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Pantry Pests Infested in Stored Foods

Mike's Pest Control Library

Finding bugs in your cereal can be a little un-nerving, but it is more common than you would think. Stored foods commonly infested include flour, cereals, cracked grains, baking mixes and processed foods, crackers, macaroni, cured meats, powdered milk, dried fruits, nuts, popcorn and spices. Insects that feed on these products may also infest other grain-based items such as pet foods, birdseed and ornamental corn. Dried flower arrangements may also be invaded.

Indian Meal Moths

Indian Meal MothThe Indian meal moth is the most common food-infesting moth found in homes, grocery stores and any place where dried pet foods are produced or stored. It feeds on a large variety of stored food products, but home infestations often get started through dried pet food or birdseed. Nuts are a favorite breeding source; infestations have been found in nut caches of squirrels in attics and chimneys.

The larva prefers coarse grades of flour, whole grains, cereal, dried fruits, seeds and spices. Foods infested with these insects will have silk webbing present, especially near the food surface.

Adult moths are nearly 1/2-inch long and have distinctive wing markings. The base of the forewing is pale grey and the outer two-thirds is reddish-brown with a coppery luster. They have a distinctive way of "resting" on the wall at an angle with their wings folded. The larvae are generally dirty-white in color with shades of yellow, pink, brown or green. Mature larvae, which are about 1/2-inch long, usually move away from the feeding site before pupating within silken cocoons.

Sawtoothed Grain Beetle

Sawtoothed Grain BeetleThe Sawtoothed grain beetle is another very common pantry pest. It does not feed on intact whole grains, but feeds on many processed food products such as breakfast food, bran, dried fruits, nuts, sugar, chocolate and macaroni. It is especially fond of oatmeal and birdseed. These flat beetles can even get into sealed boxes and packages of food.

Adults are nearly 1/4-inch long, slender, brownish-red and active. Their name comes from the six saw-like teeth on either side of the thorax behind the head. After finding a potential food, the female lays white, shiny eggs that hatch into yellowish-white larvae. There can be as many as seven generations each year, but sawtoothed grain beetles often stop breeding in the winter, unless buildings are heated and moisture is sufficient. Adults are very long lived and remain active in the winter.

Cigarette and Drugstore Beetles

Cigarette and Drugstore BeetlesThese small, stout beetles are common in homes where they attack pet food, cereals, spices, drugs, tobacco and other packaged foods. Because they closely resemble each other, they are often confused. The heads of both beetles are tucked under the prothorax and are not visible from above. Both are brown and about the same size.

The two beetles can be distinguished by their wing covers. The wing covers of the drugstore beetle have rows of longitudinal grooves, while those of the cigarette beetle are smooth. Another distinguishing feature is the antenna. The drugstore beetle has a three-segmented club, while the cigarette beetle has an antenna that looks a little like a saw blade.

Drugstore Beetles: The drugstore beetle will feed on bread, but it will also feed on any dried, food-based material. It will damage book bindings. It has been found to perforate tinfoil and sheet lead and easily chews through most food packaging material.

Cigarette Beetles: The cigarette beetle derives its name from its serious infestations of stored tobacco. Adult beetles are about 1/8-inch long, light brown and oval. The most common food materials include pet food, cereal, peppers, spices, raisins and seeds.

Flour Beetles

Flour BeetleThere are a number of species of tiny beetles that infest flour, but the two most common flour beetles are the confused and red flour beetles. These beetles are scavengers in that they cannot attack whole grains, but rely on other insects to damage the kernels first. In homes, they can be found feeding on flour, cracked grains, cake mixes, beans, peas, dried fruits, nuts, chocolate, spices and tobacco.

These red and confused flour beetles are very similar: both are reddish-brown and about the same size, 3/16-inch long. They can be distinguished by their antenna. The antenna of the red flour beetle ends abruptly in a three-segmented club while the antenna of the confused flour beetle gradually enlarges toward the tip, ending in a four-segmented club. In addition, the sides of the red flour beetle's thorax are curved while the confused flour beetles thorax has straighter sides.

The biology of these two beetles are very similar. The primary difference is the red flour beetle flies and the confused flour beetle does not. If you see a red flour beetle crawling on the counter, the breeding source is probably nearby, but not necessarily. A confused flour beetle crawling on the counter is almost certain from a nearby food source.

Granary and Rice Weevils

Granary WeevilThese insects damage whole grains or seeds. They generally do not feed on flour or cereals unless it has become caked.

Adult weevils are very similar. Both are dark reddish-brown and range in size from 1/8 to 3/16-inch long. They have a long snout projecting from the head and wing covers with distinct ridges.

Females lay eggs on seeds, kernels or other suitable foods. The larvae chew into the seed and feed on the inside of whole kernels/seeds. Pupation normally occurs within hollowed-out kernels or seeds. There can be as many as three to five generations each year. Weevil-damaged grains are typically hollow and have small round emergence holes.

Because they feed on whole grains, these insects are more likely to be a problem in grain bins and warehouses, but it is possible to have infestations in homes. Most common sources are popcorn, birdseed, decorative Indian corn and nuts.


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