal Moth populations. The larvae, in particular, are targeted by wasps as a food source. That being said, natural predators belong outside and certainly not inside one’s home. Thankfully, Indian Meal Moth treatment does not involve wasps or any other predators.
How Did They Get Here?
How did the Indian Meal Moths get into your house in the first place? The most likely explanation is that there were eggs or larvae in something you brought home from the grocery store, and the infestation spread from there. The adult moths are benign. The larvae, on the other hand, cause the most destruction.
As you probably guessed, Indian Meal Moths are a huge problem for grocery stores, restaurants, and other businesses where there are large inventories of stored food. The moths are an extremely costly problem, resulting in the disposal of tons of food. Additional money is spent in the efforts to mitigate and control the infestation.
To prevent this from happening again in the future, it can be helpful to check the packaging of dry goods you bring home for the store. Look at the packaging for any rips or tears where the moths may have entered. Check the inner packaging for webs, a silk-like substance, and dust (this typically indicates the presence of Indian Meal Moth eggs). Make sure that once your food has been opened, it has been tightly sealed. In some extreme infestations, the moths are able to get into unopened food.
Of course, there are other ways you may have gotten an infestation. Moths are attracted to light. It is possible that a few months entered your home through an open door or window simply to get closer to the light and found their way into the pantry.
Indian Meal Moth Treatment
There are several steps you can take to handle an Indian Meal Moth infestation, including:
- Removing any foods that you suspect are contaminated with Indian Meal Moth eggs or larvae and freezing them for one week, then disposing of them
- Vacuuming and cleaning out the pantry or cabinet where the moths are
- Thoroughly cleaning the empty pantry with lots of soap and hot water
- Storing all food in sealed, protected containers
- Cleaning up all spills immediately
- Take the trash out on a daily basis
- Clean out your trash cans and bins with soap and water on a regular basis
- Vacuum and dust your home
- When possible, refrigerating unopened food (such as bags of flour) instead of letting it sit in the pantry
- Not leaving food sitting on the counter
- Use caution when buying large quantities of food in bulk, especially from warehouse-type stores
- In the Southern United States, refrigerating as much food as possible
- Using natural citrus-based repellents
- Placing a sticky trap (preferably, one with pheromones) in the pantry or affected area that will attract the moths; and
- Placing diatomaceous earth in the affected area
Emptying out the pantry will also help you to identify any cracks that need to be sealed up, which is helpful in preventing future infestations. The prevention of subsequent infestations is key, and your pest control expert will have an effective strategy. It is possible that further treatments may be necessary, depending on the severity of the infestation and other variable conditions.
Some Indian Meal Moths have developed a resistance to pesticides. They evolve quickly and are robust insects. It may be necessary for more than one chemical insecticide to be used in order to effectively kill the moths. This chemical resistance is extremely problematic for farmers.
As previously mentioned, the moths also feed off of plants. An infestation of moths can wreak havoc on a farm. Considering how fast the moths can infest an area, how many eggs they can lay at once, how fast the infestation can spread and the moths’ resistance to pesticides, it’s a farming disaster. If you're dealing with a moth infestation in your home, you might be interested in learning how to get rid of moths with vinegar, which can be an effective natural remedy.
Indian Meal Moths: Pest Control and Extermination
Another option for Indian Meal Moth treatment is to schedule an appointment with a pest control expert. A pest control expert will be able to assess the seriousness of the infestation. He or she will also be able to figure out where the infestation started, and where it subsequently spread. The pest control expert will be able to assist with identifying the contaminated foods that need to be removed.
A key part of professional pest control is that the source of the problem will be identified. With Indian Meal Moths, the biggest source of the problem is the eggs. The moths are able to lay up to 300 at a time. Within a matter of days, the larvae hatch and develop into adults. The reproductive cycle begins again, and the numbers increase exponentially.
It may be necessary for you to clean out and vacuum your entire pantry so that the pest control expert can apply an insecticide. Chemical insecticides are never applied near food. Sometimes, more than one chemical insecticide will need to be used, depending on the resistance of the moths. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to work with an expert when dealing with chemicals.
Without the proper knowledge and training, using multiple chemicals can result in a dangerous and potentially toxic situation. An expert will know the proper protocol to follow if more than one chemical insecticide needs to be used, and how to go about applying it safely.
So, while Indian Meal Moths are undoubtedly a pest and a huge problem, there are ways of treating infestations and getting rid of moths in your home. Indian Meal Moth treatment can be approached by thoroughly cleaning your kitchen, focusing on your pantry, and removing any contaminated food. Proper food storage practices must be followed to prevent the moths from laying additional eggs.
Cracks must be carefully sealed up to prevent easy entry into the pantry. Sticky traps, laden with pheromones, can be strategically placed throughout the pantry. When dealing with a serious infestation, it is best to consult a pest control expert. He or she will assess the infestation and make the appropriate recommendations to you regarding your treatment options. This may include the removal of all food from the pantry so that a chemical insecticide can be safely applied. Indian Meal Moths are clever, fast multipliers, and incredibly resilient, but they are no match for a determined homeowner and a skilled pest control expert.