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indian meal moth
Indian meal moths are probably the most common pests you don’t know by name. You might recognize them by one of their many nicknames instead: the pantry moth”, the “flour moth”, or the “grain moth”. If you’ve ever had a moth infestation in your pantry, chances are the Indian meal moth is your culprit. There’s a reason why the Indian meal moth is--figuratively and literally!--a household pest. Even compared to other pests and other moths, it’s relentless. The Indian meal moth possesses several unusual traits that make a veritable infestation machine. Here are five of the most unbelievable.

5. All Over the World

Indian meal moths are active all over the world, except in AntarcticaIndian meal moths have been found on every continent in the world except Antarctica. Although it prefers tropical habitats, it’s a very resilient pest and can thrive in a wide variety of environments. The Indian meal moth’s prevalence and resilience has made one of the most troublesome stored food pests in the world. It is widely considered the most common and destructive stored food pest in the US.  

4. Fly by Night

Scientists still debate the exact reason why moths are attracted to lightDespite being nocturnal, moths like the Indian meal moth are also phototactic. No one knows for sure why moths are attracted to light, and there are several competing theories. One of these theories, transverse orientation, hypothesizes that moths reference moonlight to keep flying in a straight line at night. No matter how far a moth flies, the moonlight occupies the same position in the sky. By orienting themselves according to the moonlight, moths know they’re flying right-side up. According to transverse orientation, moths confuse bright light sources for moonlight. Then, they fly as if it that light is their reference point instead of the moon. Consequently, they end up flying straight to the light. Moths circle around light sources because they’re trying to navigate as if the source was the moonlight. In other words, they’re confused. That won’t stop them from taking up residence near--or in--your home after they right themselves, however.

3. Les Enfants Terrible

Indian meal moths do all their damage to pantry foods while they're still in larval formBelieve it or not, adult Indian meal moths don’t eat! Once fully-formed adults emerge from their cocoons, meal moths typically only live enough to mate and lay eggs. Meal moths do all their damage during their larval form, when they eat constantly. If you see adult meal moths in your pantry, it’s probably for one of two reasons. Either they just emerged from their cocoons, or they’re looking for a good place to lay eggs. Either way, it probably means you have an infestation. Moths lay eggs on or near food, so larvae will have something to eat as soon as they hatch.  

2. Cardboard will not save you

Indian meal moth larvae can eat through cardboard and soft plasticUnlike most larvae, Indian meal moth larvae can eat through soft plastic and cardboard to get at the food inside it. That ability makes common pantry foods far more vulnerable than you might think. Your cereal, pastas, and stored grains are not safe just because they’re in closed plastic bags inside their boxes. To keep moths from infesting your stored grains, consider keeping them in airtight, hard plastic containers. Make sure crumbs or other remains don’t accumulate inside your pantry over time. Unfortunately, it’s also important to remember that Indian meal moths move around more than many other pest infesters. Just because you don’t see them around your pantry now doesn’t mean you no longer have an infestation.  

1. Evolving toward unstoppable

Indian meal moths have developed biological resistances to various control measuresIndian meal moths typically can’t be controlled with pesticides, since they reside on food. Instead, experts often used a variety of biological agents, including the granulosis virus, to wipe out infestations. Unfortunately, however, recent studies demonstrated that Indian meal moths have begun developing a resistance to the granulosis virus. Indian meal moth populations have actually started selecting for these resistances. In populations exposed to the virus, resistant moths survive longer and have more offspring. These offspring also possess their parents’ genetic resistance. Consequently, many of the biological agents once used to combat the moths have been prohibited. It’s not inaccurate (even if it is a little melodramatic) to say Indian meal moths out-evolved our science!   These five facts might paint the Indian meal moth as some sort of unstoppable monster, but it isn't. With a little knowledge and due diligence, you can keep the meal moth from messing with your food easily. Found out you already have an Indian meal moth problem? Don’t worry about that, either: just call Plunkett’s today. We have what it takes to drive those pests out of your pantry and keep them away permanently. Indian meal moths may be relentless, but we still beat them every time.