How to Deal With the Dreaded Pantry Moth

Pantry moths must be loving 2020, especially the early days of the pandemic, when panicked hoards (ourselves included) ran to Costco to stockpile toilet paper, flour and Tostitos.

While I’ve probably blogged about pantry moths more times than just about anything else, we just had another outbreak and I thought I’d use this post writing exercise as an excuse to re-read UC Davis’ Integrated Pest Management pantry moths fact sheet.

According to geniuses at UC Davis, management is simple and pesticide-free. All your food needs to go into jars with tight fitting lids. No shoving rubber-banded packages of couscous in the back of the shelf. If you have space in your freezer you can put dry goods in there and kill any larvae. Avoid adding new food to old food, if possible.

If you’ve got an outbreak UC Davis suggests pulling everything out and inspecting what you’ve got for the telltale signs of infestation: larvae or webbing. Get our you vacuum and suck out the larvae that hide in cracks in your cabinets. These bugs can survive for months without food. Wash cabinets with soap and water. Freeze stuff you’re in doubt about. To repeat, put everything, including pet food, in jars with tight fitting lids.

Pheromone traps can help spot an infestation as well as reduce the population, but they are not a substitute for cleaning and putting things in jars.

Incidentally, what we call “pantry moths” encompass a variety of different insects with colorful names such as the Drugstore Beetle, and the Confused Flour Beetle. All these bug-a-boos just love post-agricultural human habits of storin’ up food. Like cats, roaches and mice they’re with us until we devolve away from our agricultural ways, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground.” I’ll add, of course, that even if we find a way to keep eating and stop sweating I’d like to keep the cats around.

Urban Beekeeping 101 with Paul Hekimian, Director of HoneyLove

The Hollywood Orchard, along with HoneyLove is putting on an online webinar this week:

Urban Beekeeping 101 with Paul Hekimian, Director of HoneyLove
Online Workshop/Webinar
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
6:30 PM – 8:00 PM (pacific)

Are you interested in raising honey bees and reaping the benefits of having local honey? Does having your own beehive sound intriguing? If yes, then this class is for you. Urban Beekeeping 101 will cover everything you need to know on how to get started!

We will cover local bee ordinances, what urban beekeeping is or is not, where to place a hive, what equipment is needed, choosing a type of beehive, where to get bees, how to harvest honey and how to find a mentor. Join this webinar and learn from Paul Hekimian, 2nd generation beekeeper and director of HoneyLove.org, as he walks you through how to become an urban beekeeper.

Head here to register.

Kelly and Chocineal

First off, many thanks to all of you for the well wishes for Kelly. She made it home and up the 30 steps to the house yesterday. The first few weeks after open heart surgery are rough and she’s, obviously, taking it easy today. Is suspect she’ll be up and about faster than after the emergency surgery of four years ago but she’s still in for a long recovery.

Because of Covid I couldn’t visit her in the hospital so I puttered in the garden to distract myself. During the puttering I discovered that our prickly pear cactus has became a host for the cochineal bug. A lot of the prickly pear in our neighborhood has cochineal but, for some reason, it never made it to our place until this year.

The cochineal bug (Dactylopius coccus) is a scale insect that produces carminic acid which is extracted for use as a red textile and food dye. I thought cochineal dying might make for the perfect quarantine craft project until I did some research.  Like many things worth doing, harvesting and dying textiles with cochineal is a process that takes experience and skill.

The Zapotec people of Oaxaca have been practicing this skill for a thousand years. In the video above you can see how cochineal is harvested and some spectacular dye work.

The Other TickTalk

Got ticks? Like scientists who pun? The University of Massachusetts Amherst has a free series of webinars on the biology of ticks. You can watch live or look at the archived videos.

Each month we will hear from Dr. Stephen Rich and the Laboratory of Medical Zoology (LMZ)! TickTalk in 2020 will also feature exciting guest speakers on tick topics that you told us were important to YOU. The series will include seasonality and life stages of ticks (key to planning intervention and prevention), emerging or invasive tick species, how ticks use vegetation and leaf litter throughout their life cycle, increasing fears of Alpha-gal allergies (allergies to certain meat and animal-related products), dispelling myths of tick control, and many more. Mosquito concerns, including life cycle, behavior, and EEE infection, will also be addressed and Dr. Rich will discuss the tens of thousands of mosquitoes the LMZ tests each year for a range of viruses. Tune in the 2nd Wednesday of the month!

Come for the ticks stay for the mosquitoes!

Murder Hornets: It’s What’s for Dinner

I freak out when the media covers something that I have even a modest amount of specialized knowledge in. Why? Because the lamestream media almost always gets the story completely wrong. This leaves you to wonder what else the media is screwing up.

When people who know that I keep bees started texting me about the so-called “murder hornet” I smelled social media click bait trap. Even the allegedly reliable New York Times did a whole podcast on the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia) that consisted of an interview with a single beekeeper and a lot of scary music. Did any of these journalists, including the New York Times bother to call up an entomologist who specialized in hornets? Not so much.

Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology had this to say,

The colony everyone is hyperventilating over was actually found on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, last September when it was destroyed and then a single, dead hornet was found in December in Blaine, Wash. There is no evidence that there are any more hornets in the vicinity of Vancouver or anywhere else on the West Coast.

So it’s not even recent news.

My inner Jungian doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that, during a pandemic that originated in Asia, we’d see a viral news story that contains the words “murder” and “Asian.” Could it be that the story of a scary, foreign insect acts as a way of deflecting, on a subconscious level, blame for our own stupidity in the face of a crisis we could well have been better prepared for? I also don’t think it’s any coincidence that the “Africanized” bee scare came around the same time as the infamous Willie Horton attack ad. I’m not asserting a simple causal relationship between insect scares and racialized politics, but let’s just say that our storytelling tends towards the monstrous (with race and class overtones) during times of crisis. The “murder” in the name isn’t even an accurate translation. The Japanese word actually means “yellow” reflecting the color of the insect.

Could the Asian giant hornet become a problem in North America? Yes. But there’s no evidence that it has yet. And, as this insect lives in forests, its habitat would be limited if it did. Giant Asian hornets don’t live in cities nor do they tolerate hot or cold weather.

If they do establish here, at least they are edible and, apparently, taste like French Fries according to entomologist Matan Shelomi. There’s pictures and harvesting directions to prove it if you follow the link. The murder hornet looks tasty when deep fried. But what doesn’t?

For more information see this fact sheet on the Asian giant hornet from Washington State University.

If you’d like to meme about “murder” hornets there’s a Facebook group for you.

There’s a term for when the media covers something that you have specialized knowledge in and the horror that ensues when you see how badly they get it wrong that I can’t recall and it’s bugging me (so to speak). This term/phrase is named after a best selling author who noted this phenomena–please leave a comment if you can help me remember!