Meal Mite & Meal Moth Infestation.

Mike Fidler, NSW

I will discuss meal moth first because that is the biggest pain.

I don’t know of anybody who has not suffered from time to time with meal moth, whose proper name is Indian Meal Moth, but also often called coddling moth or pantry moth.

It comes in the food you buy from your seed merchant and can even come in food bought in your local super market. And, once you have got it, is a pain to eradicate.

It is so common that it probably requires no description, but just in case you live in Siberia and wonder what we are talking about, it is a small brown moth about a centimetre long. Its larvae weave cobwebs which sticks all the food together rendering it unfit to eat and clogging up hoppers.

Why Siberia? Well it only breeds in warmer climates, so colder temperate climates only get bothered by it in summer. Apparently it will not breed in temperatures below 10C which is a bit too cold to keep our tropical birds in. Rather nastily, if you think you will get round the problem by only keeping cold climate birds, at say 10C to 13C, the moths can survive for up to 300 days before they hatch, so one warm spell and!

We have tried all sorts to eradicate them including micro waving the food. That works providing the layer of food you put in the micro wave is no thicker than 2 centimetres thick. That might be OK if you have a small set up, but for the bigger collections is far too slow; and probably it would not be good to treat seed that way as it might have a downside effect on the nutritional value of the seeds. I don’t know it does by the way, just guessing.

In the ‘good old days’ we could buy a pest strip that you hung up in the bird room which killed them without problem and also had the side benefit of preventing [or curing ] your birds from getting air sac mite.

However, the worlds health authorities decided it was also a carcinogen and it was taken off the market.

So these days we store all the pollard we buy for the mealworms and maggots and and all the seed we buy for the birds in chest freezers.

We keep it in the freezer for at least two weeks, and the longer the better.

This does a reasonably good job, but amazingly, even so the odd one or two eggs survive to hatch when the food is fed out. Presumably because it has not got the middle of the bag cold enough to kill them.

Now here is a HUGE WARNING! You let those odd moths survive and suddenly you have a pandemic. Over a two week period each female moth can lay up 400 eggs, give them another 3 to 4 weeks to hatch and pupate and now you could have 80,000 moths which puts the whole thing into a different dimension!!

So, how do we control them? Well as I have said before, keep all food in the freezer, don’t think that keeping food in a plastic bag is good enough, amazingly, they seem to be able to lay eggs through the plastic!! Once again, I don’t know if that is true, but it seems to be, all I know is that once I thought the easy option was to put the seed and pollard bags we bought straight into plastic dust bin liners so that the moths could not get to them. Mmmm, yes they did!

The other key is to try and remove all the food they survive on. All the husk and spilled seed lying around the floor of cages and aviaries is a prime breeding site.

Keep an eye on any hoppers you use because that is a prime breeding site too. When we have an infestation we empty the hoppers once a week and refill them with fresh seed out of the freezer.

In Australia, we have a product called Coopex. This is an insecticide which is mixed with water and then sprayed onto all surfaces.This kills the moth grubs which are prone to crawl up the walls and pupate in nooks and crannies, and better still is effective for up to 3 months.

There is a sneaky way of course, small softbills think they are a delicacy, so if it was practical to keep a pair in each cage you would only ever see a moth for a few minutes before it got snaffled up.

Sprinkling an insect powder on the floor under cages and in areas where it is impossible to keep clean on an ongoing basis will stop hidden breeding place from developing. We use a commercial Pyrethrum based product,

From the same source as the meal moth we also import meal mite, also known as flour mite, mould mite and lemon scented mite.

These are a tiny mite virtually invisible to the naked eye until we get an infestation, at which stage they take on the appearance of a slowly moving pinkish brown carpet or film.

Uncontrolled, they have the ability to multiply their numbers by an eye watering 500% per month!!

They spoil and eat parts of the food and can also cause allergic reactions in both people and livestock, anyway the birds usually won’t touch contaminated seed so therefore there is no choice but to control it.

Fortunately, unlike the meal moth, it is relatively easy to control.

Storing you food in freezers usually does the trick and to back that up meal mite won’t survive under relative humidity below 55%, so a dehumidifier in the insect propagation or seed storage room can be a huge help.

Once you do get it [ because sometime over the years you are bound to! ] throw away all contaminated food, don’t try and save money by recovering it.

Take all the food containers out of your food store or if it is in your insect breeding set, up take all the insects out and put them somewhere else.

Clean the containers and any room or set up they have been in with a bucket of strongish solution of bleach and water. Don’t forget to wear rubber gloves and clothes that you don’t mind a few bleached spots on!

Put a dehumidifier in the room set to keep a relative humidity below 55%. Apply the same solution of Coopex or its equivalent to all the surfaces, including walls and sprinkle an insect powder on the floor and under any shelves or food storage containers.

If it was in your insect breeding set up, keep your insects elsewhere until they are used up and only re-introduce fresh uncontaminated  breeding stock back into their permanent quarters. When you do this, keeping a sprinkling of insect powder in between containers will stop the transfer of any residual infestation from one container to the next.

Incidentally, your freezers should be set at no warmer than -18C.

If anyone comes across a better way than above, PLEASE let us know, we shall be eternally grateful.

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