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6:54 p.m. - 2006-03-04
The War at Home
Hello, everybody! I hope you're all doing well and that you're starting to get a spring in your step! Today I smelled the muddy and glorious scent of spring for the first time. March is apparently the snowiest month in Minnesota, so we'll see how long it takes before the mud is covered with snow. We also gain 1.35 hours of sunlight this month!

Alas, clothing retailers have trotted out their "spring" collections. Perhaps they don't realize our mean temperature here in March is 32 degrees. Bring out the pedalpushers and espadrilles!

Have you seen any wildlife lately? This week I saw hawks, crows, and the wild squirrel. Unfortunately, there are some creatures you can find year round...inside your cupboards and closets!

Just two weeks ago my roommate D and I were preparing a delicious lasagna. We'd tenderly roasted some squash, caramelized onions and concocted a garlic and nutmeg-infused milk sauce. But when Dom opened the lasagna box, insectoids fell out! Crisis! We were ticked off, but D solved the problem by making homemade noodles.

Over the last few years I've noticed holes in my sweaters. I don't see moths or caterpillars, just little bitten holes! Unfortunately, the moths have good taste; they avoid cotton and synthetics and just eat my merino wool and cashmere sweaters and coats! I've been able to repair most of the items, but a few I've had to throw away.

I knew these stories required a Critter Corner entry, not just for educational purposes, but also to discover preventative measures to save our sh*t from being destroyed!

Let's start in the kitchen. Among many possible cabinet culprits, I will list two; the Cabinet Beetle (Dermestids) and the Indian Meal Moth (Plodia interpunctella).

Side note: Doesn't the latter scientific name seem like a good name for a rock band? Punktella?

Dermestid beetles are about 5/16 of an inch long. I've seen examples of the pupal stage of this insect in pasta boxes and flour. Here's a picture from

These beetles were originally brought to the US from ships sailing from India.
The life cycle of the cabinet beetle starts with the overwintering of adults, who hide in nooks and cracks in your kitchen. Females lay eggs that hatch in about twelve days. The larvae go through several stages, and in their last stage become the hairy pupae shown above. In several weeks, adult beetles emerge and seek out others for nooky.

The "Ew, gross!" department: Dermestid beetles are often bred and kept in museums to clean off delicate animal skeletons. Yes, you just dump a bunch of beetles on your carcass, and in a day or two, it will be clean!

The other kitchen insectoid, the indian meal moth, once left a web in a bag of nuts in our cupboard. I have seen these adult moths around, usually deceased and in the sink. They are about 3/8 of an inch long and tan in color. Here's a picture from

These moths enjoy eating your grain, seeds (including birdseed), beans, nuts, chocolate and dried fruit. Similar to the cabinet beetle, the female moth lays 60 to 300 eggs near or on the food. Two to fourteen days later, tiny white caterpillars emerge, trailing webs as they eat and grow. Depending on the temperature, the caterpillars make cocoons and emerge weeks or months later as adults. Adult moths don't feed, but only search out each other for sex, and die after five to seven days. Because males locate females by smelling pheromones, pheromone traps are effective in catching indian meal moths.

Side note: This story about meal moths reminded me of the day when I discovered a caterpillar crawling in my box of raisins! This occurred during our opera class, and my friends and I christened the worm "Sir Wiggles Raisin."

But the real key to eliminating these pests starts as soon as you bring pantry items into your house. Make sure your boxes and bags are completely sealed, and store flour and grains in airtight containers, or in the freezer. Try not to buy in bulk if you're not going to use up the item quickly. If you do discover pests in your cupboards, disinfect and vacuum them, throw away any infested items and start anew. If you're in question about an item, you can freeze it for several days to kill any eggs, or heat it in a 130 degree oven for fifteen minutes.

Bugs begone!

Now into the closet. There are several cloth-eating insects as well. These include some of the carpet beetles (related to the cabinet beetles mentioned above) and the Tineidae family of moths. This includes the casemaking clothes moth, the webbing clothes moth and the carpet moth.

Here's a pic from

These moths all have similar life cycles to the bugs covered above. It turns out all these insects are unique in that they can digest keratin, the protein that makes up hair, fur, skin and scales. (Hence the use in digesting flesh in museum specimens.) This includes the sheep and goat hair of my sweaters! But Tineidae moths require grease or fat to digest the keratin. Of course this is provided in the lanolin of sheep fur; sheepskins are often destroyed by moths. But on our clothes the grease and oils are provided by us!

Therefore it it recommended not to store soiled garments. Like foodstuff, sweaters should be stored in sealed containers. I believe wool can be washed in something called Eucalan to make it less susceptible to moths. Carpets should be vacuumed regularly, and clothing can be frozen to kill moth eggs. Apparently the mothballs I'm using in my closet are not effective because it is not sealed off. A less stinky (and non-poisonous) moth solution is to combine satchets of dried geranium leaves, lavender, tansy, pine needles and cedar and place these in your sealed boxes. Cedar chests are effective against moths, not because of their scent, but because they are airtight!

Ok, I hope you now have some weapons to utilize against any insect invaders you might have in your house! Also, send me some new sweaters, size large.



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