How evil are weevils? A Guide to Control Pantry Pests | australian food and drink

If you spot cobweb-like filaments in starchy pantry items like rice, flour, oats, or sugar, or bits of dried dust on shelves and holes in food packages, you could be facing an invasion of insects like moths or weevils.

Among them are the caterpillars of the white moth, which bear an alarming resemblance to grubs but are a different species, or the grain weevils, which entomologist and food scientist Skye Blackburn describes as “a small beetle with a big long ‘nose’, kind of like Gonzo from the muppets”.

Beetle larvae are found inside whole grains, so you won’t spot them until you see the adults at the bottom of the package. That goes for Sitophilus oryzae, the “rice weevil,” for example, says Associate Professor Rob Emery of Murdoch University.

Sitophilus oryzae, commonly known as the grain or rice weevil‘Kind of like Gonzo from the muppets’: Sitophilus oryzae, commonly known as the grain or rice weevil. Photography: Adid Jimenez/Getty Images/EyeEm

“It uses its snout to pierce the grain, turns around and lays eggs in the opening and seals the hole,” he says. “The egg hatches into a larva, then it usually stays inside the grain until it pupates.”

Usually, people first notice an infestation when they see moths flying around the pantry or black weevils on stored food. Some species of weevils even fly. This requires immediate and thorough action, but it won’t hurt you.

“It doesn’t hurt if you eat them and they’re all extra protein,” says Blackburn. “The average person will eat about a quarter kilogram of insects in their diet each year anyway!”

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In fact, many cultures regularly eat insects such as crickets and beetles, and there is a growing trend to cultivate them as a sustainable source of protein – Blackburn has even launched an edible insect business.

Three types of insects typically enter pantries, according to Professor Ary Hoffmann of the University of Melbourne: grain weevils (mostly of the genus Sitophilus), flour beetles (Tribolium) and webbing moth larvae. flour (Ephestia or Plodia).

There are a myriad of species within these genera. The Lasioderma serricorne cigarette beetle, for example, loves chili and other hot spices, according to Emery.

“I stayed at a friend’s beach house and sprinkled chili powder on my pizza,” he says. “The flakes looked a bit strange, so I opened the container and the beetles had completely consumed the chili powder, who then ate each other, leaving only the red wing coverings. [elytra] behind.”

Recently, a Perth-based TikToker made a similar discovery in its cayenne pepper.

Kernels with web-like filaments suggesting insect infestationWeb-like filaments or a dry, powdery residue are often the first sign of a pantry infestation. Photo: Lavizzara/Getty Images/iStockphoto

‘The problem is easily solved’

In general, the eggs or larvae are likely to be present on the inside or outside of store-bought food packages. Once in your pantry, they can spread quickly, but don’t panic.

“The problem is easily resolved and does not require the application of a chemical pesticide,” says Hoffmann. “All signs of life! And of course, insects are interesting in their own right.”

If you find some moths, he adds, you might even take photos with a macro lens and admire the patterns on their wings.

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For those who prefer to keep bugs out of their food, there are several courses of action. If you already have an infestation, it’s time for a general pantry cleanout. Inspect all of your food for signs of insects. Keep in mind that you can also find moth larvae in dried fruits, nuts, seeds, chocolate, and dry dog ​​food.

Rice weevils in milled riceRice weevils on milled rice. Insects can be troublesome, but experts advise against using pesticides to control them in your pantry. Photo: TommyIX/Getty Images/iStockphoto

If you want to keep food infested, you can heat it in the oven to kill the bugs, Hoffman says. The Spruce home economics website recommends toasting it at 60°C for at least 15 minutes.

Putting the produce in the freezer for 48 hours will also kill the eggs, larvae, or adults, Blackburn says, and you can choose the insects, if you prefer, or just eat them. To prevent them from coming back, it’s a good idea to vacuum your pantry and carefully wipe down all food and shelves, top and bottom.

‘Look, buy, store, cook’

To prevent future infestations, it’s best to put everything in closable jars; plastic bags are no barrier to industrious insects. This is a great opportunity to organize your pantry and see what you have in stock, says Annika Stott, OzHarvest sustainability strategist.

jars in a pantryPutting pantry staples in airtight containers as soon as you bring them home from the grocery store is a good way to prevent a bug infestation. Photograph: CJ Studio/Getty Images

When shopping for dry goods, check the seals and the bottom of the bags for pests such as webbing, dry dust-like residue, or small holes. When unpacking groceries at home, place food in airtight containers.

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Many people claim that repellents, such as various dried herbs, can help keep insects away. Hoffmann says he’s not sure how effective they are, but Blackburn swears by it. “Bay leaves are definitely a winner for me,” he says, “and it’s what I use in my cabinets at home.”

It’s also wise not to overbuy or hoard food – the longer it sits in the pantry, the better the chances of attracting and breeding hungry bugs. That also raises the issue of food waste, as Blackburn says: “Our farmers work hard to give us food.”

Along those lines, the OzHarvest team has tips to avoid wasting valuable food. Stott says her “look, shop, store, cook” mantra is an easy way to build simple habits to help prevent food waste at home and keep pesky pests from getting into your food.”

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