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Invasion of the Pantry Moths

May 28, 2014


Illustration by Kathy Legg / images iStock

Illustration by Kathy Legg / images iStock

THE LITTLE GRAY MOTHS were procreating in the middle of the kitchen counter in full view of the microwave oven, where they may have been intently enjoying their own orgasmic reflection when I chanced upon them early this morning.  Before coffee and without hesitation, I murdered them with a partially used piece of Bounty paper towel.

They never had a chance. In the two or three years since pantry moths have taken over my kitchen and sometimes made reconnaissance flights into my bedroom closet, I have learned to show no mercy.

I wasn’t always this way. When they first appeared, probably on the backs of a moldy potato or onion, I allowed them to flutter around undisturbed. I felt a little sorry for them. They had none of the speed and agility of the buzzing black housefly. The pantry moth is slow and seemingly dimwitted, plodding through the air like a drunk driver and very easy to smack down. Even a 4-year-old can catch the lethargic little flutterers.  My son would hold one in his cupped palms and free it outside, as I sometimes did when I had the time. We saw no reason to end its life.

How innocent we were.

The gray airborne smudges lulled us into complacency. Not only did they move in slo-mo tempo, they were also plainer than a brown paper bag, in no way taking after their cousin, the graceful butterfly with wings in riots of colors. Grayish brown, the size of a large mosquito, and completely without sparkle, the insect epitomized blandness. It did not bite or sting or put up any defense.  I left the pathetic creature alone and assumed its family would die a timely death and my kitchen would eventually return to normal.

How wrong I was.

Within a month of my first moth sighting, my kitchen had become a veritable aviary–or whatever is the moth equivalent.  I had to invent excuses to prevent visitors from entering our jungle-kitchen and was ashamed when guests insisted on helping serve or clear.

“Thanks, really, but our counter space is completely used up.”

“You are too kind, but honestly, we have a maid coming tomorrow.”

“My husband and I enjoy doing dishes together. It’s the only time we have to talk.”

At a dinner party one evening, after successfully steering our guests into the family room out of kitchen view, I noticed one polite friend trying to hide the fact that she had found a dead-drunk moth floating in her wine glass. When our eyes met, she cheerfully fished it out, folded it away into the distant corners of her napkin, lifted the glass to her lips and sipped, winking at me. I was mortified.

With moth-like speed it finally dawned on me. The time had come to fight back.

Absolute Astronomy explained that the pest with which I had been living was the Indian meal moth, also known as the North American High-Flyer. It lives in kitchens all over the world, breeding larvae (caterpillars), which feed on cereal and dry grains.

They survive by being good at one thing: sex. They are masters of procreation, moth-baby machines. They make 300 babies at a time. Their eggs hatch every two weeks. It’s no wonder they are so slow. They are tottering around in a post-sex haze all the time. And their hungry little larvae invade bags of food, boxes of cereal, drawers and cupboards so they can grow up and have sex, too. Traps lure these flying Casanovas with pheromone bait. Small wonder.

While surfing the web, I also found out I was not alone in being overtaken by the speck-sized foe. The Terminix website had this desperate posting:

“Help … Help … I am seeing little brown weevils flying around in my bedroom… and in my window seal [sic]…they are really… really bad…I have sprayed pesticide day after … day…it kills them…but they just keep showing up…what on earth can I do….please help me..”

One person who calls herself Antique Lady gave this advice, the gist of which was echoed by other experienced moth handlers on other sites: “Hate to break this to you but Pantry Moths are really extremely hard to get rid of,” she said. She recommended using Hot Shot Flying Insect Killer. Apt name, I thought. But spray alone won’t solve the problem. She and other experienced moth eradicators on the Web strongly recommended disposing of all food and containers with larvae in them and putting any open cereal or grain products in tightly sealed containers.

“Spray your cabinets well on the inside and shut the doors,” Antique Lady instructed. “Spray your entire kitchen and keep doors and windows closed for an hour or so. Pay extra attention to the woodwork and trim of cabinets. They like to lay eggs there.” She recommends spraying weekly until no moths appear in your house for at least two months. Then, she says, spray again at least once a month.

Antique Lady scared me straight. I cleaned out every cupboard and drawer. Put my flour and cereal in Ziploc bags and Tupperware. Visited the hardware store and bought moth-killing devices. The suckers took the bait. Many of them died.

Sometimes I go for weeks now without seeing anything flying through my kitchen. But I remain vigilant, and every now and then a little gray flier flutters by.  I no longer hesitate, nor do my children, husband or guests. They have been given their orders. Kill them on sight.

–Denyse Tannenbaum
Denyse Tannenbaum is a freelance writer and editor living in Washington, D.C.



3 thoughts on “Invasion of the Pantry Moths

  1. Judith says:

    I’m with Didi–these little monsters tortured me for months until I started using the sticky traps. The ones that I found to work the best are the Pro-Pest traps. I got them here: http://www.dreamingearth.com/catalog/pc/Flour-and-Pantry-Moth-Traps-23p382.htm

    Also, I used to shop a lot at bulk food stores and I just don’t do that anymore–too risky as they tend to harbor larvae. If I do get something in bulk I freeze it for a few days just to be sure. And I keep a trap in my pantry always–it seems to keep everything under control.

  2. Didi says:

    I have waged a 4 year battle with these little buggers. Little did I realize I was harboring a horde of them in a long forgotten Bisquick box in the back of my pantry. Once disturbed, I was under assault. The sprays did nothing more than pit the cover of my new Macbook. The only thing I found that worked were special “Pantry Moth” sticky traps that used pheromones to attract and grab the pests. While I still see an occasional moth (bird food) – these traps helped me re-capture my home. Here is a link to the traps that worked for me!


  3. Tamara Friedman says:

    Wow, what a story. I was with the author every step of the way. Her writing is brilliant – full of humour, great rhythm, and wonderful, vivid description. She took a commonplace, mundane event and turned it into a suspenseful drama!

    Can’t wait to read more!


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