8 Important Things to Know About Indian Meal Moths
Indian meal moths are common pests that can be found close to their food supply. Unfortunately, their food source is also part of the diet of many mammals, including humans. Here are 8 important facts that you need to know about Indian meal moths.
1. What type of foods do Indian meal moths consume?
Flour, whole wheat, cornmeal, seeds, shelled corn, dried fruit, nuts, crackers, powdered milk, chocolate, candy, and dry pet food are a few examples of the types of food that Indian meal moths consume. Because a mature female can lay as many as 300 eggs on food material, it is quite possible that packaged foods are already infected with Indian meal moth larvae.
2. What do Indian meal moths look like?
Indian meal moths are reddish-brown and have a copper glow on their exterior, but whitish gray on the inner body parts. They have a wing span of about 3/4 inch. They can be spotted in pantries or resting on exposed grain products. However, the larvae and eggs are much harder to detect.
Indian meal moth larvae is usually yellow, green or pink in color. Fully grown larvae are one-half to five-eights of an inch in length with a brownish-colored head. They have 3 sets of legs and 5 sets of stubs (prolegs) that are used to weave silky webs as they move about. These webs are often noticeable on packaged grains.
The eggs of the meal moth cannot be seen by the human eye. They are whitish, oval and very small. A single egg may be laid or a cluster of as many as 30 eggs are also possible. When these eggs survive the manufacturing process, hundreds of larvae in a single package is possible.
3. Why aren’t Indian meal moth eggs destroyed during manufacturing?
Most major food manufacturing companies do take steps to prevent the infestation of Indian meal moths. The Indian meal moth wants to keep their offspring as close to nutrients as possible and will go that extra mile to make sure the eggs are laid very close to a good food source. Summer months when temperatures range from 64 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit are perfect breeding conditions for the moth. Manufacturing plants deploy pheromone traps to control the presence of the moths during processing of food products. In addition, the insects cannot survive the baking process used for making packaged food products.
4. Are Indian meal moths another name for maggots?
Indian meal moths are caterpillars and not maggots. Each year there are reports of maggots in food products. They are almost always Indian meal moth larvae which have been wrongfully referred to as maggots.
5. Are better controls for infestation available?
Numerous chemicals have been used to control Indian meal moth populations, but effectiveness is limited. Studies have shown that resistance to chemicals occurs through a recessive trait and has little effect on future generations of meal moths. The most controlled environment found so far is from keeping these bugs to a minimum during crop storage.
6. Can humans become sick from accidentally ingesting Indian meal moths?
As creepy as it sounds that you may be eating insect eggs or larvae, this pest does not cause disease. They do not carry any known parasites nor do they carry any harmful pathogens.
7. Can Indian meal moths damage food?
When there is a large infestation of Indian meal moths, food can become unsuitable for consumption. A good example is a grocery store that held pistachio nuts in an open bin of bulk foods. Left to multiply at will, this allowed several generations of Indian meal moths to reproduce quickly. The result was hundreds of larvae noticeably present on the nuts.
8. What can consumers do to check their packaged goods for Indian meal moths?
Upon opening a package, check for white worms and webbing. If signs are present, throw out the entire package and remove from the home. Indian meal moths can eat through paper and plastic and can find other food. If no signs are seen, you can freeze for 4 days to kill off any hidden larvae. Remove from freezer and store in sealed glass or metal containers.