The Weevils & Me
July 05, 2005
The sole purpose of this post is to make amalah.com the number one Google search result for anyone looking for "goddamn+flour+beetles+must+destroy+haaaate."
So. We discovered a little bug problem in our kitchen. Wee, wee little bugs.
Noted bug wrangler Steve Dirwin, aka Flour Beetle Dundee, is on hand today to provide a little background information about the yicky, nasty bugs.
Amy: Good morning, Steve.
Amy: Tell the nice people about the Confused Flour Beetle.
Steve: Amy, the Confused Flour Beetle is a gorgeous little crittah. Flat, shiny-red and elongated, it can grow to a massive 1/8th of an inch long! Almost the size of a grain of rice! Crimeny! It looks just like the Red Flour Beetle, except for a straight-sided thorax and four-segment antennae. In fact, you can only tell the difference between these little guys if you stick your thumb up their assholes.
Amy: Well, there's no need to do that.
Steve: Are you sure? I can demonstrate...
Amy: Am sure. Where do these bugs come from?
Steve: Most people bring them into their homes straight from the store. They can lurk inside any innocent-looking bag of flour and then take over from there. Within a few weeks you've got yourself a full-scale infestation, with the little buggahs crawling through all your dry goods, even chewing right through unopened packaging!
Amy: Ew. I'm all itchy now.
Steve: And then they've got free reign...feeding on your flour, cornmeal, chopped nuts, cereal and rice...creeping through the pet food and the chocolate chips...chomping away at your crackers and pasta and the microwaveable oatmeal packets...laying eggs in the raisins and Duncan Hines brownie mixes...
Amy: OH MY GOD! STOP!
Steve: Females lay about three to five eggs every day, with the wormlike little larvae hatching in about five days. Eggs are covered in a sticky, milky-white substance that adheres to...
Amy: This is because I wouldn't let you stick your thumb up the bug's ass, isn't it?
Steve: Come on! This is fascinatin' stuff! Look at this gorgeous little guy! Look what happens when I throw some cracker crumbs his way!
Amy: I don't want to look, and you can't make me.
We're pretty sure our personal little infestation started with an honest, homey-looking bag of organic bread crumbs we purchased at Whole Foods. The bag was closed with a simple twist-tie, as vacuum seals are probably killing our wildlife and leaking deadly toxins into our bread crumbs, and don't you want to support your hardworking local bread crumb co-op that doesn't go for that "fancy" "corporate" "packaging" instead?
(I'm thinking of printing up t-shirts that say, "I spent twice as much on my groceries and all I got was this lousy beetle infestation." Either that, or "Fuck You, Whole Foods.")
To be fair, we were kind of asking for a bug problem. We're sort of...lazy like that.
Case in point: roaches are a fact of life for any city-dweller, yet I always forget to replace the 473 roach traps I have strategically scattered throughout my tiny condo. That is, until I pull back the shower curtain one morning and WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT IN THE TUB OH MY GOD IT'S A ROACH JASON JASON JASON COME DO SOMETHING WHILE I SHRIEK IN HELPLESS HORROR FROM ATOP THE SINK.
Then I remember to go buy 500 new traps that very day. Six months later? Rinse, repeat, etc.
But our cabinets! Oh, what a disaster they were. I own three airtight glass canisters for flour and sugar and such, but I kind of missed the point of owning airtight glass canisters. I'd buy a huge bag of flour, dump half of it in the airtight glass canister, then kind of just roll up the bag and shove it in the back of the cabinet with the cornmeal and the rye flour and the other bags of grains that I bought when I was totally planning to use my breadmachine on a regular basis.
I currently have no idea where my breadmachine even is.
And every Christmas I decide to bake cookies. So I load up on chocolate chips and chopped pecans and brown sugar -- completely forgetting that I bought all this shit last year and never made a single blessed batch of cookies, and the stuff is still sitting in my cabinets, probably open, because I would at least rip open the chocolate chips to eat a few before putting them away.
Steve: So basically, the Storch household is a lush, fertile breeding ground for all sorts of nasty buggahs and pests, and you should never attempt to enter it without protective goggles and mosquito netting.
So what should you do when you discover a flour beetle outbreak?
First, you need to THROW OUT everything that's infested. Or, if you're like us, you just THROW OUT EVERYTHING, AND I MEAN EVERYTHING, BECAUSE EWWWWWWWWWW.
You may think I'm kidding, but I'm not. We threw out three cabinets' worth of food. I believe we kept some canned soup, a jar of roasted red peppers, three cloves of garlic and a bottle of vanilla extract.
(I'm still eyeing that vanilla extract very suspiciously.)
And unless you can immediately hand all the infested food directly over to the garbage truck, put everything in Ziploc bags.
Second, you need to vacuum like you have never vacuumed before. The bugs can apparently live for YEARS on crumbs in the cracks and edges of your cabinets. So vacuum the cabinets. And then vacuum the countertops. And then vacuum again and again until your husband appears in the doorway at 2 a.m., sobbing, begging you to put the vacuum down and come to bed, please.
Third, since we're talking about your kitchen, where you (presumably) will one day feel brave enough to store food products once again, you don't want to start blasting the cabinets with insecticide and bleach and other toxic cleansers. And that's not just the hippie-Whole-Foods-shopper in me talking. That's the all-knowing Internet and the surprisingly honest exterminator I spoke to talking.
It's hard to resist. I understand. My first impulse was to grab the Raid and smoke those little shits to oblivion.
But you know, I'd like to not poison myself. Or my unborn child. Am funny like that. Plus, I remember what happened in college after my roommate decided to store her bottle of Clorox in the same plastic crate as our groceries. ("This rice tastes like bleach for some reason." "Heh, you're so high." "Well, yeah, but still. This rice tastes like bleach.")
So after vacuuming, scrub the cabinets down with a low-toxicity cleanser -- or even just soap and water. The goal is really to just get rid of every remaining speck of crumbly food goodness that will keep the fuckers alive. The vacuum sucks out the actual bugs and eggs, so you really don't need to go all beserk with trying to poison them, as richly satisfying an experience as that may be.
If possible, remove the shelves from your cabinets when you scrub. We couldn't figure out why in hell the bugs kept returning to this one particular cabinet when we'd vacuumed and washed and sprayed and EVERYTHING until Jason removed one of the shelves and turned it over -- only to find a FREAKING BEETLE BUFFET of flour and cornstarch residue all over the bottom.
You can try pheromone traps or Baygon aerosol (to be used ONLY in cracks and crevices), but these tactics are mostly recommended for restaurants, schools or other "food handling establishments" (COUGH COUGH WHOLE FOODS COUGH), where the problem is widespread and recurring. I am hopeful it will not come to this for us, however, I will do it if I have to, I swear to God, so don't fucking PUSH ME, you evil little bugs.
And a couple householdy message boards recommended sticking bay leaves in infested cabinets and drawers. Actual entomology sites claimed this was an old wives' tale and completely useless. I figured, what the hell, and scattered bay leaves all over the damn place.
Guess what! It's an old wives' tale. Absolutely no effect at all, except to give the bugs something to hide under when I went on vacuum patrol.
Anyway. It's been a couple days since our last bug sighting. We're still vacuuming the cabinets like insane people, especially since those very cabinets are slated to get demolished this month when our shiny new kitchen gets installed, but OH MY GOD, I will CRY if I find a bug in my shiny new kitchen, so I'm determined to kill the outbreak dead dead dead.
(See also: Nesting, pregnancy.)
We also purchased an insane number of airtight containers for all pet food and treats, as well as any and all possible foodstuffs that we one day may buy, once the hurt and shame of the beetle outbreak fades from our hearts.
(To the lovely couple who recognized Jason and me at Balducci's this weekend: Hi! And thanks for reading. And for asking about Ceiba's eyes. And no, I didn't end up buying that package of bucatini pasta I was holding and weirdly gesturing with the whole time we were talking, because I just don't feel ready to commit to new dry goods, no matter how well-sealed or wildly overpriced.)