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Garden Help Desk: Pantry moths appear out of nowhere

By USU Extension - | Jan 15, 2022

Courtesy Meredith Seaver

The little pink square in this trap releases a pheromone that attracts male meal moths. This pantry moth trap has caught quite a few moths and it's time to replace it with a fresh trap.

I have pantry moths in my kitchen. Again. I had them couple of years ago, got everything cleaned up and didn’t see any more until last month. All at once there were lots of them. I thought I was being so careful!

Those moths are probably Indian meal moths, a common pantry pest. They are small, slender, and light grayish brown with copper colored wing tips.

The adults don’t feed on pantry items, but they can lay hundreds of eggs, and the larvae that hatch will feed many of the products that might be in your cupboards and pantry- baking mixes, flour, pasta, cereal, nuts, dried fruits, spices, chocolate, powdered milk. They will also feed on dry pet food and bird seed, so you’ll also want to check the areas where you keep items like those.

Once larvae are ready to pupate, they will leave their food source and find a secluded spot. You might find small cocoons or webbing under package flaps, under or behind containers, in the joints or crevasse where shelving meets walls, and in the folds of food wrappers.

As you learned last time there isn’t an easy way to get rid of pantry pests. You’ll need to inspect all the items in your pantry, cupboards, and other food storage areas to find the infested items. Damaged and partially used packages are especially prone to infestation. Check everything!

Remove and throw out infested items and clean off the shelves. Dust or vacuum the shelves plus any shelf joints, cracks, or gaps. Do the dusting or vacuuming before using a damp cloth on the shelving so that you don’t leave an invisible film of food on the shelves.

All that cleaning should remove the current generation of moths and many of the larvae, but there could still be eggs and pupating larvae that you’ve missed.Once you’re done cleaning, set a few pantry pest traps in the area where you had the problem. The traps are baited with a pheromone lure that attracts any male moths that may still be hiding or pupating in the area. Check the traps twice a week. Each time a trap has caught lots of moths you’ll need to replace it with a fresh trap. Eventually, you’ll stop finding moths in the traps.

You feel like this infestation happened suddenly, but it was probably building slowly over several weeks and you just didn’t notice until the moths became a nuisance. You can avoid a surprise in the future by using pantry pest traps as an “early warning system” on shelves where you store the kinds of foods they like. Check the traps every week or so. If you start catching moths again, make a note of the number of moths you’ve caught each time you check, so that you know for sure whether the problem is getting worse. If the number of moths increases quickly, you’ll know you need to inspect the area with the problem trap.

I keep a couple of traps in my own pantry year-round so that I don’t get surprised by an infestation. I’ve included photos today to show you what you’re looking for.

My Benjamin plant has been dropping some leaves and a couple of other potted plants aren’t looking so good. What is wrong?

It’s impossible to say what’s wrong without more information. There are a few indoor pests that might be to blame, but since you mention more than one plant, I suspect the problem could be related to something that has changed with your plants’ environment. You’ll need to be your own plant detective and check for these possible causes:

Have your plants been moved to new spots in the last few months? Benjamin Ficus are notoriously sensitive to being moved to different light, temperature, and humidity exposures. Other houseplant species also struggle with environmental changes. As long as your plants haven’t been placed near drafts or in very different lighting or humidity exposures they should adjust and recover with time.

Have you changed your water source or watering routine? If you’ve switched to soft water recently, or you’ve been watering more often, that may be the problem. Deep, less frequent watering, good drainage and non-softened water are the best choices for indoor plants.

Have you brought any new houseplants home in the last few months? If so, you may have brought in a new pest that has moved on to your other plants. New houseplants should be isolated from current plants for at least several weeks until you know they are pest-free and healthy. Inspect your plants carefully for pests.

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