Indian meal moth

By Ken Johnson

While we don’t typically see many insects during the winter, stored product pests can be found year round. These insect live, eat and grow inside stored products like bird seed, dry pet food and dry food products stored in our cupboards and pantries.

One of the more commonly encountered household stored products pest is the Indian meal moth. The adult moths are distinctive, having two-toned wings that are one-half inch in length. The base of each wing is tan and the outer half is coppery-brown. Indian meal moth caterpillars are slightly less than one-half inch long. They have a dark brown head while their bodies vary from off-white to light pink in color. The caterpillars are generalist feeders and will live and feed inside a wide variety of stored products such as dried fruit, seeds, crackers, nuts, powdered milk, candies, bird seed and dried pet food. In addition to feeding on our stored products, the caterpillars will also spin silken threads throughout and over the surface of the food. On occasion they may be found wandering around the house on the walls and ceilings.

Control of any stored food pest requires locating and eliminating infested items. All potentially infested foods should be checked. Infested items can be thrown away or salvaged by freezing at 0 degrees F for 1 week or heating in a 140 degree oven for 15 minutes.

Insecticide sprays are not recommended for controlling insects in stored products. Instead sanitation and prevention should be used. Empty and thoroughly vacuum clean cupboards or shelves holding infested items, paying particular attention to cracks and corners. Vacuuming picks up hiding insects and spilled or infested material. Make sure to empty the vacuum cleaner or discard the vacuum cleaner bag after use to prevent reinfestation. Holes, cracks and crevices in the kitchen and pantry should be sealed or repaired. Shelves can be cleaned with hot soapy water as well.

To prevent infestations of stored product pests make sure to clean up any spills promptly. Inspect food for possible infestation when you first bring it home. Finally, food and other susceptible products can should also be stored in sealable glass, metal or heavy plastic containers or in the refrigerator or freezer.

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