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Prevent and Eliminate Indian Meal Moths
South Dakota Ag Connection - 10/05/2018

Indian meal moths, also referred to as pantry moths, can become a major nuisance as their larvae will quickly spoil infested food products.

Indian meal moths, whose larvae feed on grains, nuts, cereals, dried fruit, bird seed, pet food and a variety of other products, can be a difficult pest to manage, said Patrick Wagner, SDSU Extension Entomology Field Specialist.

"If an infestation occurs, it is usually recognized by seeing the small adult moths showing up all over the place. It often requires time and persistence for successful elimination," he said.

Below he outlines the steps to avoid and eliminate this pest.

If a homeowner suspects an Indian meal moth infestation, Wagner said it is important to first correctly identify the pest.

The moths are a little more than a quarter-of-an-inch long with a wingspan of about half-of-one-inch.

"They can be easily distinguished from other small moths based on their wing markings," he said.

Wagner explained that Indian meal moths have a reddish-brown band on the outer half of their forewings, and a white or light gray band on the inner half (Figure 1). The two colors are separated by a dark band in the middle.

The larvae of Indian meal moths are typically yellowish-white with a brown head capsule (Figure 2).

They vary in size depending on their growth stage, but are usually no longer than a half-inch.

The larvae hang out in clusters and form webs as they grow.

"One of the key signs of an infestation, is finding masses of silk webbing in stored grain or other products (Figure 3)," Wagner said.

He added that there will also be visible feeding damage, as well as frass, the term used for caterpillar droppings.

Sanitation is the best way to prevent an Indian meal moth infestation.

"Make sure stored food containers are closed and sealed properly," he said.

Homeowners should throw out any outdated food containers that do not have an air-tight seal.

"Open bags or boxes make it easy for Indian meal moths to get in and lay eggs," Wagner explained.

Sweep and vacuum any spilled food items, like grain or cereal, and keep your food pantry clean and organized.

"Sometimes, Indian meal moths may even be brought in from the grocery store if the storage warehouse was dealing with an infestation.

If possible, check food containers for signs of Indian meal moth larvae, such as webbing, before purchasing or opening them at home.

What to do once an infestation is discovered?

Finding and eliminating the source of an Indian meal moth infestation is the best management strategy.

"If you find large numbers of adult moths in a garage, storage shed or house, there is likely an infested product nearby," Wagner said.

Begin by searching through containers of stored food. Don't overlook pet food, bird seed and even decorations made with natural materials like corn.

Dispose of infested products outdoors to prevent a possible re-infestation.

"Until the source of an infestation is located, special traps can be used to reduce Indian meal moth populations," Wagner said.

The traps are disposable sticky traps that emit the pheromones female Indian meal moths use to attract the male moths. Wagner explained that the male moths will fly into the trap and get caught in the sticky substance surrounding the inside (Figure 4).

"Traps help kill off many of the male moths, which in turn interrupts reproduction," Wagner said.

Indian meal moth traps should be placed wherever the moths are most abundant.

"The traps are relatively inexpensive and can be purchased in most stores that sell over-the-counter insecticides," Wagner said.

Most Indian meal moth infestations can be resolved by finding and eliminating the source. However, severe or widespread infestations may require assistance from a professional pest control company.

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