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If you see tiny moths flying around the kitchen, resting on cabinets, or small caterpillars crawling across the ceiling, you might have pantry moths.  

What Do Pantry Moths Look Like?

Indian Meal Moth (Plodia intepunctella)

Adults are 3/8–1/2 inch long (12-13mm) or the size of a cooked grain of rice. The wings are brown with a wide tan stripe across them when closed. When open, they are ¾ inch wide with coppery tips. Females lay 100–400 eggs on their chosen food supply. Creamy white larvae establish in crevices in the food, and create a cover of webbing where they feed for 13–288 days depending on temperature and food supply. They mature at ½ inch long. Larvae leave to find pupation sites, and may be found at wall-ceiling junctions or in other cracks and crevices.

adult indian meal moth, irridecent biege and gray with long antennae and 2 white wormlike larvae
Multiple life stages of Indianmeal moth.
Image: Clemson University - USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org
 
fuzzy, biege case of Indianmeal moth pupae
Indianmeal moth pupae. Image: Ryan Jones, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Bugwood.org. Click photos to see enlarged versions.

 

adult Angoumois grain moth on corn
Angoumois grain moth. Image: Clemson University - USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series , Bugwood.org

Angoumois Grain Moth (Sitotroga ceralella)

Adults are small yellowish-brown moths about 1/3 inch long (8.5mm). Front wings are lighter than rear, and both have fringed rear margins. Angoumois grain moth females lay 40–380 eggs near grain. Eggs turn red with age and hatch in 4–8 days. First instar larvae bore into grain and grows there over three weeks. Mature larvae are 1/5 inch long, and white with a yellow head. They pupate for two more weeks before adults emerge.

Should I Worry about Pantry Moths?

Pantry moths contaminate food with their feces, exoskeletons, all life stages, and, in the case of Indian meal moths, webbing. In most cases, these pests do not taint the food item’s flavor, but may be aesthetically unacceptable once detected. They are not known to transmit any human pathogens. Any confirmed sighting of pantry moths calls for a close inspection of all dry goods (discarding those infested) and renewed sanitation to clean up spilled items.

Why Do I Have Pantry Moths?

Both of these grain moth pests can be found inside any stored food area, such as a large storage of grain or a small box on a shelf. These pests are brought into homes from items purchased at the grocery store, in pet food, and in bird seed. Once indoors, they may infest other items in your pantry by entering through small openings in packaging. Indian meal moths prefer to lay eggs near their food supply but the adults may be seen flying around in other areas. They are general feeders of stored dry foods such as all grains and grain products, dried fruits, seeds, nuts, crackers, powdered milk, chocolate, and cookies. Grain moths prefer whole grains for egg-laying, but larvae can be unintentionally transferred into other products. Adults are attracted to lights and the female will lay eggs on both outdoor pre-harvest grains and indoor stored grain such as corn kernels, plus oats, barley, rice, and seeds.

5 glass jars with flour, beans, rice, sugar, coffee
Glass and metal containers will keep out the six- and four-legged pests. Photo: NYSIPM.

How Do I Get Rid of Pantry Moths?

Before you act, determine what species of pantry pest you’re seeing. The number one way to reduce pantry pests is paired exclusion and sanitation. Store foods properly in tight pest-proof containers, and rotate stock so the oldest items are used first. Keep shelf space clean and free of any food debris. Inspect your shelves and cupboards. Pheromone baits/traps, available online and in hardware stores, can be effective in both monitoring and slowing infestation by trapping adults, but these traps alone will not eliminate an infestation. Capture adults using a vacuum, and discard the contents outdoors. Remove all product from storage and locate the source of the infestation. Stored product pests can be killed by freezing, heating, dehydrating.

Note: Indian meal moths pupate away from stored food, while grain moth pupate inside kernels and grains. Pesticide sprays should never be used in the pantry, in cabinets or around food items.

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