Badnoodles (badnoodles) wrote,

The Entomologist vs. The Pantry Ecosystem

Yesterday, I waged war against the insects living in my pantry. It started off as a plain cleaning, but by the time I was done, I'd carried out 4 trash bags of stuff that was either contaminated by bugs or extremely expired.(or both)

Let me tell you what I found.

1.) Indianmeal moth, Plodia interpunctella

(Image gratuitously hotlinked from wikipedia)

The presence of this guy was the main impetus for the clean up. See, while it's easier to ignore a lot of other critters, having a bunch of moths flying around your house is unavoidable. As pests moths go, they are pretty attractive. The adults don't bite - some say they don't even feed - but they do tend to leave a nasty smear when you squish them. The worst thing about Plodia is the caterpillars. They feed on all kinds of stuff in a pantry, and they leave behind a nasty silk webbing in their feeding sites, which tend to the oily vegetable or carbohydrate. And they are quite good chewers, too. Yesterday I found them in a closed party can of mixed nuts, inside several unopened packages of pasta, in a sleeve of Ritz crackers, and in a sealed jar of dry polenta. I still can't figure that out out - the container was *waterproof*, but they got in.

Speaking of how they got in, I'm lucky in that I know precisely how they got here. Usually, bird seed and pet food is the culprit, as it's held to lower sanitation levels than food intended for human consumption. This time, it came from an open bag of Gardetto's that my aunt left in my house. She had an active infestation, Gardetto's make an excellent greasy, carb-y, protected food source for the tiniest larvae. Since I don't tend to eat them, and merely left the bag in the pantry, they had plenty of time to establish a colony.

Indianmeal moths are hard to get rid of. The most important thing is to break the life cycle. That means I had to remove and clean up everything that has caterpillars in it. I also checked inside the flaps of cardboard boxes, and the plastic seams on bags, as the pupae will shelter there. Pupae also like vertical corners, such as where the wall and ceiling meet or on the edges of the underside of shelves. I squashed and wiped without mercy, but I disposed of every caterpillar and pupa I could find. Now that I've taken out most of the younger generation, I'll pick up a pheromone trap to deal with the adult males. The trap is sticky, and baited with a little chemical nugget that smells like a female moth in the mood for love.

It's really funny to watch them try to mate with the lure nugget. Males are not the brightest of creatures.

2.) Carob moth, Ectomyelois ceratoniae
I only found a couple of these nondescript gray moths, and they were exclusively located inside two unopened packages of Medjool dates. If not for the fact that I had Tom Perring on my graduate committee in California, I never would have been able to positively ID the species. Trust me, there are a bunch of moths in the family Pyralidae that are greyish-white and feed on stored products. However, carob moth is one of the few insect pests of date production in California, particularly in large, moist, unpitted dates like the Medjool.

What this means is that the packages of dates were already infested when I bought them. Will that stop me from buying and eating dates in the future? Absolutely not! Dates are delicious, and I can't taste the moth eggs.

Since I didn't find any live ones, the only thing I needed to do was dispose of the contaminated dates.

3.) Red flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum

(again, gratuitous hot-linking)

Ordinarily, you need a nice magnifying glass or a microscope in order to tell red flour beetle from its close relative, confused flour beetle, Tribolium confusum. In this case, I could use behavior to tell them apart. I have seen a few of these beetles fly to my full-spectrum Ott Lite, and only red flour beetles are known to fly. Although this beetle is sometimes called the flour weevil, they are actually members of the family Tenebrionidae, or "darkling beetles". One of the primary defenses of the larger darkling beetles is that they use chemical warfare, squirting a noxious, sulfurous liquid from their back ends. Eleodes actually aims its ass like a cannon. For the flour beetles, these noxious compounds contaminate the flour with a foul smell and flavor. (I guess benzoquinones and caprylic acid are not going to be the next big thing in molecular gastronomy). So even if you were to pick out all the beetle shit, shed skins, and actual beetles in your flour, it would still reek.

Flour beetles are pretty widespread. They could have gotrten into the flour at the mill or packing plant, during transportation, on the shelf at the grocery tore, ore right htere in my own pantry. It's hard to say.

There is a pheromone trap for the beetle, but I probably won't bother with it. Once you get rid of the beetle population in the food source, they usually aren't a problem again.

4.) Varied Carpet Beetle, Anthrenus verbasci

(hotlinked from

I found some of these guys and their larvae feeding on a bag of dried cuttlefish that had gotten wedged in the back of the pantry. I wouldn't mention them at all, except that it was esciting to see a species that I have encountered in a professional capacity. Carpet beetles will feed on dried hair, skin, and feathers, so they are pretty common on older dead bodies. (The converse is not true. Just becasue you have carpet beetles in your house does not mean there's a body nearby. OR DOES IT??)

Getting rid of carpet beetles is a monstrous pain in the ass because they can eat just about everything besides synthetic fibers. So everything from wool coats to leather-bound books are vulnerable to hungry beetles.

I just threw out the cuttlefish.

5.) Assorted Spiders, Family Theridiidae
I can't give a better ID, because many of these fell victim to a certain "squish first, ask questions later" mentality, and the rest RAN FOR THEIR ARACHNID LIVES. But the webs of cobweb spiders, coupled with the large-assed body shape are relatively distinctive.

The presence of spiders in my pantry tells me that there was enoguh going on in there that they had a moving food resource, and enough of one to support multiple spiders. Actually, had I not been in a mood to clean out everything, I would have left the spiders in situ. They can't do anything to harm me. If anything, they are providing a beneficial service inside my pantry.

But as far as clean up, all I did was wipe away the webs. Maybe they will return. I kind of doubt it - with all their prey hopefully gone, there's no need for them to continue hanging around.

6.) American cockroach, Periplaneta americana

Luckily for me, I found only one of these. It was a nymph, and it was already dead, meaning that it never produced more of the little bastards. Roaches are a fact of life in Texas. No matter how clean your home is, you probably have at least a few American cockroaches around somewhere. American cockroaches are also one fo the few insects that I have an absolutely irrational reaction to. I hate them. I know, intellectually, that they are harmless. They don't bite, they don't sting, they are probably cleaner than the cats. But they fly. If you've ever had a roach in your hair, as i have, it's a horrible experience. The little tibial spurs and tarsal claws get tangles, and you have a dirty great bug crawling around where you can't exactly see it. It is way worse than having 10-20 june bugs inside your shorts. And even when they are not flying, they stink something awful.

American cockroaches are one of the species that's big enough to carry the Robo-roach array, which I just wanted to plug becasue the combination of neuroscience and entomology tickles my fancy. And who doesn't want to perform unneccessary surgery to control something's brain? It's the best mad scientist simulator *ever*.


So there are six species of things that I found in my pantry. I'm sure tehre are still bugs in there, but within acceptable levels. This is an important part of the concept of integrated pest management. You have to accept that there are insects everywhere - even in your house. You then have to decide how many is too many, and when you've got more than "too many", you take the appropriate steps to reduce the population size. As an entomologist, and somewhat lazy person, I have a higher tolerance for indoor insect life than many. I don't bother with the earwigs I often find in my bathroom, or care at all about the indoor spiders. I've got some silverfish, but not enough to deploy pesticides. And pesticides aren't always the answer. I didn't use anything more toxic than soap getting rid of these guys. I didn't need to go to Tactical Nuclear Strike to deal with the problem. Even for cockroaches, I just step on them when I see them. When you get right down to it, about the only species that gets chemical treatment is red imported fire ant, because there's really no other way of dealing with the bitches.
  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded