If you've ever noticed weird clumps in an old bag of flour, webbing along the corners or edges of food packaging, or rice that appears to be moving, you've seen pantry moths.
If you've managed to avoid this unsettling experience, we'll tell you what causes pantry moths, where they come from, and the life cycle stages they go through.
What is a pantry moth?
The term 'pantry moth' usually refers to the Indian meal moth. The name "Indian meal moth" came from an entomologist who observed the moth larvae infesting cornmeal, which was commonly called "Indian meal" in the 1800's.
While there are numerous different types of moths, the Indian meal moth is the most common household pantry pest in the United States. It is different from other types of moths because it is attracted to stored food, unlike the clothes moth which is attracted to clothing and fabric, or other agricultural pest moths.
What causes pantry moths?
Pantry moths are on a mission. Their only objective is to reproduce. Moths infest places with an abundant food supply so they can lay their eggs and give their offspring the best chance of survival. Moths rely on their sense of smell to find a mate and a food source.
Moths can enter your home through open doors and windows, as well as through openings around dryer vents, plumbing lines, or cables that pass through walls. A common way they enter your home is by stowing away inside packing or contaminated food from a store or warehouse. You may not notice them until they have already passed through the different phases of a pantry moth life cycle and you see an adult moth flying around your home.
The life cycle of a pantry moth
There are four stages in a pantry moth life cycle:
- Egg: Moth eggs are extremely small and a whitish grey in color. An adult female moth can lay approximately 400 eggs at a time, and they can hatch in just 7 days.
- Larva: This is the stage that causes damage. Moth larvae are tiny worm-like eating machines. Their color can be affected by the food they are eating, and the frass (waste) and casings they leave behind will contaminate food, making it unusable. The larval stage typically lasts 2-3 months depending on conditions.
- Pupa: Moths in the pupal stage are in cocoons, usually hidden in cracks, corners, or crevices. Sometimes the cocoons are buried underneath food, causing the matted webs and clumps that may be found when cleaning after a moth infestation. Moths usually take 15-20 days to develop from pupae into adults.
- Adult: Adult moths appear as winged insects that are attracted to light and fly all around. The purpose of flying around is to find a mate so they can reproduce. They do not having working mouthparts and cannot eat, meaning their only objective is to reproduce. However, since the other stages of the moth life cycle are incredibly stealthy, you may not notice an infestation until this stage which can last one to two weeks.
Are pantry moths harmful?
Pantry moths aren't known for spreading disease, but they can contaminate food in the home kitchen or pantry which is unsettling to see and expensive to replace. In food processing facilities, their webbing can cause major damage to machinery.
Preventing household pests is easier than cleaning up after an infestation. But if your home is already infested, it's important to be proactive with the issue. Learn more about preventing and getting rid of pantry moths naturally here.