Do Indian Meal Moths Eat Clothes? Uncovering the Truth

Indian meal moths are a common household pest often found invading kitchens and pantries. These moths feast on various food items such as grains, dried fruits, seeds, and pet food. An infestation can lead to significant damage to stored food products, creating a need for proper storage and prevention measures. The adult Indian meal moth measures about 5/8 inch long and is characterized by reddish-copper colored wings, making it easy to identify in your home. source

When dealing with Indian meal moths, a common concern is whether or not these insects will also eat and damage clothing.

Indian Meal Moths and Clothes Moths: The Difference

Appearance

Indian meal moths (Plodia interpunctella) are a significant pantry pest, with adults having a 5/8 inch wingspan. Their wings are pale gray, with the outer two-thirds appearing reddish-copper in color.

Clothes moths, on the other hand, include species such as Tinea pellionella (casemaking clothes moth) and Tineola bisselliella (webbing clothes moth). They are smaller than Indian meal moths, with a wingspan ranging from 1/2 to 5/8 inches. Clothes moths exhibit a more uniform tan or beige coloration on their wings.

Preferred Food Source

Indian meal moth larvae are known to feed on a variety of food items in your pantry, such as grain products, seeds, dried fruit, dog food, and spices. They were given their common name due to their tendency to infest meal made from “Indian corn” or maize (source).

Clothes moth larvae, conversely, feed on materials like wool, fur, feathers, and silk, damaging clothing and other fabric items in the process. They particularly thrive on soiled or stained fabrics, as that provides them with the necessary nutrients for their development (source).

Habitat

Typically, Indian meal moths are found in your kitchen and pantry areas where their preferred food sources are stored. Their larvae leave behind silken threads, which is a telltale sign of their presence in these locations.

Clothes moths, however, are more likely to take up residence in your wardrobe, drawers, or storage areas where garments and fabric items are kept.

Attribute Indian Meal Moths Clothes Moths
Preferred Habitat Pantry and kitchen areas Wardrobe, drawers and storage areas
Appearance Pale gray with reddish-copper wings Uniform tan or beige coloration
Wingspan 5/8 inch 1/2 to 5/8 inches
Preferred Food Source Grain products, seeds, dried fruit, dog food, spices Wool, fur, feathers, silk

By understanding these differences between the Indian meal moth and clothes moths, you can better identify which pest may be present in your home and address the infestation accordingly.

Indian Meal Moth Life Cycle and Feeding Habits

Eggs and Larvae

Indian meal moths, as common pantry pests, follow a life cycle that begins with the female moth laying eggs on or near a food source. The eggs can be found in grain products, seeds, dried fruit, and spices. Once the eggs hatch, tiny whitish caterpillars, also known as larvae, emerge and start feeding on these food sources. These caterpillars can sometimes resemble small white worms. They create a web-like material that can cause the infested food to become clumped together.

Some features of the Indian meal moth’s eggs and larvae stage include:

  • Hatching from eggs near food sources
  • Feeding on a variety of pantry items
  • Resembling small white worms
  • Producing webbing as they feed

Pupa to Adult

As the larvae mature, they move away from the food source to pupate. During this pupal stage, the insect will transform into an adult moth. Once the adult Indian Meal Moth emerges, it has wings with a distinct color pattern. The front wings are whitish-gray on the inner third, and reddish-brown on the outer two-thirds, with a wingspan of 5/8 to 3/4 inches.

Comparing larvae and adult stages:

Stage Description
Larvae Caterpillar-like, white worms feeding on pantry items
Adult Moth Copper-colored wings, does not cause direct damage

Despite their reputation as pests, adult Indian meal moths do not eat or cause direct damage to food or fabrics. They focus mainly on reproduction. It is the larvae that do the actual damage by feeding and infesting stored food products.

Food Sources and Damage Caused by Indian Meal Moths

Common Foods Targeted

Indian meal moths are known to target a variety of food items in households, including:

  • Grains: such as flour and rice
  • Dried fruits: e.g., raisins and apricots
  • Nuts: almonds, walnuts, and more
  • Cereals: including oatmeal and cornflakes
  • Processed foods: like pasta and crackers
  • Pet food: dry pet food and birdseed

These pests cause significant damage to these products by infesting, contaminating, and leaving behind silk threads and feces, rendering the food inedible.

Preventing Food Infestations

Here are some steps you can take to prevent Indian meal moths from infesting your food:

  • Store food in airtight containers to avoid entry of larvae and adult moths
  • Regularly clean and inspect your pantry for signs of moth activity or damaged packaging
  • Rotate stock, using older products before newer ones to minimize the chances of infestation
  • Keep your pantry and cooking areas clean by wiping down shelves, vacuuming, and discarding any infested or expired food products
  • Use pheromone traps to monitor and capture adult moths before they have a chance to lay eggs
Food Item Storage Method Regular Inspection
Grains Airtight containers Yes
Dried fruits Airtight containers Yes
Nuts Airtight containers or freezer Yes
Cereals Airtight containers Yes
Processed foods Airtight containers Yes
Pet food Airtight containers or freezer Yes

Pros of following these prevention methods:

  • Reduced likelihood of infestation
  • Longer lasting food products
  • Cleaner and more organized pantry

Cons:

  • Requires vigilance and ongoing effort
  • Airtight container costs

Preventing and Controlling Indian Meal Moth Infestations

Cleaning and Vacuuming

  • Regularly clean cabinets and counters with soap and water to remove food residue.
  • Vacuum crevices in cabinets and shelves.
  • Dispose of vacuum bag promptly to prevent re-infestation.

Pheromone Traps

  • Place pheromone traps to attract male moths.
  • Decreases moth populations and breaks mating cycle.
  • Change traps regularly for best results.

Proper Food Storage

  • Store food in airtight containers or heavy-duty plastic.
  • Check for holes, tears, or damage in food packaging.
  • Dispose of infested food promptly.

Example: Airtight container configurations:

  • Glass jars with screw-top lids
  • Plastic bins with locking mechanisms

Temperature Control

  • Indian meal moths can’t survive extreme temperatures.
  • Place infested food in an oven at 130°F for several hours or in a freezer below 0°F for four days.
  • This will kill larvae and prevent future infestations.

Seeking Professional Help

  • Contact a pest control professional if infestations continue.
  • Exterminators can target specific problem areas and apply treatments.
  • They can also offer personalized advice for future prevention.

Comparison Table: DIY Methods vs. Professional Help

Method Pros Cons
DIY Methods Cost-effective, can prevent re-infestation May not be effective in severe cases
Professional Help Targeted treatment, expert guidance Can be costly, may require multiple visits

Can Indian Meal Moths Damage Clothing?

Clothing Materials at Risk

Indian meal moths are not typically known for damaging clothes. Their primary target is actually stored food products such as grain items, seeds, dried fruits, dog food, and spices. Examples of infested materials include:

  • Flour
  • Rice
  • Cereals
  • Dried fruits
  • Pet food

Moths in Relation to Wool and Other Natural Fibers

While Indian meal moths don’t pose a threat to clothing items, other types of moths, such as casemaking and webbing clothes moths, specifically target natural fibers. These moths can cause damage to materials such as wool, fur, silk, and other items containing keratin. Some common clothing materials at risk include:

  • Woolen sweaters
  • Fur coats
  • Silk garments
  • Leather products

Alternative Moths That Target Clothes

As mentioned earlier, casemaking and webbing clothes moths are the primary culprits for clothing damage. Here are some notable differences between them:

Casemaking Clothes Moths Webbing Clothes Moths
Appearance Brownish Yellowish
Larvae Habitat Inside a case On the surface of infested material

To prevent these moths from infesting and damaging clothes, some useful methods include:

  • Regularly washing clothes at a high temperature
  • Vacuuming closets and cabinets
  • Using moth traps with pheromones
  • Storing clothes in sealed storage bags or containers during winter months

Keep in mind, while Indian meal moths don’t target clothes directly, they can still indirectly cause damage. For example, their presence may attract rodents, which are known to damage clothing.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Indian Meal Moth

 

Hi
Great website. Cool looking moths. These things just invaded our house the other day. Any idea what they are? Thanks for the help!
Frank

Hi Frank,
This is an Indian Meal Moth, Plodia interpunctella. It is a common household pest since it infests stored cereal and grain products, including pet food. Our own recent infestations included oat meal and corn meal.

Dearest Daniel
We live part time in a home in the Caribbean. Every day I say to myself “whatsthatbug”, so needless to say, I love your website and will visit often. And thank you for the quick response to my Canadian moth question! I’m throwing out flour as we speak. You rock!!!
Frank

Letter 2 – Indian Meal Moth

 

Subject: Pesky bugs everywhere!!!
Location: Southern California U.S.A
April 7, 2016 6:18 am
I live in Southern California and recently since I had new roommates there’s been a LOT of these bugs each time I go into my room. They don’t do much they’re just always placed on the walls. I believe they may be moths but could be something much worse. They’re quite small about half an inch but I would really appreciate some identification as I’m concerned of any health issues or what may have brought them.
Signature: Annoyed Adrian

Pantry Moth
Pantry Moth

Dear Annoyed Adrian,
This is an Indian Meal Moth, a type of Pantry Moth.  The larvae of Pantry Moths feed on stored grain products, including flour and corn meal.  You might have all your room mates check for a forgotten bag of chocolate chip cookies under the bed, or perhaps a slice of pizza fell under the couch cushion.  You can also investigate the pantry for that three year old carton of oat meal, and don’t forget the spice drawer.

Thank you so much! I’ve been embarrassed recently to have any friends over and see the moths on the walls in my room. I’ll look around to remove any food that may be attracting them and tell my roommates as well. Thank you so much again for identifying and providing info about them.

Letter 3 – Indian Meal Moth

 

Subject: Moth like Bug
Location: Dallas Texas
September 24, 2016 5:02 pm
Hello! For a few weeks now I have seen these moth like bugs in my house! At first I thought it was just from us in and out the door when the porch light was on or the garage door was open. However, now I know that there is some type of issue. Back in March I had a 60 lb bees honey comb removed from in between my bedroom floor and the bottom level of the house, my son’s bedroom ceiling. Is it a termite, a moth in my grains, larva for another bug? Please be so kind to give me your expertise and advice.
Warmest,
Signature: Tiffiney

Indian Meal Moth
Indian Meal Moth

Dear Tiffiney,
It is time to clean out the pantry.  This is an Indian Meal Moth, a species that infests stored grain products like oatmeal and cornmeal that were left on the shelf too long.  They will also infest stored nuts and spices.

Daniel,
Thank you so much. Last night I finally seen some in the top of the pantry. I had read that they can be attracted to grains. I had some old cornmeal I never used that has been there for over a year on the top shelf. I so appreciate you responding and your expertise! I love your website and I would love to blog about it soon.
warmest and thank you so much,
Tiffiney

Cornmeal is one of their favorites.

Letter 4 – Indian Meal Moth

 

Subject: Bug
Location: Warsaw mo. 65366
September 28, 2016 10:44 pm
It kinda looks like a moth! They are always on the curtains, betting and couches! When I kill them it’s all powdery! I want to say it’s a greenish coler with black dots! What do you think they are? It kinda looks like this picture but that’s not it!
Signature: Thanks, Brandy

Indian Meal Moth
Indian Meal Moth

Dear Brandy,
This is an Indian Meal Moth, and the numbers you are finding in your home most likely means you have an infestation in your pantry.  Try looking at stored grain products to see if there is a long expired box of cornmeal or oatmeal at the back of the top shelf.

Letter 5 – Indian Meal Moth

 

Subject:  Unknown bug
Geographic location of the bug:  Midwest
Date: 03/07/2018
Time: 09:29 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  What is this and how do I keep it out of my house?
How you want your letter signed:  Thanks Jill

Indian Meal Moth

Dear Jill,
This is an Indian Meal Moth, a common species that will infest stored grain products in the panty.  Check if there is a forgotten box of oatmeal or corn meal on the shelf.  They will also infest stored dry pet foods and bird seed.

Letter 6 – Indian Meal Moth

 

Subject:  Looking for source of flies inside the house 🙁
Geographic location of the bug:  Montreal, canada
Date: 04/21/2019
Time: 08:42 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hello, please help me identify the source of these flies that started to appear in my house 2 weeks ago. I kill 1-2 per day since but can’t find the source 🙁 what kind of fly is this? What can be the source?? Im searching the kitchen but couldn’t find clues yet
How you want your letter signed:  Lyne

Indian Meal Moth

Dear Lyne,
This is not a Fly.  It is an Indian Meal Moth, a species that infests stored grain products.  We suggest you check your pantry for the site of the infestation.  Perhaps that corn meal you only use at Thanksgiving or that long forgotten oatmeal at the back of the cupboard.  They will also infest spices. The larvae feed on grain.  The adults do not.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

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  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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1 thought on “Do Indian Meal Moths Eat Clothes? Uncovering the Truth”

  1. Check the rice , lentils, etc. I had them for first time this year. Because getting lazy . They are harmless but they will get into your grains. I had to throw a little bit of rice away.
    They do not sting, they do not bite. Yes they are powdery.
    Next time this happens, maybe the buggy grain can be used to feed chickens?

    Reply

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