Maggots on my ceiling?
May 12, 2007 2:33 PM   Subscribe

What are these little worm-like things? They're crawling all over my kitchen ceiling (I keep my kitchen clean) and it's grossing me out.

Photos here: 1, 2. About a week ago, I started noticing a few moths flying around my kitchen, but thought maybe it was because I'd left the windows open (I have screens, but it was all I could think of). Then I noticed these guys crawling all over the ceiling. I've seen up to 20 a day, though only 4 today. I'm sure they're common, but I don't even know where to begin. I'd guess maggots of some sort, but where are they coming from? It's baffling, because I keep the kitchen clean (and it's especially spotless now -- I've even been checking all the food, and have tossed stuff I would normally keep), and I thought maggots usually lived in rotting meat. How do I get rid of them?

Btw, I've called and emailed the landlord, but no response. I know she'll get back to me eventually, but I'd like to know what they are and get rid of them now, if possible.
posted by sa3z to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Ooh. Sounds like pantry moths. They come into your house in dry goods like birdseed, rice, stuff from the bulk bins at the supermarket, etc.

You can buy sticky traps to try and get rid of them. The first step is to go through and get rid of packages of dry goods.

Here's the type of traps I've bought in the past. Last time, I was able to find some at Ace Hardware.
posted by divka at 2:42 PM on May 12, 2007

Oh, and if you look at that site's main page they have general info about pantry moths (what they look like, how to keep from getting infested, etc.)
posted by divka at 2:43 PM on May 12, 2007

Moth larvae, maybe. We had nasty infestation a few years ago, and I used to find larvae crawling on the walls and lots of other places, but now I'm not sure how we got rid of them. Killed them whenever we saw them, scattered mothballs and hung mothball things (I've read that those don't really do much)...eventually they were mostly gone, although I still find reminders of the larvae and cocoons every now and then.
posted by dilettante at 2:45 PM on May 12, 2007

Best answer: Totally pantry moths, aka miller moths.

Those pheromone traps do work, but not until the larvae hatch.

In the meantime, clean up the wigglers (eww) and be sure to keep all dry food (grain, flour, cereal, nuts, raisins, etc.) in glass or hard plastic -- no cardboard boxes, crinkly bags, or zip-locs. Signs of infestation in dry food include little cobweb whiskers (look for "dangly bits" of food on the sides of the container).

They're gross, but basically harmless, except for the spoiled food.
posted by ottereroticist at 2:53 PM on May 12, 2007

Best answer: keep all dry food (grain, flour, cereal, nuts, raisins, etc.) in glass or hard plastic

Be careful about this - the little bastards can get into all kinds of containers. We had plastic containers with snap-on lids, and they managed to get in those. We also found old cocoons around the edges on the outside sometimes.
posted by dilettante at 2:58 PM on May 12, 2007

Best answer: We had an infestation not long ago. We brought some eggs home from a flour mill. Usually we freeze everything we get from there overnight, but one small bag of oat flour got shoved into the cupboard right away. They got into everything. You'll want to check all receptacles of flour, cereal, corn starch, spices*, etc. We moved just about everything we kept into glass jars after that, just to be safe, (the larvae are the destructive phase and can get in about anywhere). We cleaned out the cupboards, washed them top to bottom, and even repainted the insides (overkill, most likely) just in case. If you can get to the eggs and keep a swatter in the kitchen for awhile, (we were getting a dozen moths a day for awhile) you'll be fine. Traps sound nice, too.

We're pretty psycho about a clean kitchen, too, so don't take it personally. Be prepared to toss loads of dry goods. Think of it as an excuse to refresh your spices, which probably need it if you're like most of us. Sorry to scare you, but better safe than almost throwing up at the site of a husk in your food.

*I found them in paprika, garlic, onion powder, etc. You'll see either husks or webbing.
posted by monkeymadness at 2:59 PM on May 12, 2007

Best answer: I got 'em from bulk dog biscuits.

After you've completely de-bugged your pantry, you can keep them from coming back by putting all bulk food you buy in your freezer for a day or two. Kills the eggs.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 3:08 PM on May 12, 2007

er, like monkey said...
posted by kuujjuarapik at 3:09 PM on May 12, 2007

Ugh, those things. My parents had them when I was a kid, and it drove my mom nuts. We wound up throwing all of our open dry goods away and keeping the unopened stuff and the new goods we got in large Rubbermaid containers. At least you can take heart that it has nothing to do with your cleanliness!
posted by christinetheslp at 3:13 PM on May 12, 2007

Best answer: Monkeymadness, we repainted our shelves too after last summer's pantry moth infestation.

The final straw for my wife was when, one morning as she prepared to fry up our Sunday bacon, one of those little worms dropped from the stove hood and writhed in agony in a preheating cast iron frying pan. If the pan were not a generation's old hand-me-down, we'd have probably thrown it away.

Supposedly, they don't like the smell of bay leaves, so we scatter a few of those around our shelves, now. Hard to tell if they're actually working, though.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:33 PM on May 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Look through your grains. There's a good chance you'll find one or more batch have been infested. I have no idea what the eggs look like, but the cocoons will be little webby clumps of grain about .25" wide. I had to toss out all my grains in response to a major infestation about a year ago, thanks to WholeFood's bulk grain bins.
posted by lekvar at 4:08 PM on May 12, 2007

check dried pasta, dried fruit (e.g. raisins) too.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 4:13 PM on May 12, 2007

We had these moths in DC. I could not get rid of them. They would crawl up in corners to pupate. Look for tiny holes in paper/cardboard containers.
posted by MtDewd at 4:23 PM on May 12, 2007

Nthing that it's pantry moths. We had these suckers a few years ago and it drove me crazy. I detailed our final offensive here. Basically, we threw everything out and now all the stuff that they like goes in jars or boxes. I'm still on the lookout though. (My husband is a homebrewer and is constantly bringing in bags of malt. CONSTANT VIGILANCE.)
posted by web-goddess at 4:43 PM on May 12, 2007

Ugh. Pantry moths. I am still fighting them, two years into the war. We keep the Pantry Pest traps going, but still, they breed. Last year I bought a small hand vac so that I could suck up the larva and moths from the ceiling and the corners, and that seemed to help a lot, but still, they abide...
posted by jvilter at 5:22 PM on May 12, 2007

We had them when we lived in Japan. The kitchen of our house was full of the little larvae. We cleaned every inch of our kitchen, which did not work. Then we discovered they were coming from an open package of cookies left on top of the fridge, out of sight. After we cleaned that up they went away.

However, for some reason our house seemed to attract pest (no cockroaches, thank god).

We had giant Asian hornets nest outside our living room (city got rid of them), mud wasps under the lintels, and fucking stray cats that migrated from the fish market loading dock.

We scattered little, stinky chemical tablets, and over the winter the cats seemed to go away. However, when the snow melted, I noticed a little cat's paw sticking out from under a pile of cardboard in the covered drying area.

I lifted up the cardboard and found a mummified cat.

Fucking stray cats.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:51 PM on May 12, 2007

Best answer: Your pictures are bringing back horrible memories. Two years on, we still get pantry moth outbreaks. Every dry good goes into the freezer as soon as it gets home, we consistently sweep out the pantry area, throw stuff out if it looks even a tiny bit suspicious...and still they come. We're currently in a lull but I don't doubt they'll be back. I've found they can get into glass canisters and jars, as well as triple-sealed bags, tupperware, etc. Bastards. People upthread have already mentioned what some of the signs are--husks, "threads" on the sides of cereal boxes or flour containers--but I will add that their eggs are tiny little off-white dots, easily confused for crumbs.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 7:57 PM on May 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

There's also Insect Growth Regulators such as Gentrol.

It's a hormone that prevents larvae from maturing. It won't kill the moths, but it will prevent their offspring from causing further infestation. I believe it's pretty safe around food as it's not a poison.
posted by ShooBoo at 9:38 PM on May 12, 2007

Here in Australia we call them weevils and I get them in my kitchen from time-to-time. I've taken to keeping flour and rice and oats in my fridge and basically chucking out anything I see an infestation in. And then when I buy new anything I put it straight in a plastic or glass container, and then I check pretty much every dryish food I go to cook with before use to ensure they're not in it.

They're gross but not a reflection on your hygiene, which is about the only plus side.
posted by jasperella at 9:45 PM on May 12, 2007

See also: weevils.
posted by hot soup girl at 10:11 PM on May 12, 2007

Best answer: They can grow in anything. I had some in my last apartment. I thought I threw out or sealed up everything but they still hung around. Eventually I found an open cellophane package of dried ancho chili peppers that was infested with them. Everything dry in my kitchen is sealed in glass or hard plastic (ziplocks won't cut it).

This was also when I learned why "crazy" people kept their breakfast cereal in the refrigerator. Turns out they aren't crazy.
posted by chairface at 11:12 PM on May 12, 2007

Nth all the above. They find their way into canned goods I swear!!! Okay, they don't. But they are really really bad. Time to call an exterminator, and throw out all your dry goods? It's a start. All of them. Spices included. Live off fresh food for the summer months, and try again in the fall. They aren't as bad as bedbugs, but only because they aren't eating you. Good luck to you.
posted by metasav at 12:26 AM on May 13, 2007

Best answer: Yep, I hate these. Like everyone else says, there's a good chance that something among your dry foods (flour, noodles, dry soup, powdered mixes, cookies, etc.) has been infested and is sending its wormy children out to find new lands to colonize. Go through everything — everything — in your kitchen cabinets, toss anything infested, and put everything else in sealed jars. Wipe down the inside of your cabinets for good measure. The sealed jars keep the moths out, but they also keep them in; if you misjudge some infested thing as clean, then the vermin can't escape and spread back to other items. (Though you will still have an unpleasant surprise when you eventually open that container. Yecch.)

The moths don't really like things that get disturbed frequently, so probably you'll find the culprit 'way back in the back of some cabinet where you haven't looked in a while.

I prefer glass and Tupperware-type plastic containers with airtight lids. The moths will happily eat through paper bags/boxes or thin cellophane packets.

We had a problem a while back when we switched to a grain-based cat litter — the moths, thwarted in our kitchen, happily started breeding there.
posted by hattifattener at 1:12 AM on May 13, 2007

Store as many dry goods in the fridge/freezer as possible, especially the ones that tend to sit around for a long time (flour etc.).
posted by kmel at 6:03 AM on May 13, 2007

For grains and stuff in canisters, a bay leaf stuck in there will keep weevils out.
posted by dame at 12:36 PM on May 13, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! You were overwhelmingly right and I'm left wondering what other obvious stuff I don't know about. After reading your answers, I suddenly understood why my mom kept all her dry goods in glass jars.

It had really never occurred to me that something so nasty could be lurking in dry goods. I checked the cabinets, and sure enough, that's where the moths and larvae were coming from. I think it was a bag of almonds that caused it (at least that's what had the most larvae/cocoons), but pretty much the whole cupboard was infested (except for canned goods, though I still wiped those down). Surprisingly, the cupboard next to it seemed unscathed; I'm still watching it though.

Ugh. So gross. Right now the infected cupboard is sitting empty (except for a hearty scattering of bay leaves). I haven't seen any moths or wormy maggots since the cleaning yesterday. I hope I got lucky and somehow caught this in an early stage or something. If I have to battle this regularly as some of you seem to have I would be tempted to eat only frozen food for the rest of my life.

Again thanks, and sorry if it was something I should have already known (I don't understand myself how I'd never heard of this). I didn't know if it would be inappropriate to mark everyone as best answer, so I just marked those that had tips that I used. AskMefi is my collective hero.
posted by sa3z at 7:00 PM on May 13, 2007

Just as an additional data point, I've fought these bastards too and won, using the techniques already outlined in the best (and other) answers.
posted by Roach at 11:45 PM on May 13, 2007

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