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A close photo of an Indian meal moth

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Fall is one of the most important seasons to inspect your home for pesky pantry pests. An Alabama Cooperative Extension System entomologist urges everyone to be on the lookout for the common Indian meal moth.

Identification

Plodia interpunctella, also known as the Indian meal moth, is a household food pest. These moths get their name from their initial discovery in the United States after feeding on Indian corn, also referred to as maize. Their primary food source are grains and powdered products which are often found in food storage locations.

Adult moths can be identified by folded forewings containing three black stripes. Between each stripe is a brownish-red color that extends to the head. A fully-grown Indian meal moth can reach 12 to 13 millimeters in length.

Life Stages and Habitat

indian meal moth larvae inside a food storage container

Oatmeal Seeds Infested by Indian Meal Moth Larvae

A female moth can lay up to 400 eggs in a lifetime. The moths will lay eggs on food sources such as grains, cereal, dog food and other stored foods.

“Infestations are year-round but are more common in the fall and winter when larger amounts of food are stored indoors,” said Xing Ping Hu, an Alabama Extension entomologist.

After about seven days, the eggs hatch and the larvae will begin feeding on the source. Adults, however, do not feed on these grains. Signs of an Indian meal moth infestation are most commonly noticed after adults begin flying around homes or finding webbing in a stored food product. You may also find small pale-colored caterpillars

Hu said infestation inside homes can start from purchased food packages or outside populations.

“In neighborhoods with mature, nut-bearing trees, the moths can work their way indoors by first finding bird seed or pet food stored in a garage where the garage door remains open for extended periods,” Hu said. “Additionally, the moths are attracted to light and will self-spread from the pantry to any places with other foods.”

Moth Control

At full maturity, these moths live no more than 25 days. However, people don’t need to consider waiting for Indian meal moths to die off as a control method.

First things first, the best control method is prevention. To prevent Indian meal moths, remove the source of the infestation. This includes discarding infested products, bagged foods and any other identified sources.

The second hurdle is a deep cleaning process. Hu recommends using a vacuum to clean the corners of shelving, pantries and cabinets to eliminate any possible eggs. You may also consider utilizing a toothpick or a needle to clean out crevices, cracks and little pegs of adjustable shelving. Sanitizing pantries or other infested food storage areas is a necessity when treating Indian meal moths. These sites are notorious for collecting moth eggs, larval webs and pupal cocoons. Clean shelves and pantries with a wet cloth soaked in soapy water.

A final recommended step is to caulk and seal crevices and cracks inside the shelving.

More Information

Home pests can be difficult and frustrating to prevent and control. With proper education about these foes, everyone can be proactive in their home defense efforts. For more information about other home pests and how to prevent them, visit the Alabama Extension website at www.aces.edu.

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