Q. This morning I discovered several little white worms with bright red "heads" on the ceiling in the kitchen of my apartment. I immediately checked cupboards to see if they were originating from any food, and from what I could tell they were not. Further investigation revealed they were in several other rooms of the apartment as well - maybe a dozen or more that I could see, all on the ceiling, none seeming to be coming from a centralized location that was apparent to me. I've lived here for almost three years and have never seen anything like it. What are they? Where are they coming from? How do I get rid of them?
A. Check all grain products for infestation. The young (larvae) and some adults of these insects feed on grains (rice, barley, corn, wheat, and bird seed), grain products (oatmeal, cornmeal, pasta, breakfast cereals, flour, cake mixes, pancake flour, and dry pet food), nuts, dried fruits, and other dried plant materials (dried flower arrangements, ornamental corn, seed displays and pictures made with seeds). Several types of beetles (cigarette beetles, carpet beetles and relatives) also will feed on spices.
Eggs and larvae can get brought home in these products. Because all pantry pest adults tend to fly, they can also access the home by flying in. It is always best to store grain products in airtight containers or freeze them. There are many types of beetles. Flour beetles, saw-toothed grain beetles and Indian meal moths are some of the more common pests.
The larvae stage is the next stage after the eggs hatch. Pantry moths are not the same as fabric moths that eat your woolens. Clean out pantries, discard infested food. Spray all nooks, crannies, and crevices with insecticide spray, close doors, and leave overnight. Scrub down interior of cabinets before replacing food. Larvae crawl into hiding places such as along top of baseboards, around door and window frames. The larvae hide for several days, pupate, and emerge as adults. Adults are typically moths or beetles. If you see these around cupboards, dog food, birdseed, or other grain products, then this is usually a sign of infestation, whether or not you spy the larvae crawling on walls or cupboard shelves.
Residual insecticide will kill only larvae and adults; it will not kill eggs or pupae. Thus, repeat treatments in crevices are usually necessary. It is important to store grain products in airtight containers and discard infested products. If you don't do repeated crack and crevice treatment, you may never get rid of the problem. If you are persistent you will eliminate pests in several months.
Pantry moth traps are helpful, too, for eliminating pantry moth infestation, but they only attract males and females go on with reproduction. A colorful suppressing trap with both male and female pheromes will attract both males and females. It is important that you also engage the use of traps. It will take time and persistence to eliminate infestation because you cannot kill the egg or pupae stage in their protective coverings.
Check food products for larval skins shed and left in stored and unopened grain products. Indian meal moth larvae spin webbing threads throughout and over the surface of infested product. Mature larvae usually leave the food source to pupate before becoming an adult. Migrating larvae are usually noticed as they crawl in cupboards and across walls and ceilings.
Don't overstock your pantry with grain products. Keep all of them in airtight containers. Buy groceries at a store where there is a high shelf turnover. Seal cracks and crevices around counters and food preparation areas where crumbs may collect. Once infestation is eliminated, clean, organize cabinets, and inspect for any signs of insect infestation at least twice a year when you do spring and fall cleaning. Practice an ongoing monitoring and inspection plan in the kitchen and food storage areas.
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