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 (and then you may just chuck up your mouthful of cereal as you quickly realize that those wiggling Os are on your tongue and in your mouth). Or perhaps you meander out into your garage to get a handful of seeds for your parakeet and instead of scooping up little pellets, you scoop up a trail mix of egg, larvae, and seeds. Although your beloved parakeet may enjoy the tasty treat, you’ll be left feeling disgusted and nauseous.
If you’ve ever encountered something similar, though perhaps not as dramatic, then you’ve fortuitously brought these little fiends into your beloved home.
Note: These little fiends are actually quite crunchy. My preference, though, would not have been to eat one raw (though I did not get sick). But 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, with rivers of stagnant dark earth filling the creases of his palm. His nails were a jumble of cliffs and plains, some having been bitten down and others that were long, witch-like, and curling inwards. As I gaped at the wiggling squirmy opal-colored larvae on his russet-colored 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, making its rubbery texture, consistent wiggle, and stringy fibrous bite undeniably unforgettable.
Where do pantry moths come from?
Pantry moth larvae equates to throwing out food. There goes your quick-cooking oats with dried blueberries, your spicy cashews, and that expensive fair trade stevia-sweetened, dark chocolate that you were saving for game night.
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. The adult pantry moths may have even laid their eggs in the bulk bins at the local natural food store. 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. Listed below are the dry goods that pantry moths are most commonly found in:
- Grains, which 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
- Dried fruit
- Dried beans
- Dry pet food
- Spices and herbs
- Chocolate and cocoa beans
- Soup mixes
- Baking chocolate
- 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 might I find pantry moth larvae?
Pantry moth larvae, as 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 home-infesting 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:
- 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.
How long do moths live?
A moth’s life is fairly short and very productive. On average, a pantry moth lives 30 to 300 days. Their life length is contingent upon available food sources, ideal temperatures, and how quickly they locate a cocoon-spinning site. In a perfect environment, an entire lifecycle can take place in 30 days. This absurdly quick lifespan can be very problematic for a homeowner with an infestation.
In their brief life, the female pantry moths (as there will surely be more than just one girl) will just keep producing and lay, on average, seven to nine generations of moths. This is why it is very important to tackle an infestation immediately, even if slight.
What is the moth’s life cycle?
To give a quick overview of a pantry moth’s life cycle, adult pantry moths mate and locate a food source on which to lay their eggs - as many as 300 at a time. These eggs hatch and the larvae pursue ruination of your pantry as you once knew it. Note: It is the larvae, not the adults, that cause damage to your dry goods. Once plump-full, having left silk threads in their wake, the larvae spin a cocoon and then -voila - emerge as adults, and the sprightly, fast life cycle of a new generation of moths begins.
How do I get rid of pantry moths?
Thoroughness is crucial. It is the only way that you will be able to rid your home, and your life, of the ruinous nature, though thankfully not disease-carriers, of pantry moths. When you have an infestation, know that you may actually have several infested food sources in your pantry (or other locations, as mentioned above). It’s also important to identity the type of moth that you have, as we’ve learned that you may find pantry moths in a closet (and think that they’re actually clothing moths).
Once the infested food source(s) have been identified, I advise:
- Ridding your home of the source of infestation
- Doing a meticulous cleaning
- Cleaning with a simple water and vinegar solution
- Spraying Six Feet Under Non-Toxic Insect Spray, a powerful non-toxic solution will kill any remaining larvae and eggs
- Placing Pantry Moth Traps. Place several pantry moth traps around the area of infestation
Going forward, in order to avert future infestations and keep your pantry safe from bugs, I highly recommend:
- Storing your goods in airtight containers
- Freezing dry goods for 48-72 hours
- Remaining vigilant, keeping a pantry moth trap out at all times
Learning how to get rid of and prevent pantry moths starts with understanding the source of the problem. If you find that your home has pantry moths and follow the appropriate steps, you will find yourself armed with the necessary tools to do your own pest control and get rid of pantry moths for good.