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A pleasant sign of springtime?

Nope! A sign of grains kept in the pantry too long

Published: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 9:13 a.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 2)

(MCT) — In the beginning, I thought the fluttering little creatures were a sign of spring.

They dipped and soared around my kitchen, first one, then two, then several, up toward the cupboards, down toward the counters, a sudden appearance one day, a return appearance for days after that, until I could no longer kid myself.

This was no rite of spring. This was a plague.

“Little moths in my kitchen,” I typed into Google, in desperate search of help, a pursuit that was, of course, about as comforting as Googling a disease.

However bad my infestation was, it quickly became clear, it could be worse, and would be if I didn’t act fast.

“I had these little moths in my kitchen and found them to be from old chocolate that had worms in them,” said one alarming testimonial.

Now that I have seen the word “worms” associated with the word “chocolate” I will never look at a Snickers bar the same.

“Look for something old,” one online commenter advised. “Bag of uneaten doggie treats, spiced tea that no one ended up making. They will also infest old potpourri and bird seeds out in the garage, so look for those too.”

The good news was that I had no garage and no doggie treats, and I’ve never understood why anyone uses potpourri. What I did have was grains.

I read on, through terrifying tales involving grains of every kind, gagging on words like “larvae” and “hatching.” The pests in my kitchen, I learned, often go by the name “pantry moth.”

I’d like to love a moth. It should be possible to think of moths as butterflies without the bling. But that is not possible.

Butterflies say “Hope.” Moths say “Hannibal Lecter.”

When I mentioned my moths to other people — what good is a problem if you can’t share it? — a few recoiled as if I were contagious. Others shared their own tales with, frankly, a little too much glee.

“They’re easier to get rid of than bedbugs and cockroaches,” chirped a friend who went on to say that getting rid of them would nevertheless take “an all-out war.”

I made lists of war strategies, a list being the lazy woman’s substitute for real work. Buy moth traps in the store. Put out lavender as a deterrent. Vacuum the crevices in the ceiling. Wipe the cupboards with white vinegar. Put all the grains in glass jars.

And when in doubt, purge. Purging sounded easy, so I did.

Out, out damn raisin bran! So long ancient rice and couscous.

That quinoa I’d bought in one of those “Let’s eat better!” binges? Happy to get rid of it.

“They’re called Indian meal moths,” said Lee Solter, when I sought out some expert advice. She’s an insect pathologist at the Illinois Natural History Survey, which is part of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois.

“They are probably coming out of something that you bought,” she said. “Like flour or cornmeal or rice. Sometimes even nuts or cereals.”

“Quinoa,” I muttered.

“Have you looked in your containers to see if you have webs?”

“Webs” is another word that should never be mentioned in relation to food, and, no, that had not occurred to me.

“You probably don’t want to eat the food once it’s started producing moths and you’ve got all those little webs in there,” she said. “Nobody wants to eat rice with little webs in it. Or with larvae floating around.”

Who knew that insect pathologists were such masters of understatement?

Solter said that she has learned, after her own sad experience with pantry moths, to put grains in the freezer before putting them into the cupboard. Freezing kills the moth eggs.

I still hadn’t given up on the idea that my moths had an upside, that their appearance was a sign of new warmth and life resurrected, aka spring.

Sorry, Solter said. Pantry moths may be seasonal in the wild, but in the toasty climes of the modern home, they reproduce year-round.

I suppose that’s no surprise. We don’t need Google to know that in Chicago, in March, there’s no such thing as spring.

Mary Schmich is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. She can be contacted via e-mail at mschmich@tribune.com.

©2013 The Chicago Tribune Distributed by MCT Information Services

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