What do pantry moths eat?

Pantry-moth-photo

If you open your pantry one morning to a flutter of wings and find small moths flying around the house, you can be sure of one thing: You have an infestation on your hands.

Becoming aware of a pantry moth’s presence may or may not be subtle. You’ll be pouring yourself a bowl of Cheerios and notice that the Os are wiggling, or meandering out into your garage to get a handful of seeds for your parakeet and scoop up a trail mix of egg, larvae and seeds (instead of little pellets). Although your beloved parakeet may enjoy the tasty treat, you’ll be left feeling disgusted and nauseous.

If you’ve ever encountered something similar, then you’ve fortuitously brought these little fiends into your beloved home.

Note: These little fiends are actually quite crunchy. Once on an trek, a ragged toothless man—with his clothes barely holding onto his thin frame, along with a smile of pure sunshine and joy on his dark face—laid one out on the palm of his hand for me. His hands were rough and calloused, his nails were a jumble of cliffs and plains, some having been bitten down and others long, witch-like, and curling inwards. As I gaped at the wiggling squirmy opal-colored larvae on his open palm, he abruptly lifted his hand to my face. "Kolya," he said, which is "eat" in Lingala, a Bantu language spoken in the Republic of Congo. With that, I gingerly placed it in my mouth. Its rubbery texture, consistent wiggle, and stringy fibrous bite were undeniably unforgettable.

Where do pantry moths come from?

pantry-moth

These pantry bugs got into your home by first infesting dry goods at food processing, food-packaging or food storage facilities worldwide, specifically in grain bins or grain storage buildings.

Then, these goods were shipped to your local grocery store, unboxed, shelved and picked up by you. You unknowingly (and unfortunately) bought a dry goods food that had already been moth-selected and placed it in your pantry.

What do pantry moths eat?

I believe a better question would be "What don’t pantry moths eat," as their appetites are quite extensive. Below are the dry goods they commonly infest:

  • Grains: Includes any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal or barley, such as bread, pasta, couscous, breakfast cereals, biscuits, cake mixes and grits
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Flour
  • Dried fruit
  • Dried beans 
  • Birdseed
  • Dry pet food
  • Spices and herbs 
  • Chocolate and cocoa beans 
  • Candies
  • Soup mixes
  • Baking chocolate 
  • Teas
  • Coffee and coffee substitutes
  • Powdered milk 
  • Potpourri mixes
  • Decorate wreaths that include nuts, fruits and/or seedheads

If you find pantry moths in any of these food items, they will be in their egg or larvae stages. 

Where would I find pantry moth larvae? 

Pantry moth larvae, often referred to as waxworms, will often move quite far from their food source in order to create a cocoon and enter the pupa stage. This distance from their food source can cause confusion about which moth is infesting your home: pantry moths or clothing moths. (Here’s how to tell the difference between these two common moths). Other times, though, pantry moth larvae will spin their cocoon directly in the food source, which is why stored food may have a matted web.

If you have a severe infestation, it’s especially important that you find all the larvae. Some locations, perhaps somewhat obscure, in which you may find larvae include:

moth-inside-the-home
  • Behind door hinges
  • In the backs of door knobs
  • In corners of wire baskets
  • Underneath shelves
  • Around the edges of jar lids, cans and non-food items
  • On other shelves and crevices in your pantry
  • In the seams of doorways
  • Inside food packages 
  • Outside of food packages, in folds and behind labels
  • In floor or ceiling corners 
  • In baseboard crevices
  • Underneath shelf liners

Tip: If you find moths within cracks in shelving or under baseboards, I recommend caulking or sealing the gaps to trap the moths in and both restrict access to their food source and prevent an otherwise growing infestation. 

If you have fully inspected all locations in and around your pantry and have not unearthed their whereabouts, or if you suspect that the moths are coming from another area, we recommend checking for other food sources within the house. This includes: 

  • Your garage, specifically those with stored food items (birdseed or dog food in particular) 
  • Your closets, especially those close to a food source
  • Nearby rooms, such as bedrooms and bedroom closets

Tip: If you suspect that you have pantry moths in your bedroom, inspect where the ceiling and walls meet at ninety degree angles, and around door frames and window trims.

For additional resources:


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