Indian Meal Moth: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell

The Indian Meal Moth is a common household pest notorious for infesting and damaging stored food items such as grains, seeds, dried fruit, nuts, and even pet food. Understanding how to identify, prevent, and control these moths effectively can save homeowners from costly damages and potential health risks.

Adult Indian meal moths have distinct reddish-copper colored wings, measure 5/8 inch long, and serve as the reproductive stage of this insect’s life cycle. However, it’s the larva that chews through packaging and feeds on stored food. Recognizing this whitish, 1/2 inch long larva with a brown head can help homeowners identify signs of an infestation early on.

Knowing their preferred food sources can contribute to prevention and control measures. Indian meal moth larvae commonly feed on items such as grain products, dried fruit, seeds, spices, bird seeds, and dry dog or cat food. Proper storage, regular cleaning, and monitoring of these items can minimize pantry pests’ impact on your home and your family’s health.

Indian Meal Moth Basics

Appearance

The Indian meal moth (Plodia interpunctella) is a small insect, with a wingspan of about 3/4 inch. The adult moth’s wings are two-toned: the front one third is whitish-gray, and the remaining two-thirds are reddish-brown to coppery.

Habits

These moths are notorious for infesting stored food products. The larvae are the ones causing damage, while adult moths’ purpose is reproduction.

Life Cycle

The Indian meal moth’s life cycle consists of four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Adult moths lay eggs in food sources, and once hatched, larvae feed and grow. After reaching a certain size, they pupate and transform into adult moths, completing the life cycle.

Diet

Indian meal moth larvae feed on a variety of food products, especially those of plant origin. Some examples include:

  • Grain products
  • Seeds
  • Dried fruit
  • Dog food
  • Spices

They have been found in stored grains, flour, cornmeal, nuts, dried fruits, powdered milk, candy, chili pepper, and fish among other things.

Infestation Identification

Signs of Infestation

Identifying an Indian Meal Moth infestation involves looking for these signs:

  • Presence of adult moths: They have a 5/8 inch length and reddish-copper colored outer wings 1.
  • Larvae: Whitish, 1/2 inch long, with a brown head1.
  • Webs and cocoons: Larvae spin webs on infested food and leave cocoons in nearby areas.

Inspecting Food Sources

To inspect food sources, check these items for moth presence:

  • Grain and grain products
  • Dried fruit
  • Seeds
  • Crackers
  • Nuts
  • Powdered milk
  • Chocolate
  • Candies
  • Dried peppers
  • Bird seeds
  • Dry dog or cat food[^3^]

Moth Traps and Monitoring

To detect and monitor Indian Meal Moth infestations, use pheromone traps[^5^]. These traps release a chemical to attract adult moths and help:

  • Identify infested areas
  • Monitor moth activity
  • Control the moth population

Detecting Moth Presence

Conduct regular inspections of food sources and storage areas like kitchen or pantry2. Look for moth presence, webs, cocoons, and frass (larva waste).


Prevention and Control

Food Storage

One effective way to prevent Indian Meal Moths from infesting your pantry is proper food storage. Using airtight containers made of plastic or glass can help keep the moths out.

Pros of Airtight Containers:

  • Keep pests out
  • Maintain food freshness

Cons of Airtight Containers:

  • Takes up space
  • Can be costly

Environmental Conditions

Adjusting the environmental conditions of your pantry can help deter moths. Indian Meal Moths prefer warmer temperatures, so keeping the area cool can be effective. For example, placing infested food in the freezer for a few days can kill off eggs and larvae.

Comparison Table

Method Temperature Range Effect on Indian Meal Moths
Freezer Below 32°F Kills eggs and larvae
Cool Pantry 60-65°F Slows growth

Cleaning Practices

Regular cleaning is crucial for controlling Indian Meal Moth populations. Thoroughly vacuum shelves and use soap and water to clean up any spilled food. Discard any infested items to prevent reinfestation.

Cleaning Checklist:

  • Vacuum shelves
  • Scrub with soap and water
  • Dispose of infested foods

Pest Control Solutions

Using moth traps and pesticides can help control Indian Meal Moth infestations. Moth traps specifically target the adult moths, preventing further reproduction.

Pros of Moth Traps:

  • Non-toxic
  • Specifically target adult moths

Cons of Moth Traps:

  • Not effective against larvae
  • Need frequent replacement

Affected Food Sources

Common Pantry Items

Indian Meal Moths are notorious for infesting a wide range of pantry items. Their larvae can be especially destructive and feed on:

  • Grains
  • Cereals
  • Nuts
  • Dried fruit
  • Spices

For example, these pantry moths might be found in rice, crackers, or powdered milk.

Pet Food and Animal Feed

Aside from common household foods, Indian Meal Moths are also known to target pet food, including:

  • Dry dog food
  • Dry cat food
  • Birdseed

Additionally, they can infest animal feed like:

  • Horse feed
  • Chicken feed

Less Common At-Risk Items

Some less common items that might be at risk include:

  • Whole wheat products
  • Dried peppers
  • Chocolate
  • Candies
Common Items Pet Food and Feed Less Common Items
Grains Dry dog food Whole wheat products
Cereals Dry cat food Dried peppers
Nuts Birdseed Chocolate
Dried fruit Horse feed Candies
Spices Chicken feed

Remember, it’s essential to monitor and maintain the cleanliness of your pantry to avoid Indian Meal Moth infestations. Regularly check items for signs of larvae or moth presence. If you spot any of these pests, dispose of the affected food and consider using insecticides when necessary.

Indian Meal Moth Damage

Impact on Homes and Kitchens

Indian meal moths are known pests that can create trouble in homes and kitchens. Their presence is mainly due to the moth larvae, also known as caterpillars, feeding on various food items and packaging materials. One common issue is the caterpillars chewing on cardboard or plastic packaging, creating holes, and allowing other pests to enter easily.

Their infestation habits can lead to contaminated food, unpleasant smells, and the risk of ingesting harmful bacteria. They can also harm food packages that are difficult to replace or are sentimental.

Damage to Food Items

The damage by Indian meal moths primarily impacts stored food products, especially those of plant origin. Here are some of the food items commonly affected:

  • Grain and grain products
  • Dried fruit
  • Seeds
  • Crackers
  • Nuts
  • Powdered milk
  • Chocolate
  • Candies

Apart from these, the caterpillars may also infest items like dried peppers, bird seeds, and dry pet food. The caterpillars cause all the damage as they feed on these products, leaving behind waste materials and webbing that compromise food safety and quality. Adult moths, though only annoying when they fly around, do not directly damage food items.

Examples of damage:

  • Chewed packaging: Caterpillars can chew through cardboard and plastic, creating entry points for other pests.
  • Contaminated food: Larvae leave waste materials and webbing in infested food, which is unsafe for consumption.
Food Item Damage Caused Impact on Homes & Kitchens
Grains Chewing on packaging, contamination Reduced food safety
Dried fruits Caterpillar feeding, contamination Poor food storage
Chocolate Molted larvae, contamination Risk of bacteria ingestion

In conclusion, Indian meal moth infestations can cause significant damage to homes, kitchens and food items. By being aware of their habits and potential impacts, you can take preventive measures to minimize further issues.

Moth Life Stages

Eggs and Pupae

Indian Meal Moth eggs are typically laid in stored food products. These eggs then hatch into larvae which later transform into pupae.

  • Eggs: Grayish-white, oval-shaped, and almost microscopic in size.
  • Pupae: Enclosed within silk-like webbing spun by the larvae.

Larvae

The Indian Meal Moth larvae are the stage responsible for causing the most damage to stored food products. They are:

  • Whitish in color and measure about 1/2 inch in length.
  • Equipped with a brown head, responsible for chewing and spinning webbing.
  • Capable of infesting a diverse range of food products, such as grains, nuts, and dried fruits1.

Adult Moths

Adult Indian Meal Moths are primarily concerned with reproduction and do not cause damage to stored food products. Key features of adult moths are:

  • Size: Approximately 5/8 inch in length, with a wingspread of 3/4 inch2.
  • Color: Two-toned; front one-third of wings are whitish-gray, while the remaining two-thirds are reddish-brown to coppery2.
Life Stage Color Length Role
Eggs & Pupae Grayish Microscopic Development
Larvae Whitish 1/2 inch Feeding and damage
Adult Moths Two-toned 5/8 inch Reproduction

Additional

Footnotes

  1. Oklahoma State University Extension – Indianmeal Moth 2 3

  2. Wisconsin Horticulture – Indian Meal Moth 2 3

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 – Pantry Infestation: Indian Meal Moths

 

Indian Meal Moth
I am having difficulty sending this. We just got power back after a week from the effects of Tropical storm (previously hurricane) Ike. I am writing today to hopefully help others with this nuisance. I searched your site (which I love) for information on the Carolina Praying Mantis we found and thought I’d look up this little booger too. Since you don’t have any photos, I thought I would include some for you. The eggs are almost impossible to see as they are camouflaged to look like the food they are laid in. The white caterpillar, AKA ‘worm’ is about 1/2″ in length.

Indian Meal Moth Caterpillar
Indian Meal Moth Caterpillar

The adult moth is much shorter at approx. 1/4 ” in length.

Indian Meal Moth
Indian Meal Moth

After the first infestation, in which my kids almost ate some of the ‘worms’ in their Cheerios UGH!! , I threw away all infested food and thoroughly washed out all cabinets and canned goods before putt ing them back. It seems that they are able to chew holes through plastic bags also, so I bought see-through canisters to put my dry goods in the last time. This worked for about a year or so. Imagine my mortification when I came across this last sight…… I bought Raisin Bran and after coming home from the store, it was placed in it’s canister. It sat for a while in the canister on the bottom of the cabinet and recently found at least 50 or more ‘worms with their silken threads all in the cereal!!! :oP I always check my bags for holes especially if I find, for example, a small amount of brownie mix finding it’s way out of the bag before I open it. I’ve heard these are quite common and most people, disgustingly enough, inadvertently eat the eggs in their food without realizing it!! I know y’all don’t endorse extermination, but I draw the line when they are in my food! :o) Hopefully the files are small enough not to block your e-mail and big enough for everyone to see. Pl ease let me know if you have any problems. Thanks! I’m off for a good scrubbing again!
Disgusted in OH

Indian Meal Moth Infestation
Indian Meal Moth Infestation

Dear Disgusted,
First off, we sympathize with your loss of power. Mom, in a suburb of Yourngstown’s east side, was without power for twenty hours. Thanks for this wonderful letter and documentation. We do have images of Indian Meal Moths on our Pantry Pest page, but we need to check to see if they got lost in our site migration. Keeping grain products in tightly sealed cannisters is not always a solution, as food may be infested at the factory, at the warehouse, or on the shelf in the market. Spring cleaning of items in the pantry on a yearly basis will help reduce the risk of infestations. Also be mindful that nuts and spices are not exempt from beetle and moth infestation.

Letter 2 – Meal Moth found around Chicken Coop!!!

 

Subject: Moth that’s hanging around our chicken coop
Location: Van Nuys CA
August 30, 2013 5:38 am
Hi Bug Man,
We’ve got this moth that is increasing in numbers rapidly. I mostly see it hanging out around our chicken coop. That seems to be the coolest place during the day in our yard. Could this be the bug getting the new froth on all my recently plante speeches and nectarines?
Signature: Diana

Meal Moth
Meal Moth

Dear Diana,
We quickly identified your Meal Moth,
Pyralis farinalis, on the British Lepidoptera site which has excellent photos.  The site indicates:  ” Jun-Aug; stored grain; common in grain stores, barns etc throughout GB.” Since you live in California and not Great Britain, we wanted to also provide a link on BugGuide., but alas, there are no photos, though BugGuide does provide the information that it is found:  “mainly in homes, barns, warehouses and other buildings where grain or processed grain products are stored” and that it is “a pest of stored grain and grain products throughout the world.”  Charles Hogue, in his landmark book Insects of the Los Angeles Basin wrote:  “The larvae are dirty white except for the dark brown head and first thoracic segment.  They live in cases or tunnels of silk mixed with food debris;  they prefer stale damp material, but all stored vegetable products are susceptible to their ravages.”  You should check the grain you are feeding the chickens for the infestation.  We don’t believe the presence of the larvae in the chicken meal will harm your hens which are probably gobbling up the extra protein with gusto.  The adult Meal Moths do not feed on the grain.  Only the larvae feed on the grain.

Letter 3 – Mating Meal Moths

 

Subject:  Moth
Geographic location of the bug:  North NJ USA
Date: 03/24/2018
Time: 01:22 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  We have these moths in our house and cannot identify what type these are
How you want your letter signed:  Mitch K

Mating Meal Moths

Dear Mitch,
These are mating Meal Moths,
Pyralis farinalis, one of several species that will infest stored foods, especially grain products.  You should search the pantry for the site of the infestation.  According to BugGuide:  “mainly in homes, barns, warehouses and other buildings where grain or processed grain products are stored” and “larvae (caterpillars) feed on stored grain and grain products.” 

Letter 4 – Meal Moths Mating

 

What are these moths?
Sat, Apr 11, 2009 at 8:32 AM
We live in Western Pennsylvania, and seem to have found moths which have eaten some of a wool rug we have in a storage area. We started finding them a couple of weeks ago on our walls and ceilings. I have killed about 6 of them. I did my spring cleaning and found some damage on the edge of a wool rug. I am assuming these are the culprits, but I can’t find these on the web to id them.
Moth
Western Pa

Meal Moths Mating
Meal Moths Mating

Dear Moth,
These are mating Meal Moths and they would be feeding on your stored grain products, not your wool rugs. Generally when we get photos of Pantry Moths, it is the smaller Indian Meal Moth, Plodia interpunctella, but your moths are the Meal Moth, Pyralis farinalis. It has a worldwide distribution. According to our Audubon Guide, the “Caterpillar eats grains, meal, bran, husks, straw, and moist stored hay. … Cleanliness and frequent emptying of storage bins are the best means of controlling this insect. Its caterpillars spin tubular webs amond food, eating from an open end.” We would advise that you check the pantry to see if you have an infestation in the oatmeal or other likely food source.

Letter 5 – Mediterranean Flour Moth, possibly

 

Pantry moths Sat, Jan 17, 2009 at 12:53 PM
Hi, Bugman! I just spent the day cleaning out my pantry, re-packaging food, and cleaning everything down.
I am having a problem with small tan moths that I haven’t been able to identify online. I see the moths most often at night, and they seem attracted to lights. The moths are about 1/2 inch long.
The closest match I can find is the angoumois moth. As you can see from the attached pic, they do have a fringe at the ends of their wings. However, the pics I’ve seen of angoumois moths show pointier wings. And my moths all have a pair of large brown spots midway on the wings.
Erika
Pacific Northwest

Mediterranean Flour Moth???
Mediterranean Flour Moth???

Hi Erika,
Most Pantry Moths we receive are Indian Meal Moths, but we believe you have Mediterranean Flour Moths or Mill Moths, Anagasta kuehniella, or sometimes Ephestia kuehniella .  The PennState College of Agricultural Sciences Department of Entomology has fact sheet on the Mediterranean Flour Moth with drawings, and describes the moth as:  “a pale-gray color and from one-forth to one-half inch long, with a wingspread of slightly less than one inch. The wings are marked with two indistinct, black zigzag lines. The hindwings are a dirty          white. When at rest, the moth extends the forelegs which raises the head          and gives the body a sloping appearance. This posture is very distinctive          and is a more reliable character for identification than the wing markings         which may be rubbed off. ”  There is also a drawing on the UK Stored Product Insects website.  The larger size of your specimen is a contributing factor to our hesitant identification, but we eagerly welcome a more expert opinion on this matter.  Though it doesn’t have a photo that resembles your moth, we found the very helpful Kendall Bioresearch Services Domestic Moth page.

Letter 6 – Mouth Full of Meal Moths!!!!!

 

Worst Bug Story
You have an amazing site; I have spent the last three hours looking it over. Before I share my awful bug story, I would like to suggest an idea to your readers who experience ladybug invasions. You mention that they can vacuum the ladybugs. Yet, why waste good ladybugs that are just trying to survive the winter? Gather them up (a bagless vacuum might work without killing them) and refrigerate them or store them in a cool place until you can release them outside in the spring — targeting, of course, prized shrubs that may be hosting some nasties that the ladybugs could eat.
Now, here is the story (which pales in comparison to the mystery plague and tampon stories listed on your page). Before the store closed down, my stepmother had a bad habit of shopping at a local IGA that frequently sold expired goods. She also never looked at the expiration dates. After one of these shopping trips, I opened up a “new” box of cereal (I forgot — or suppressed — which kind), poured a bowl, and started to eat. Very soon afterward, my family noticed several flying insects buzzing around the kitchen. They looked like quarter inch mayflies, but with shorter proportioned bodies. I thought that they were a bit strange, but I merrily continued to enjoy my cereal — until I happened to look closely at the bowl. The cereal was alive. I ran to the garbage disposal and spit out what I had in my mouth. When I had collected myself, I reopened the cereal box, and a swarm of the pests escaped. The box was very expired, though I am not sure that such is a good excuse for the cereal company. Larva and Flakes just doesn’t sound like a winner for General Mills. Needless to say, it was the last time that I confidently poured cereal without an inspection.

Dear Anonymous,
We hope the Reputation Defender Service Team doesn’t attack us for your letter mentioning General Mills or IGA. We haven’t posted a letter to the Worst Bug Story Ever page of our site in three and a half years, but your story grabbed our attention. Expiration dates are on products for a good reason. While this does not look good for the manufacturer, the burden of enforcement does lie with the retailer and the buyer. On a more positive note, a little additional protein is far less injurious than E. coli in spinich, Salmonella in peanut butter, tainted pet food from China, or the myriad chemical additives that have been approved by the FDA. Thank you for a thoroughly engaging letter and a tip on ladybugs.

Authors

  • 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.

  • 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.

10 thoughts on “Indian Meal Moth: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell”

  1. There are sticky traps, baited with a pheremone, available for Indian meal moths (aka “pantry moths”). I have found them at hardware stores, and on the internet. They are useful for early detection of infestations, and help keep mile infestations under control by trapping the flying adults before they lay their eggs.
    Unfortunately, I can’t help with a source in the U.S.

    Reply
  2. These look very similar to moths i’ve had in the past…as well as your pantry i’d check any pet food. They could also be coming from a package of oatmeal or another shelf stable grain product. I found mine in some oatmeal and after i got rid of it didn’t have too much trouble with the little critters.

    Reply
    • Hi Cesar,
      Sometimes there are glitches in websites. When we first made the posting, the information page was not showing any images. After making the posting, it was possible to find images on BugGuide. Not sure why that happened.

      Reply
  3. During a bad infestation 25 years ago, I discovered pupae nestled in the holes running along the edges of my Ikea cupboards. The holes are there to let you adjust the shelves to various heights.
    I cleaned out the holes and taped them all up with plain ole transparent tape.
    You’ll still have to clean up the adults and larvae, but the favorite nests will be off limits.

    Reply
  4. Great info. We have had meal moths getting stuck into our chook grain here in Brisbane Australia. If the chooks see the larvae they have a feast but i really dont want them getting into the grain so ive decided to buy new plastic storage tubs with lids that actually seals tight this time.

    Reply
  5. We’ve brought these fun bugs home from our local store too many times. Most often, in the Kroger brand sesame seeds (the old tin type two times!!!) i’ve since switched to the expensive seeds in the clear glass shaker just to check first. its always a bummer to make fried rice and pop open a fresh can of sesame seeds to find silk, larva, and a few moths flying out at you. Worst infestation came from a box of cheerios that we didn’t open right away.. after a week we spotted moths and they had managed to infest just about every bag store grain we had. Took a good few weeks of bleaching the pantry to rid, and learning about the moth. It would appear our local grocery store is infested. for the OP.. you can eat them…. not that we have by choice but its basically a meal worm.. we’ve all likely (people in general) ingested thousands of eggs over our lives thus far, they are dust sized… and look like the bits of ground up grain at the bottom of any dry grain food product bag. Keep your grains in a hard Tupperware plastic type bin that seals.. and if they pop up in that sealed box.. its a good chance it was infested at the store, or during packing at factory (don’t buy that product anymore).

    Reply

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