Larvae in the Pantry

A reader wrote to us recently about some larvae he found in his pantry. More precisely, he found them in a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. (The fact that the larvae were found in Kraft Mac and Cheese is presumably irrelevant. Indeed, the fact that he found them in mac and cheese could be irrelevant.) Technically, the reader asked what type of worm he found in his pantry, but immediately following this he said that he thinks the “worms” he found turn into small, black beetles, which would of course make them larvae, not worms. (Beetles, like most insects, go through a larval stage on the road to maturity.) So, the reader definitely found larvae in his pantry, but what type of larva did he find?

Unfortunately, larvae are all too frequently found in pantries across the world, startling a lot of people and spoiling a lot of food. There are a couple of very common larvae found in food that are worth mentioning up front. One is the “waxworm,” so-called, which is a term that refers to the larval form of a few different moths in the family Pyralidae. One such moth is the Indianmeal Moth – which also, appropriately enough, goes by the name “pantry moth” – but obviously this isn’t what our reader found because it is a moth, not a beetle. (We feel compelled to bring them up, however, so that the content of this article is befitting of its title: Larvae in the Pantry.)

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Another common pest is the flour beetle. Like the term “waxworm,” “flour beetle” doesn’t refer to a single type of beetle. Instead, it refers to a few different species of beetles in the Tenebrio genus. These beetles (and their larvae) could be found in a pantry, so it’s possible our reader found flour beetle larvae. However, he described the creature he found as a quarter of an inch long, which is obviously small, but not as small as flour beetle larvae, which tend to be only one millimeter long. Unless our reader overestimated the size of the creature he found, he likely didn’t find flour beetle larvae.

We can rather casually brush off this last hypothesis because we have a very good idea of what our reader found: carpet beetle larvae. We write about carpet beetle larvae all the time because readers are constantly writing in about them. Most people report finding these creatures in dark areas of their house, like under furniture or in closets. They generally feed on various fabrics (furniture, bedding, clothing, and, of course, carpets), but at least one type of carpet beetle, the black carpet beetle, is found in stored foods with some regularity. The larvae of these black carpet beetles could certainly be about a quarter of an inch long (although they could be a little longer too), and the adult form is, well, a black beetle. In other words, everything about this beetle seems to fit the description of the creature our reader found.

Be that as it may, we of course can’t be certain of what he found. We don’t have a picture to work with, and even if we did it’s hard to be completely certain of what we are looking at. However, we’re sure he found larvae (as opposed to worms) if they are maturing into beetles, and it seems likely he found black carpet beetle larvae based on everything else our reader said.

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