Indian Meal Moth Scientific Name: Plodia interpunctella
Indian Meal Moth Facts
With a name like ‘Indian Meal,’ you would assume that this pest could only be picked up while dining on curry in one of the most populous countries in the world. You could not be further from the truth. The Indian Meal Moth is a very troublesome and common pest that many families and businesses across the United States deal with on a daily basis. These moths were named not for originating in India, but for their appetite for grains, particularly cornmeal, which was called Indian Meal at the time this insect was named.
Don’t think that a lack of cornmeal prevent moths in the pantry. The Indian Meal has a hefty appetite for any grains; this can include your everyday cereals, rice, pasta and bread in your pantry or on your kitchen counter. While Indian Meal Moths will almost always start an eating rampage in your grain section, it is not uncommon for them to move to dried fruits, nuts, coffee beans and even candy and chocolate.
Indian Meal Moth Identification
You may notice the Indian Meal larvae before you notice the actual adult moth. While many species of moths are common during the summertime and often make their way into your home, the larvae is what you will most likely find in your kitchen and pantry. Like other moth larvae, the Indian Meal is a small, worm-like creature with a dark head and pasty-white body. While you may not immediately see the larvae in your food, you might see small feces or secretion as evidence that they have visited.
Once the larvae pupate and reach adulthood they will only reach about 10mm in length (about 5/8’’). When their wings are unfolded they will span almost double their body length—about 20mm or a little over ½ inch. The Indian Meal will always be dark in color. The wing portion nearest the body will be a light gray or yellowing color, but will blend into a dark copper on the outside of the wing.
Indian Meal Moth Life Cycle
Like many other pests, the Indian Meal is largely dependent upon its surrounding temperature and food availability for its survival. If there is an extreme change to either one of these factors, the Indian Meal’s life can be as short as one month. In ideal living conditions, Indian Meal Moths can live upwards of one year. A female Indian Meal can produce anywhere between 50 and 400 eggs at one time; she deposits the egg onto a food surface and leaves them to hatch. In a warm environment, these eggs can hatch in as little as 48 hours and begin eating immediately. In less than ideal conditions, the eggs can take almost two weeks to hatch.
No matter when the moth larvae emerge, they will be extremely hungry and ready to start feeding on anything around them. Pantries or kitchen cupboards are usually ideal nesting ground and provide a variety of food sources for the larvae. Although it is during this stage that the moth will eat the most, the larvae stage only lasts between 2 days and 1½ months, depending on temperature. Larvae will not pupate in their nesting ground; they will generally migrate to some other area nearby. It is not uncommon to find pupating moths in ceiling corners or high up on shelves before becoming adults. The adult moth will emerge and live out the remainder of its life in that general area.
Indian Meal Moth and Humans
Since it has been discovered in human food, the Indian Meal Moths have proved a menace to kitchens across America and the world. These moths are found on most continents, and have helped themselves to grains and food in manufacturing plants, grocery stores, restaurants and homes. Once an infestation has been found, humans have no choice but to throw away all contaminated food, as well as any food that could have been even mildly touched.
Although Indian Meal Moths can be annoying and difficult to get rid of in a personal kitchen, they can be detrimental in a commercial setting. Restaurants and packaging plants can lose hundreds of dollars from damaged products; they can also lose customer loyalty if sickness, allergic reactions or repetitions occur. Infestations can often go unnoticed at plants, and recalls do not happen until customers have complained, giving the packages plenty of time to be dispersed to grocery stores and homes all over the country. If you find moth larvae in a previously unopened package you may want to contact the company right away to see if any other complaints have been made.
Indian Meal Moth Control
It is already clear that Indian Meal Moths are an unwanted addition to any commercial or residential property. Not only can Indian Meal Moths be expensive in food waste, but they can also be difficult to get rid of as the female is able to lay many eggs at once and larvae tends to migrate. The biggest indication of an infestation will be a web-like substance covering patches of your food. This secretion is left by the larvae as they move and feed. Once you notice this contamination it is important that you place the food in a sealed bag and remove it from your home. The Indian Meal larvae is notorious for getting into seemingly airtight places; the last thing you want is for the larvae to escape from an inside garbage container and migrate to another area of your home or building.
Cleaning an infested area is one of the best things you can do to get rid of larvae. Removing and checking all food, placing susceptible food in twist-lid containers, vacuuming, and using strong chemicals when cleaning are all necessary steps. If you cannot see the web-substance, but worry that food is in danger, you can place the food in the freezer for one week or in the oven on low for a couple hours in order to kill any potential larvae. Sticky traps are available to put into your pantry, living room, industrial kitchen or production plant, and can help catch larvae and moths that you miss in your cleaning.