Plodia interpunctella, commonly known as the Indian Meal Moth, can often be found in grain storage areas, infiltrating even the tiniest openings in plastic or cardboard packaging in your pantry. They happily feast on cereal, pet food, flour, cornmeal, dried fruit, and other stored grains. These pests are also notorious for contaminating large food storage facilities and grain storage buildings.
At U.S. ports, the Indian Meal Moth is among the top twelve moth species intercepted, and it is closely related to other highly destructive non-native species that can wreak havoc on U.S. agriculture.
When these moths or their larvae are found in commodities by other USDA agencies, they are sent to the ARS’ Systematic Entomology Lab, situated at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, for identification. ARS researchers use external characteristics such as hair and color to distinguish them from other non-invasive caterpillars. This information is then shared with USDA personnel at U.S. ports to differentiate between species.
The importance of this research lies in the identification of invasive species that could potentially be introduced to the country. Additionally, it helps exclude other closely-related species that could pose a threat to the U.S. economy.
While Indian Meal Moths prefer tropical climates, infestations have been reported worldwide, including in Antarctica. Although they are not harmful to humans in terms of biting or stinging, their contamination of food products poses a significant risk to U.S. agriculture and the economy. The female moth lays up to 300 eggs at a time on grains with a temperature of at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and the larvae start hatching within 14 days.
To prevent infestations, the USDA recommends storing flour, grains, and pantry items in sturdy plastic or glass containers with tight-fitting lids. It is essential not to purchase packaged food that appears damaged, and if an infestation is suspected, it’s best to contact a licensed pest control company for effective deterrence and elimination.