Pantry Moths: What to Know

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on January 16, 2023
5 min read

Pantry moths are common household pests. They are small flying insects that infest or contaminate stored pantry goods like grain, cereal, flour, and other dry food. They are also known as grain moths or Indianmeal moths because they commonly infest powdered Indian corn or cornmeal in America. 

Pantry moths are attracted to food sources, which they eat and lay eggs in. Small worms or larvae emerge and feed on these food sources after they hatch from the eggs. They make the food inedible. Pantry moths can cause a nuisance in your home. They can be difficult to get rid of once they infest the food in your pantry. 

What do pantry moths look like? Pantry moths are 6-legged insects with antennae and wings. They are grayish-brown moths with copper or reddish markings on their outer wings. Their bodies are ½ inch or 12.7 millimeters long and oval-shaped. An adult pantry moth’s wing span, from the tip of one wing to that of the other wing, can be between 5/8 inches or 15.87 millimeters and ¾ inches or 19.05 millimeters.

What do pantry moths eat? Pantry moths feed on dry food stored in your pantry like cereal, grains, flour, beans, seeds, nuts, dried fruits, spices, chocolate, candies, dry pet and bird food, and powdered milk.

Pantry moth life cycle. A pantry moth’s life cycle lasts 27 to 305 days. A female pantry moth can lay about 400 eggs after mating. The stages of a pantry moth’s life cycle include:

  • Egg. Pantry moths have grayish-white eggs that are 0.3 to 0.5 millimeters long. Females lay the eggs singly or in clusters directly on a food source. The eggs hatch in 3 to 8 days, depending on the surrounding temperature.
  • Larva. The larvae are off-white colored and about ½ inch or 1.27 centimeters long. But depending on the food source the eggs are laid in, they may appear pink, brown, or greenish. Once they hatch, they disperse and infest a food source. The larvae develop in 6 to 8 weeks. 
  • Pupa. The larvae form a silky cocoon or stay unprotected to change or metamorphose into pupae. The pupae are pale brown and ¼ inches or 6 millimeters to 2/5 inches or 11 millimeters long. The larvae move away from the infested food source to become pupae. They may even climb other shelves in your pantry and misdirect you as you look for infestation. This stage lasts from 7 to 20 days, depending on the temperature.
  • Adults. Adults emerge from the cocoons and flutter around the room. They are attracted to light and may move to other rooms in your house, which is why you may mistake them for clothing pests. Adults do not feed on the food source they emerge from. They begin mating and lay eggs three days after emergence.

The most common pantry moths are:

Indianmeal moth. The Indianmeal moth species Plodia interpunctella is the most common pantry moth. These moths are as small as a grain of cooked rice, about 12 to 13 millimeters long. They have brown wings with a tan stripe and copper-colored tips. You may see Indianmeal moth larvae at the junction of a wall and ceiling or in cracks and crevices.

Angoumois grain moth. Grain moths of the species Sitotroga cerealella are smaller than Indianmeal moths. They are 8.5 millimeters in length. They are yellowish-brown moths with lighter front wings and fringed rear margins.

Pantry moths are found worldwide. They are seen in kitchens, pantries, grocery stores, and other places where food is stored. They infest food and lay their eggs on and around the food source. They also contaminate food products. Pantry moths are also attracted to light and may often enter other rooms in your house.

If you find tiny moths fluttering in your pantry or resting on shelves, you might have pantry moths. You may also see small worm-like larvae crawling on stored food and the ceilings or walls of your home. It indicates that your house may be infested with pantry moths.  

Adult moths are a sign of infested food items in your house. Female moths lay 100 to 400 eggs on or near stored food. The larvae chew through and damage food sources and their packaging like plastic bags or thin cardboard. Sealed packages can also become infested. 

The larvae feed on the food surface. They spin silky webs, which clump seeds or grains together. They also leave droppings, shed skin, and egg shells on stored food and contaminate it. If you see food covered with droppings or webbings and find holes in plastic bags, you have a pantry moth infestation.

Pantry moths can be found inside any stored food areas. Female pantry moths lay their eggs on whole grains like corn, oats, barley, or rice. Packaged food may be contaminated with eggs and may not be detected until much later. 

You may unknowingly bring contaminated food into your home. Bringing infested food from the grocery store, pet food, or birdseed can lead to contamination of other stored food in your house. Pantry moths can bore through packaging or enter through small holes in it. The infestation can spread from package to package.

Are pantry moths harmful? Pantry moths are not harmful pests and don’t transmit human diseases. They contaminate food with droppings, egg shells, shed skin, and webbing. It doesn’t affect the food’s flavor but is visibly off-putting.

Do pantry moths bite? Pantry moths don’t bite or sting you. They only infest food sources.

Here are some DIY pest control tips to get rid of pantry moths:

1. Inspect dried food products carefully for signs of pantry moth infestation. Throw away infested food in bins outside the house.

2. Clean infested shelves and cabinets with a vacuum to remove spilled food, eggs, and larvae. Also, clean the shelves and cabinets with soapy water.

3. Store food in sealed or airtight thick glass or plastic containers. Pantry moth larvae can’t penetrate these materials. Avoid using thin plastic bags as pantry moth larvae can enter them.

4. Place the non-infested food in a freezer for a week, or heat it in a pan at 150 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes. This will stop the growth of eggs or larvae in the food. 

5. Use pheromone traps or yellow sticky traps to monitor the population of pantry moths and infested areas in your house.

6. Avoid using mothballs and pesticide sprays in areas where food is stored or prepared. They release gasses that can be harmful for consumption by pets and humans.

7. Insecticides and pesticides can control pantry moth infestations. But they aren’t very effective.