Food pests or stored product insects as they are more widely known, is the term given to a group of insects that are renowned for infesting a wide variety of dried foods such as flour, cereals, grains, spices, pasta, and similar dried goods. They are so small that sometimes it’s easy to miss them. These insects can cause distress when found in your kitchen or pantry cupboards and are often brought in from outside in packets of food or pet foods.
Laying up to 200 eggs at a time, the female passes from one food source to another, spinning a silk thread as she moves, and this can easily be seen as webbing on and around the infested food source. The larvae will then eat the grain and pupate in a cocoon that will be found in cracks and crevices like the corners of ceilings. This is an extremely common pest found in larder cupboards in UK Homes. The Indian meal moth will feed on biscuits, cereals, dried fruits, and other common household foodstuffs.
Size: adult wingspan 15 – 19mm. larvae 8 – 15mm in length
Colour: buff to yellow-brown wings at the top, the remainder reddish brown, whilst larvae tend to be whitish in colour.
Breeding pattern: Life cycle 1 – 3 months. Females lay eggs amongst grain, then the larvae bore into the kernels.
These moths are an extremely persistent pest and because their life cycle is a rapid one, a few moths can suddenly turn into a full-blown infestation. Eradicating the visible adult moths will only give temporary relief as larvae will be present in cracks and crevices and will quickly progress to adulthood, so a thorough, well planned treatment for this tenacious pest is what’s required.
The flour beetle class has two commonly seen types in the United Kingdom: the rust red flour beetle (Tribolium Oryzae) and the confused flour beetle (Tribolium Confusum). Their physical characteristics are similar and this has led to the name ‘confused flour beetle’, however, the main difference is evident in their antennae, with the rust red beetle having a distinct 3 segmented club at the tip, whilst the confused flour beetle has an indistinct 5 or 6 segmented antennae.
Size: both adult beetles are 3 – 4mm long, with their larvae growing up to 6mm in length.
Colour: both adult beetles are reddish brown in colour, with their larvae white in colour.
Breeding:the life cycles of both of these beetles are 4 – 8 weeks. Females lay up to 400 eggs loosely among food material.
Both the rust red flour beetle and the confused flour beetle are frequently found where they feed on stored cereals, grains, stockfeed, seeds, and even spices. It’s interesting to know that neither beetle can eat whole grains and tend to consume broken kernels and cereal dust. These beetles are able to breed throughout the year in warm areas. The life cycle takes from 40 to 90 days, and the adult can live for three years. All forms of the life cycle may be found in infested grain products at the same time.
The biscuit beetle is a tiny brown beetle that can be found infesting a wide variety of dried plant products. It prefers dried herbs and plant material, sometimes used as drugs, hence why it’s also known as the drugstore beetle, and they have also been known to feed on strychnine, a highly toxic herbal extract. It can also feed on a diverse range of dried foods and spices, as well as hair, leather, books, museum artefacts, and as their name suggests, biscuits. The fact that they tend to eat expensive plant material means that these can become extreme costly if treatment or preventative measures are not put in place quickly.
Size: Adults can be up to 3.5 mm in length.
Colour: They are mid-dark brown beetles with a matte appearance.
Breeding: The female can lay up to 75 eggs at once, and the larval period can last up to several months depending on the food source.
Although they will eat all kinds of biscuits (including pet food biscuits), they will infest a wide variety of foods including cereals, powdered soups, dried milk powder, and more. The female beetle will usually lay her eggs in foodstuff that is suitable for larval development. These eggs will then hatch and the newly emerged larvae will chew their way through most types of packaging materials to feed on the contents within. It is the larvae that do the damage, because the adult beetles do not feed, however they can fly and this is how infestations in commercial food storage areas can easily become widespread in a short amount of time.
The sawtoothed grain beetle is defined by sawtoothed-like projections, and there are six tiny ones of these on each side, just behind the head, though you may need a magnifying glass to see them clearly. Generally, it can’t feed on large particles or whole grain, but will tend to nibble on broken kernels or even follow up after other food storage pests.
Size: Adults and larvae are both 3 – 4mm long.
Colour: dark brown (adults), white (larvae).
Breeding: life cycle of 3 – 6 weeks. Females lay up to 300 eggs amongst broken grain and other food.
Commonly seen in grain bins and wheat silos, as well as kitchen pantries. Originally from the Americas, but now found globally around the world, including the United Kingdom, and they have a rapid breeding cycle and the number of eggs averages 375 per female. Eggs hatch in 3-5 days. Within a few hours of hatching, larvae begin to feed. Treatment and preventative measures should be in place as soon as possible once an infestation has been established.
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