Pesky Pantry Pests

Bill Devlin
Adams County Master Gardner

Recently, we were minding our own business watching the evening programs on television when we noticed a small moth or two making maneuvers in the family room.

After a few repeat performances, this became quite annoying. We started swatting them when ever possible but found them quite maneuverable and very difficult to hit. This went on for a few weeks getting worse and worse so we decided to do something about it. They seemed to be most plentiful in our kitchen. A close inspection of a bountiful supply of open and partly consumed cereal packages, as well as our oatmeal supply and we soon found that we were the victims of invasion. We also noticed a number of larvae residing in the uppermost corners of the kitchen, at the ceiling/wall intersection.

A little research was called for, including our friendly Master Gardner’s meeting. I was informed that our guests were the Indian Meal Moth, AKA the Pantry Moth. A good write up is found at the following internet site:

A general internet search using "Indian Meal Moth" will result in literally dozens of hits.

Now that we have identified the problem, we are 50% of the way to the solution, or so the theory goes. Where did these pests come from? The literature says they can stow away in dog food, of which we buy a lot, bird seed, of which we also make purchases, or perhaps in other grain purchases.

They aren’t very big. Fortunately, I was able to find one in a waste basket and obtain a scaled photo, see the pencil with the moth in the bottom of our computer room waste basket. They do get around; this is at the other end of the house from our kitchen.

We cleaned the kitchen from top to bottom, moved the birdseed outside to the back porch, put all open cereal into plastic containers with airtight seals, and proceeded to thoroughly clean all the corners in the kitchen and adjacent family room after finding a few larvae in there.

What to do next? Modern scientific control of pests, like modern advertising, is based on sex appeal. Yes, I said sex appeal. In the world of physical as opposed to visual attraction the science of pheromones comes into play. I first came into contact with this science at a pecan grower’s field trip at the Southeast Kansas Pecan Experiment Station outside Chetopa, Kansas about twenty years ago.

The topic was control of the pecan weevil, a pest that emerges from the ground in mid-August following the monsoonal hurricane season storms that arrive in that month in that locale. The question is do you have enough of an infestation to warrant the expense of spraying or are there just a few of the weevils, not enough to cause economic damage. It seems that some industrious researcher had isolated the chemical compound that sends the female ‘come hither’ signal to the male weevil and thus lays the ground to set a trap. The pheromone and a sticky substance are placed in a paper trap and hung from the trees. Inspections are made and counts taken of the male weevils that have run afoul of the traps. If there are just a few, all is well. If a lot, fire up the pesticide sprayer and get out your checkbook.

Now, out of the Kansas pecan grove and back to our Pennsylvania pantry. An internet search using the terms ‘Pantry Moth Trap’ will give you dozens of results. We visited a local agricultural supply store, to avoid the hefty shipping and handling charges from the internet and obtained a pair of traps. As Master Gardeners we must avoid specific product endorsements. The attached photo of a trap that has served its purpose well by body count does not display any particular brand name but is sort of a generic version of the products on the market.

Recapping, the moths are small, pesky, and hard to get rid off. A thorough cleaning of cupboards and ceiling crevices is mandatory, necessary but not sufficient to complete the eradication.

A campaign of trapping for several months is required to capture moths in the pipeline so to speak from larvae stage to full fledge hatch. The internet is very helpful, and computers are available at many, many public libraries in Adams County.

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