invasion of the brown specks
March 28, 2009 10:43 AM   Subscribe

Can you help me identify some teeny-tiny bugs that just invaded my kitchen cupboard? This is in the SF Bay Area.

This morning I awoke to find a bunch of these little guys crawling around my kitchen cupboard. They are so tiny so the photo is not very detailed. I tried zooming way in and my camera is just not up to the task. I've searched online and there are plenty of images of termites and carpet beetles, but they are the close-up kind so I can't tell if these are the same. They are light brown and very interested in food. I mean, as opposed to wood, as far as I can tell. They only showed up in the one kitchen (food-storing) cupboard. Last fall we renovated our kitchen, painted all the cabinets, caulked them all thoroughly, so I suspect these are new guys and haven't had eggs lying in wait. But what do I know? We cleaned them all up and sprayed the cupboard with a vinegar solution. Please tell me this isn't some horrible thing where my walls are about to crumble away.
posted by apostrophe to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's impossible to tell from the photo, but it sounds like you might have weevils. Carpet beetles are a little larger and have white stripes. Weevils are totally brown and sneak into your pantry via flour and grains.

Throw away infested food, clean your cupboards well, and put a few bay leaves on your shelves -- they're supposed to deter the weevils.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:47 AM on March 28, 2009

I had a similar problem.

Throw away ANY food they might have gotten into. This is anything not in a tightly sealed container. Just do it. You don't want to have to go through this again in a couple weeks because you wanted to save a half box of pasta.

Then take everything out, and clean every surface, including the surfaces of cans, jars, etc you're going to keep. I washed them right in the sink. Use some kind of kitchen cleaning fluid, not just vinegar. I used a mild bleach spray cleaner as well inside the cabinets. Just be careful with wood surfaces.

From now on, keep any flour, rice, grains, pasta, beans, spices, etc. either in sealed original packaging, well fitting tupperware type containers, or in the fridge. Personally, I wouldn't put bay leaves out. They're eating organic material, and bay leaves are organic material. Sounds a bit "old-wives tale" to me too.

I haven't had a problem since.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 10:56 AM on March 28, 2009

If they're weevils, they don't eat all organic material -- they eat grains. Bay leaves are not a grain. Google 'bay leaves weevils' to determine old wives' tale status.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:02 AM on March 28, 2009

The google results sure do seem to verify that it's an old wives tale.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 11:11 AM on March 28, 2009

N-thing weevils. I helped a friend get rid of these a few months ago. We emptied out all of the cabinets and wiped them down with a bleach water solution and let them dry. We washed all of the dishes, and threw away any food that they may have gotten into.
His were everywhere - we were finding them in light fixtures and in the crevices of the countertops. So, we also went to a hardware store, and got some bug traps (not sure how helpful these were) and some indoor bug spray. The bug spray was extremely effective. Even so, it still took some time to completely eradicate them.

Good luck!
posted by honeybee413 at 11:44 AM on March 28, 2009

Provided you clean the cupboards thoroughly (soap and water) and invest in some good airtight tubs for your flour, oats, and other grains (including pasta), you should be fine. Weevils are sometimes introduced when you get a bag of flour that hasn't been stored properly, so check any new flour for moving specks each time you top up your tubs.

Once you remove their source of food they'll die off (or leave peacefully) in no time. There's no need to attack them with any chemicals unless, as honeybee says, you've got a major infestation. It's theoretically possible to pick up an infection if you ingest weevils (and if they've been eating something infected with e.coli), but I'd rate it as extremely unlikely.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 12:20 PM on March 28, 2009

The google results sure do seem to verify that it's an old wives tale.


Anyway, if you've got a lot of canned stuff in there, get yourself a permanent marker, then take the labels off one at a time, re-labeling with the marker as you go. Then you can wash the cans.

The thing about weevils that you probably would rather not know is that they probably came free with your purchase of flour or whatever. Sealed containers keep them from getting out and invading everything else, so get some of those. Most importantly: Buy smaller amounts, use more quickly, replace them more often.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:22 PM on March 28, 2009

Tristeza's boyfriend here:

Use this website:

Most of these critters are not *too* difficult to get rid of and they don't really breed very fast. Look at them under a magnifying glass. If they look like these fellas, then the other posters are mainly on the right track, but the bay leaves are fairly meaningless.

When I was working in professional kitchens and we would occasionally get some of these creatures in the flour or whatever, that was generally it for ALL the grain products in the pantry - everything. I mean hundreds of dollars of almost certainly untainted stuff thrown out because although you might get lucky and get rid of them, it's a real pain if the little bastards come back.

Some places would get an exterminator, and that got them all. Some places would just wash down the area really well, which usually worked, but sometimes they would come back.

What I found really worked consistently was keeping all replacement grain products in the refrigerator for a while - like a few months. Consistent cold like that kills them.

I would hesitate before using vinegar. For some species it might be a bane, for others it might be a taste sensation.

Here's another site:

N.B. that last entry - grain mites. Occasionally grain mites or even spider mites will get from the field into a home cabinet. So if they look like tiny, tiny, tiny little spiders, you might want to call an exterminator. Mites breed like you can't believe.

Finally, the problem with any organic insect deterrents or spray-on pesticides in this situation is that they usually require contact with the animal to work.

A) Food.

B) A lot of these creatures can fly.

If I wanted to really secure a set of cabinets I would put some "no-pest strips" in there for a while. No, it's not PC, but the science tells us that the occasional, judicious use of effective pesticides is less harmful than the chlorine and hundreds of other pervasive chemicals we think nothing of exposing ourselves to every day. I don't like to use them, but at least pesticides say "toxic" right there on the package. What I prefer about the toxin from no-pest strips is that it dissipates quickly.
posted by tristeza at 12:35 PM on March 28, 2009

When I lived in LA, weevils invaded everything in my cupboards. I found them inside the salt shaker, a canister of breadcrumbs, the sugar bowl, cereals, and my tea stash. Nasty buggers they are. I had to bomb the house with RAID, throw everything out, and restock my food supply. They never came back.
posted by HotPatatta at 4:04 PM on March 28, 2009

ok, weevils it is. they've got 'evil' right there in their name! i blame the bulk food bins at the hippie grocery store and my habit of leaving said bulk food in baggies. thanks to all for the consensus and the advice.
posted by apostrophe at 5:54 PM on March 28, 2009

I am intentionally blocking a certain memory to keep my bug-phobic self from going insane, but I'll open that door long enough to tell you to check your spices, too -- especially the paprika. Enough said.
posted by theredpen at 6:39 PM on March 28, 2009

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