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Your Guide to Pantry Pests

Imagine opening up a box of your favorite cereal only to discover that the container is filled with small moths, beetles, or weevils, all of which have spent days laying eggs and raising larvae. While pantry pests may not be incredibly dangerous, per se, no one wants their food contaminated with bugs, especially those that reproduce quickly and infiltrate our home.

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Pantry pests are made up of a group of small insects that feed off of dry, starchy foods stored at room temperature in your home. They typically creep into your home during the packaging process or when they’re sitting at the grocery store. This means that your main defense comes from checking your packages before lining up all those bags of flowers in the cupboard.

In this article, we’ll outline the most common types of unique insects considered pantry pests as well as how to get rid of them quickly and safely.

What Are Pantry Pests?

Though there are many pests that may break into your pantry for access to food—including rodents, silverfish, and cockroaches—a handful of unique pests are particularly known to plague food processing centers, farms, and eventually, our pantries.

Here are the three main types of pantry pests and what to know about them.

Granary and Rice Weevils

As their names suggest, granary and rice weevils thrive in large batches of grain and rice, typically in silos and other holding containers before heading to packaging. They enjoy corn, wheat, barley, and rice supplies and will branch out to other starch-based foods once inside your pantry.

Appearance

Weevils are small brown or gray insects that look like long beetles with segmented bodies. While granary weevils are monochromatic, rice weevils have brown bodies with white markings. Both varieties tend to grow up to an eighth of an inch in size. You can differentiate weevils from grain beetles by their long snouts.

Behavior

Weevils will use their source of food both for energy and as a place to lay eggs. For example, when feasting on a kernel of corn, they will bore out the inside of the kernel before laying its eggs inside.

How Infestations Start

The top five feet of a grain silo is typically more prevalent with weevil infestations than the deeper depths due to the heat. Once these grains are transferred to packaging, the weevils can travel within the cereal, rice, or seeds, or corn to your home. Infestations are particularly strong in bags of birdseed and animal food.

Grain Beetles

Though easily confused with weevils at first glance, the grain beetle has a more distinctly segmented body and slightly redder and darker in color. Several different species of similar beets enjoy rice, grains, and fatty foods like nuts. 

Appearance

Grain beetles are very small in length, typically eight to nine millimeters long. This is one of the main reasons it can be hard to detect a grain beetle infestation. Their bodies will range from dark red to black and certain species—like the saw-toothed grain beetle—will have distinguishing features like saw patterns along the sides of its body.

Behavior

Like weevils, grain beetles will eat anything from rice and grains to pet food and tobacco. They also lay their eggs inside grain containers, specifically strong-shelled items like corn kernels. Since eggs can hatch in just a couple of weeks, beetle infestations can grow quickly even if a few beetles make it into one package of food.

How Infestations Start

Damaged packaging inside grocery stores is one of the most common ways that beetles enter your home. Once inside your pantry, beetles can break into other opened or similarly damaged packaging, spreading the infestation in just a few weeks.

Indian Meal Moth

If you’ve ever pulled open a bag of snacks and seen a moth fly out, it is most likely an Indian Meal moth. These invasive insects forage and live inside piles of grains and cereals similar to beetles and weevils, but spend even more time setting up a home to lay eggs and raise their young.

Appearance

Indian Meal moths are easy to differentiate from other moths by their unique coloring. They will typically have reddish-brown bodies with brown bands at the top and bottom of their wings. The center of their wings, however, is paler, typically cream or tan colored. 

These moths can grow up to a quarter of an inch. The larvae, which are common inside boxes of grains, are typically much smaller and completely off-white.

Behavior

These moths are very skilled when it comes to breaking into small holes and cracks in food boxes. Even the smallest amount of damage to a cereal, pet food, or grain bag will welcome these moths to nest.

In addition to living inside and around grains, Indian Meal moths can leave a web of silk behind them as they move throughout the food. Meal moths only like for about four weeks, but can lay hundreds of eggs inside a food container during their lifespan.

How Infestations Start

Indian Meal moths enjoy the steady, warm temperatures of pantries, especially once inside food containers. They are most likely to congregate inside food containers that are left unsealed and go untouched for a long period of time, such as baking flours, rice, and pasta.

Are Pantry Pests Dangerous?

Despite their unsanitary presence in your food, these three pantry pests do not typically carry disease or bacteria. It is not uncommon to accidentally eat or cook with grains that have been contaminated with pantry pests, however, so it’s important to check your food frequently.

The major threat of pantry pests is its ability to quickly spread. If you find signs of beetles, weevils, or moths in your food, the entire container must be thrown away due to its practice of spreading eggs in food pieces. This can become costly and wasteful, especially if the pantry pest has spread to other containers in your kitchen.

Signs of a Pantry Pest Infestation

Pantry bugs can be surprisingly difficult to spot due to their small size and earth-toned coloring. However, a pantry pest infestation will make itself clear once the insects have mated and broken free of their original boxes.

Spotting Pests in Your Kitchen

Once the moths, weevils, and beetles start to travel, you are more likely to see them wandering around the rest of your kitchen. Once you are concerned, check the baseboard, counters, and cupboard for any of these pests walking around the perimeter of your room.

Rice weevils and Indian Meal moths can fly, while the granary weevils will always stink to the floor and sides of rooms. Moths will also be attracted to lights, so check around your pantry or kitchen’s light source for these uniquely colored pests.

Nests and Webs

Moths are some of the only pantry pests that will also leave behind visible signs of their presence inside a container of food. You can find this sticky, silken web across your food when a moth infestation has come in with a box.

Larvae

It’s also important to know how to identify larvae of these three pests, since they can naturally blend in or hide in their food sources. For example, moths produce small white worms as larvae, often with small black heads. Similarly, grain beetle larvae will also be whiter in color and resemble a small worm.

How to Prevent Pantry Pests

The first step of getting rid of any pest in your home is by setting up preventative measures to keep the infestation from growing. Pantry pests can be particularly difficult since it’s easy to pick up an item from the store that has even a small presence of these beetles, weevils, or moths.

Check Your Packaging

The most obvious way to protect your home against pantry pests is to be mindful of what you purchase from the store. Even boxes or bags with small rips and damage can be a sign that pests have found their way inside.

Be Careful with Bulk Food

The longer items sit on shelves, the more likely they are to attract pests, especially if there is no way of sealing foods away after they are opened. If you do buy pantry or pet food in large batches, consider sealable options to bulk up protection from nearby pests.

Redistribute Grains

Plastic, glass, or metal food containers are both a safer and more eco-friendly way of storing food. Many of these sealable jars and containers can also keep your food fresher for longer. In particular, consider distributing the following items that regularly attract pantry pests:

  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Cereal
  • Granola
  • Oatmeal
  • Dry pet food
  • Seeds
  • Nuts
  • Birdseed

Clean Frequently

The backs of cupboards and the floors of pantries are often overlooked unless it’s time for a spring cleaning. If you’re concerned about recent pantry pests in your home, wipe down the edges of your shelves at least once a week to inspect for new intruders.

It’s also important to wash reusable containers in between refills, just in case pests traveled in with the last batch. Begin by vacuuming around corners, edges, and lights before washing down surfaces with a mild soap.

How to Get Rid of Pantry Pests

With pantry pests in particular, it’s important to avoid harmful cleaning chemicals or dangerous pesticides around food. Natural cleaning products will be enough to keep these pests from coming back. 

Throw Out the Container

If you find a moth, weevil, or beetle in or around your food, throw out the entire container of food and inspect the area. There is no way to be sure that the bug has not laid eggs in other parts of the container. If you’ve already eaten a bit of the food inside, do not fret, these pests will not typically cause any health issues, but it is best to toss the container from here.

Inspect the Area

Look through each of the other items in your pantry, including sugars and spices. Pests are known to sneak into other containers, even if they are unsure if the ingredients will provide sustainable food. Be sure to check both inside boxes and their inner bags, as in the case of cereal.

Any small damage to containers, especially damaged corners of flour or sugar bags, are common ways for pests to make their way inside to hide.

Traps and Baits

Once you throw out their food sources, pantry pests should stay away for the time being. However, if a few remaining pests stay on the shelves or on the cracks of your kitchen, you can purchase pheromone-based traps and baits that attract and poison these pests.

If you spot dead beetles or weevils, some species will simply play dead to avoid their prey, so be sure to remove any and all signs of these pests.

Natural Cleaners

For extra protection, you can also try wiping down shelves with an even-part solution of vinegar and water to discourage pests from coming back. Certain herbs, like catnip and dried bay leaves, can also ward off pests in general.

Take Out the Trash

If you had to toss one or more containers of food into the garbage, seal up the bag and bring it outside as soon as possible. Pests are good at sticking around and flying out of the garbage as soon as it’s opened. Remove your bag outside after cleaning the pantry.

Professional Help for Pantry Pests

If pantry pests persistently fill your kitchen, it’s important to call in a professional to get to the bottom of the issue. In some cases, simply throwing out containers and cleaning counters are not catching the hidden pests, but killing them yourself can be tricky without contaminating food.

When you reach out to your local Aptive professional, we will come to your home to provide a customized plan and assessment of why the pantry pest problem keeps coming back.

With the industry’s top eco-friendly extermination products, we will both eliminate current pests, cut off their food supply, and set up barriers to keep them from coming back. Our Four Seasons Protection Plan provides year-round service, catching insects at all always phases of their cycle.

Even if you keep a pristine home, pantry pests can find sneaky ways into your kitchen and food supply. Our experts can help you keep a clean and safe home no matter what threats you face.

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