A reader wrote to us about some tiny brown worms she has been finding in various places around her house, including her laundry basket, her bathroom, and her kitchen counter. When the reader says “tiny,” she means it, as she only estimates the worms to be about a quarter of an inch (or six millimeters) in length. The reader says that the worms look like the “ones found in old baking flour,” although she herself hasn’t found them in baking flour. She is wondering what the tiny brown worms are, and she is also wondering how she can get rid of them.
Unfortunately, the reader did not include a picture along with her question. Pictures are always crucial. Even without an image, though, we have some fairly good information about the creature, so we can offer a couple of different suggestions that our reader can further investigate. Both creatures are larvae – more precisely, they are beetle larvae – which means they aren’t worms in the general sense of the word “worm.”
The first possibility is that our reader is in fact finding the creatures that one finds in baking flour, namely, flour beetles, which belong to the darkling beetle genera, which consists of more than 20,000 species. People who work in the grain industry are all too familiar with flour beetles – they are an enormous pest that eats wheat and other grains. They can live in extremely dry temperatures and are resistant to a wide range of insecticides. Perhaps the most well-known species of flour beetle is the mealworm, but our reader likely didn’t find this exact creature because they are normally almost an inch (25 millimeters) long . However, other species of flour beetles have smaller larvae, and indeed many of these larvae are known as mini mealworms. If our reader did find flour beetle larvae, she should thoroughly clean the areas in which she is finding them and make sure to remove any infected food (which might be the source of them).
It is also possible that our reader found carpet beetle larvae, one of the creatures we write about most frequently because readers seem to find them all the time. These creatures are generally quite small, under a half an inch (12 millimeters) in length, and they can be brown (although this is not always the case – some are quite light in color and look a lot like maggots). These larvae tend to feed on various fabrics that are found in houses, which is why they are a common pest. To get rid of carpet beetle larvae, one must follow a similar strategy as the one required to eliminate flour beetle larvae. The goal in both cases is to break the life cycle of the pest, making sure the present generation doesn’t perpetuate itself. A house with carpet beetle larvae should be vacuumed thoroughly and frequently, and clothes should be washed and regularly warn. (Unmoved piles of clothes – even if they are clean – can serve as a food source for carpet beetle larvae.)
Flour beetle larvae and carpet beetle larvae are the only two possibilities that come to mind. If we had to pick one, we would probably go with carpet beetle larvae because they are such a common pest in houses, whereas flour beetle larvae tend to effect structures like cereal silos, not individual homes. However, both are definite possibilities and we encourage our reader to look into them. We hope she won’t have much difficulty in ridding her house of the larvae problem.