How to handle household pests

Box Elder bugs on wood siding

Now that our days are warming up, so are those outdoor overwintering insects along with our not-so-favorite winter indoor pests.

Outdoor insects coming inside

Late last fall, adult insects like Box Elder bugs, stink bugs, and other assorted insects found a good place to overwinter – under the siding in cracks and crevices of our homes. With increasing temperatures outdoors and the sun shining strong on the south and west sides of our homes, those insects are becoming active and likely finding their way indoors. None of them can live for very long inside – as their food sources are outdoor plants during the growing season – so you will find them dead on the windowsills and the floor. If you do run across them while they are still alive, paper toweling is all that is needed to remove them.

Pantry Pests are usually seasonal

We all enjoy a good meal or baked item, but there are insects that like those ingredients in the pantry or cabinet. What we do not enjoy is finding these insects in our food. This topic is usually covered just before the holidays since that seems to be the time when lots of flour and baking goods are brought into the home. If you used up all your flour products or stored them in air-tight containers or kept them in the refrigerator or freezer as the baking season ended, then good for you, you likely avoided a much larger problem. These pests can start in one product, like a leftover bag of flour, and within weeks contaminate many others – cereal, oatmeal, pasta products, flour, cornmeal and cake mixes. Then they may even move to powdered milk, dried fruits, dried flower arrangements, dry pet food, and birdseed.

The Culprits

There are both moths and beetles that we commonly find feeding in these products. The one that may be most noticeable is the Indian meal moth since it can be seen as an adult flying around the kitchen or pantry. The common pantry pest beetles are the red flour beetle and the confused flour beetle (which gets its name because it frequently gets “confused” with the red beetle). These beetles will eat all those items already listed plus beans, peas and nuts. Both beetles are very small and could easily go unnoticed for a long time.

The Fix

The remedy for these moths and beetles is to inspect all packages in the cabinet and throw away any clearly infested products. Any products left should be considered suspect and placed in a tight-sealing container in the pantry. Later, if another product is found with the insects, you only have to discard the one product and not inventory the entire pantry again. There are no insecticides to spray, but a bait trap is available for the Indian meal moth, if you want to use it as part of your efforts to rid the moth from the home. Other considerations would be to remember to use older products first and to keep the pantry free of any spilled food and crumbs. Remember: It is most common to see these pests now, but they could occur anytime during the year.

Learn more about identifying and managing these pests.


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About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.