Tom Turpin
Professor of
Purdue University







A Tale of Two Moths

The end-of-year holidays are marked by many traditional activities. Thanksgiving feasting, trimming the tree, and lighting holiday candles all add excitement to the season.

All of this is sometimes accompanied by another, some would say less festive, holiday scene. It's the time-honored activity that could be known as the “chasing of the moths.” A classic story, it is reenacted time and time again in many households across America. It begins with an unconfirmed sighting — a little brown moth fluttering about in the glare of the kitchen or living room lights. The erratic flight ends up with a landing on cabinet or curtain.

To most homeowners, the presence of little brown moths is disquieting — something outside the benevolent spirit of the season. It spells trouble with a capital T. Little brown moths, you see, are known, in their immature or larval stages, to feed on clothes or in stored food. Either way, a moth could mean trouble.

Moth sightings are frequently followed by a commotion of high intensity as homeowners try to kill the offending insect. Killing the moth is really only the first volley of an all-out war. What normally follows is a seek-and-destroy mission that would please any retired military officer.

Unless the moth was found near clothing, it is a good bet that the little beast began life in some stored food item. Let the search begin! Such things as oatmeal or cornmeal are immediately suspect and should be dragged from the deep, dark recesses of the food cupboard for a quick look-see. One should not forget that most spices are also potential food items for these insects, as are dry dog and cat foods.

Most common of the little brown moths that frequently cause consternation for cooks are the Angoumois grain moth and the Indian meal moth. The Angoumois grain moth has a rather highfalutin-sounding French name. However, as it feeds it frequently leaves behind unsightly silken webs not at all in tune with the obvious continental sophistication suggested by its name!

The Indian meal moth gets its name because it was first identified feeding in the grain meal produced by the early European settlers to the United States. The meal had been produced from Indian corn, the maize crop named after the misidentified Native American peoples growing it when Europeans arrived on this continent. Hence the insect became the Indian Meal moth and, to this day, makes its meal out of our meals to be — grain meal that is.

Both of these insects can feed in the dried flower arrangements that frequently adorn our homes in this holiday season. So if little brown moths are seen fluttering to and fro in your home during the holidays, don't throw out all the food in the cupboard. At least not until you have concluded that the unwanted moths are not emerging from the dried-plant holiday wreath. Happy Holidays!


Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Andrea McCann