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Pantry Moths and Other Flying Pests

Q. Rose in the Ozarks recently left this intriguing message on our voicemail: "I just finished listening to your November 12th show. Now; I'm pretty sure about this, (but you can look it up.) These so-called "pantry moths" are actually the creatures that pollinate grains in the field. Then they lay their eggs in the seedheads, and eventually emerge from inside your pantry. There's nothing 'wrong' with them, you can even eat them; and in, fact on one of his programs, Dr. Zorba said that this is how Vegans get their vitamin B12."

A. Well, that particular thought just caused a bunch of vegans to run screaming from the room; and probably some omnivores as well. In American society there is a strong prejudice against eating any kind of insect, especially small wormy larva that you didn't deliberately order off a menu.

But one of the advantages of doing this show has been the opportunity to eat properly prepared insects on several occasions. My favorite is fried crickets served with a variety of dipping sauces. If you're feeling adventurous and such a dish is offered on a restaurant menu, I urge you to give it a try. I have also found prepared mealworms to be delicious, although I had to eat them with my eyes closed the first couple of times.

We should all be aware that many of the world's cultures depend on insects for much of their protein. It's free food, it's delicious, and if you're consuming an agricultural pest, you're getting even! Our listeners seem to have enjoyed our "eat your weedies" stories about consuming uncultivated edible plants via foraging, so why not consider pest control through ingestion?

"Dr. Zorba". It has been many years since I last caught the radio show of Zorba Paster M. D., but I'm happy to see he's still at it. His medical advice show is based in Wisconsin and distributed by the Public Radio Exchange, just like YBYG. In addition to being a knowledgeable and compassionate physician, he has long been involved in Tibetan causes and has provided medical care to His Holiness the Dahli Lama. Darn good credentials.

Anyway, I was intrigued by Rose's supposition/theory that without pantry pests there would be no wheat to make Triscuits. But alas, I could find no sources to support this idea. And wheat is self-pollinating; no insects are involved.

Now, the term 'Pantry moth' is a broad characterization that includes many similar species. The one we deal with the most goes by the common name of "Indian meal moth", which I always thought meant they originated in India, but instead comes from their attraction to ornamental {quote} 'Indian' corn.

Anyway, as I have explained for more years than I care to admit, these moths get into your pantry two ways.

One: they are ubiquitous in our environment, and sneak into our homes whenever a door or window is open during warm weather. We rarely if ever notice this intrusion, which is why I said 'sneak'. Once inside, they look for grains that have been unsecurely stored, like flour in sacks that have been opened and then put away unsealed, open boxes of cereal, and dry dog and cat food, whose bags are rarely sealed. (That's why our flour, cereal and kibble is moved to a sealed plastic container after opening.)

Once they find such unprotected food they lay an astonishing amount of eggs directly on the grain. The eggs pupate into disgusting-looking little white caterpillars, which morph into flying adults. The cure (unless you want to try some protein experimentation) is to move everything that's open in that cabinet to a compost pile or, if you must, the trash.

Then warsh down the inside of the cabinet with soap and water, as the pests often lay some eggs on nearby surfaces. No vinegar; no bleach; just good old soap and water to physically dislodge any cocoons.

(PS: Please don't use bleach period. A healthy home is no place for a World War 1 trench gas.)

The other way they come in is on purchased bulk grains or loosely packaged grain products. You can put such items in the freezer for 24 hours to prevent adult emergence.

Prevention is easy: pantry moth traps are widely available and chemical free; they ship flat and you unfold them into a small tent-like structure that's sticky inside and contains a pheromone that attracts the adults. Replace the traps if and when the inside gets covered with frustrated moths. 'Stick with it' {cough; ahem}, and you'll soon be pest free.

Oh, and same with {quote} "clothes moths", which are similar but a different species. It's hard to seal up all your clothes, which makes pheromone traps an excellent investment.

And finally, yellow sticky traps are the cure for {quote} "fruit flies", which are inevitable if you keep fresh fruit or kitchen waste out in the open. (They like to congregate around Worm bins too.) These traps are widely available and, again, chemical-free. Buy them in bulk and put out more than you think you need. They'll not only trap your annoying little flyers, but the number of 'catches' on each trap will give you a good idea of how serious the infestation is. Works great on the fungus gnats that attack house plants too!

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