It all started one day last week, when my three year old came to me with a tightly closed fist, obviously concealing some great prize. Grinning proudly, she looked up at me and exclaimed, “Look Mommy!” And she opened her fingers to reveal a palm full of little black bugs, scattering in a mad dash for freedom.
“Xia,” I asked her after she proudly displayed her “friends”, “where are you finding these bugs?” Her bright eyes lit up with excitement as she ran to show me what seemed to be like hidden treasure to her.
“In there,” she grinned and pointed, “in the closet!”
Uh-oh. Her closet.
The closet where I had bags and bags of wheat stored.
I opened the door. There, easily spotted against the contrasting color of white bucket lids, were hundreds of tiny black bugs.
Weevils. Those little funny-nosed bugs that hatch out in bags of rice, beans, and grains, and destroy your food if you haven’t properly stored it.
Luckily, I was able to remedy the situation, but not without a great deal of work and worry that I had ruined my entire store of wheat.
If you want to avoid the stress, waste and headache I went through, keep reading and I will tell you how to deal with the same kind of weevil infestation, and hopefully before it gets too bad. I will also tell you a little bit more about my own predicament!
What Exactly Are Weevils?
Weevils are worldwide and notorious pantry pests. From the family Curculionidae, weevils are technically beetles. There are more species in the weevil family than in any other beetle group, with more than 1,000 different types in North America alone!
Weevils can be found in all kinds of body shapes and colors, but most are a brown to black shade. They are slim and oval, with bodies ranging from about three to more than ten millimeters in length.
If you’re curious about the differences between weevils and other beetles, rest assured that it’s pretty easy to tell the two apart. Adult weevils have unique elongated heads that come to points in snouts. Their mouths are at the end of this snout.
Weevils make their way into your home from the yard, or more commonly, inside packaged foods or other bulk products. Weevil eggs are practically invisible so you won’t realize the foods are infested. Typically – as in our case – they infest grains and starches such as pasta, cereals, flour, rice, and, of course, wheat.
In the adult and larval stages of their lives, weevils feed on plants. They can be incredibly destructive to crops. They are found in fields, gardens, orchards, and even worse, in your home.
Larvae spend their winters in the ground, emerging as adults the following spring. In the spring, adults lay their eggs on the ground near host plants, with the larvae then burrowing back into the ground to feed on roots.
When they live outside, weevils are quite dangerous. They can destroy your garden plants and render them completely useless. Inside, they are equally harmful. Their feces and cast skins quickly contaminate the food they infest, causing significant damage beyond just what they choose to eat. An infestation can leave an entire pantry inedible!
That being said, weevils don’t bite and they won’t cause any damage to wood – which is reassuring to people who assume that weevils will act like termites and infest the wooden structures of their homes.
There are several types of weevils that are infamous for their ability to damage stored seeds and grains, including Granary Weevils, Rice Weevils, and Cowpea Weevils. I’m not 100% sure which kind attacked my wheat, but don’t worry – I knew I wanted to get rid of them. And fast!
Signs of a Weevil Infestation
As you might expect, the easiest way to tell if you have a weevil infestation is you will actually see them gathered inside your home. Typically, you won’t notice that you have a weevil problem until you see them gathered en masse since they are so small.
But lacking that obvious tip-off, look for the following signs:
Food Has a Musty Smell
A sizeable infestation of weevils, even if you cannot see them or they are not alive, will lend your food a noticeable rank odor.
This is because weevils, like most living things, have body odor! You cannot smell one just walking around in the open, but put a bunch of them in a confined space and you’ll soon have a nasty smell building up.
If upon opening any kind of stored food but especially items with a neutral or earthy smell (flour, oats, dry beans, etc.) you detect a tang in the air, start looking closer at once. Of course, the weevils’ droppings also contribute to the odor…
Noticeable, Unusual Debris in Food
This is the grossest thing you are going to read in an already very gross story, but adult and immature weevils alike do their business all up in your food. Yes, number one and number two.
This more than anything is why you should throw out all foodstuffs that have been substantially contaminated. This leavings contain bacteria and God knows what else- things you definitely don’t want to eat!
Look closely for the following gross things in your food. Any of them is a sign that you need to act, or at the very least throw the food out:
Skins – Weevils cast off their skins as they grow. You will find these delicate, wafer-thin exoskeletons mixed in with your food.
Husks – Pupal stage weevils leave behind a hard husk when they emerge as adults. This looks a little like a tiny tube or bushing. Color varies depending on species, but you can definitely recognize it among grains and other food that aren’t rice.
Droppings – Weevil turds and pee. Incredibly tiny black or dark brown flecks are poop. Might appear as a muddy red smear or stain on flour or light-colored foods. Very noticeable if weevils are present in great numbers.
I know it is almost too terrible to consider, but seeing any of these in your food means that weevils have at least infested the food at some point in the near past, even if they are dead or gone now. It very likely means they are still around.
Holes in Individual Grains
Weevils lay their eggs inside or near your food, and when they hatch into larvae or baby weevils, the little buggers will burrow into kernels to eat them from the inside out.
The larva will then pupate inside the husk of the grain, and finally emerge as an adult weevil to mate and start the process all over again.
This life cycle takes place almost entirely within your food stores, which is why an infestation can often go unnoticed for so long.
But if you look you may easily notice distinct “bullet holes” in individual grains or kernels of wheat, oats, rice, corn, dry pet food, etc. You cannot miss it once you know what to look for!
This is a sure sign of active weevil infestation.
Stored Dry Goods Feel Unusually Warm
If you notice that your stored foods strangely feel warm to the touch, this could be a sign of weevil infestation. As adults congregate and as adolescent stage mature and eat their way out their meager body heat can accumulate, noticeably warming your food.
If there is no other valid explanation for why your food might be warm (like the sun shining on it through a window), this is a cause for concern.
Strange Dampness or Unexplainable Mold
This is a rider for the previous evidence. Rising temps and moisture in or near your food will easily lead to dampness even if the food itself was dry when you stored it.
This dampness will in turn lead to the formation of mold growth where before there was none if it was even possible. If you notice any of your dry goods feeling damp, showing condensation, or developing mold it is almost certainly due to weevil infestation.
Cracking or Popping Sound In or Near Food
As you will learn later on in my story, a truly massive and active infestation can be audible. You can actually hear it even if you would not normally see it. This is caused by the movement and feeding of hundreds or thousands of weevils in your food.
Lean in close and listen occasionally when it is quiet: Consistent popping, cracking, scratching or other furtive sounds coming from your food means it is time to check very carefully for any and all signs of infestation. Don’t worry, you should see them soon enough!
Weevil Larvae in Food
The larvae of a weevil are tiny grubs that look a bit like maggots. They are cream-colored or white and usually (but not always) have brown heads.
You may find them crawling around in food, or occasionally even in the cracks and crevices of cupboards and pantries though this is pretty rare.
If you see these little guys it means that weevils are already present and reproducing in your home! Get to work!
Clusters of Adult Weevils
This is the most direct evidence of an infestation: seeing the adult insects themselves. You will find them mostly near, on and in food sources, and often in groups or clusters as they scurry to and fro.
They will roam all over your pantry and eventually leave to carry on the lifecycle elsewhere. They are attracted to light so you may see them gathering on window sills or near open cupboard doors at night.
Also, if you should notice hordes of weevils outside your home, on a window or near a door, don’t suspect you got off lucky.
Chances are that some already found a way in, and once they do it is highly likely they will breach any unprotected foods you have stored. If you see even a few weevils inside you must suspect that there are more. Investigate at once.
How to Get Rid of Weevils
Throwing out weevil bugs and destroying ruined product is probably one of the fastest and easiest ways to get rid of these pests – but it’s not the only way.
There are a few simple ways to get rid of weevils such as using a vacuum cleaner or a broom, or wipe the pantry shelves and cabinets with soapy water. You can also use bay leaves to repel them.
But there are other ways to get rid of them, or to make sure they don’t set foot in your home in the first place. Here are some suggestions…
Stop Them from Getting In!
The best offense, in this case, is a good defense. If you can keep weevils out of your home you won’t have to deal with gross and lengthy methods of elimination.
Something to keep in mind about weevils is that they will do their darnedest to get into your home during the winter. This is because they are looking for a warm place to spend the cold months, and your food storage is just the ticket they need to beat the chill.
Now, most bugs tend to go where they please considering they can squeeze through tiny cracks, climb sheer walls, and generally reach places you cannot see or expect.
But weevils are shockingly persistent little menaces in this regard: they will sneak in through any crack or crevice they can find and then take a circuitous route through your home before laying up in out of the way places- behind walls, in attics, etc. And where one weevil goes, others go, follow-the-leader style.
This means they often go unnoticed until it is too late. Come spring, you could have a full-blown infestation in your pantry or cupboard. Combine this tendency with your average homeowner’s reluctance to undergo major cleaning and inspection tasks and you can see where this is going.
Seal Up All Outside Cracks, Crevices, and Entry Points
The best defense against weevil infiltration is airtight perimeter control at all times.
Be vigilant: Inspect all potential entry points to your home, no matter how tiny, and ensure they are caulked, trimmed, covered with mesh or attended to in some other way that will prevent weevils from getting in.
Double-check all of the following likely entry points on and around your home:
- Around doors and windows
- Under the eaves and soffits
- Attic and ridge vents
- Vents and chimneys
- Cracks in siding or trim
- Gaps around utility pipes, drains, and electrical lines where they enter your home
- Any other tiny opening you can find, no matter how small!
If you are truly diligent, you can prevent adult weevils from getting in and setting up shop.
Clean Up the Pantry
First things first, you need to find the origin and source of the weevils. These pests do have the ability to fly, but they aren’t likely to do so. They would rather stay close to their food source.
If you notice weevils in one type of food in your pantry, they are likely to be found in other foods, too. Here are some of the foods to check:
- Pasta (Especially thicker pasta like macaroni, fettuccini, lasagna noodles, etc.)
- Dried fruit
- Dried beans
- Dried peas
Discard any of the food that has weevils. While you regrettably won’t be able to see any food that has eggs in it, you should be able to see the adults.
Don’t eat any food that has live weevils, even if it’s just a few. If you happen to notice that you cooked weevils into something you already prepared, you can relax – it’s safe to eat, but it’s not going to be super appetizing with dead bugs in it!
After you’ve removed contaminated food, you need to wash and vacuum your pantry. Remove all the food from the shelves and use your vacuum to suck up loose bits of flour or food. Immediately empty the canister outside so the weevils don’t remain inside your house.
Use Vinegar or Eucalyptus Oil
Vinegar and eucalyptus oil are both effective cleaners to guard against and repel weevils. These two ingredients are especially effective if you combine them.
Create a 50/50 mixture of the two and wipe down your shelves with it. Other effective oils include those from neem, pine needles, and tea tree. These will prevent weevils from taking up residence in your pantry.
Switch to Airtight Containers
If you are still storing any of your food in cardboard containers, make the switch to hard, airtight ones. Weevils can easily chew through cardboard boxes, paper bags, and even soft plastic containers, in some cases.
Therefore, you need a hard plastic or tightly sealed glass container that will keep air out. If it isn’t airtight then it might not be enough for smaller weevil species like the wheat weevil. Check all existing cardboard containers for weevils and then make the switch.
Use Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth is essentially just fossilized insect skeletons – it works really well at repelling a wide variety of pests, and you may have heard of people using it in their gardens with great success. It can also be used in the pantry to fight weevils.
To use it, start by cleaning everything from the pantry. Sprinkle a generous amount of food-grade diatomaceous earth along the edges, and then let it sit for a couple of days.
Then vacuum carefully. The diatomaceous earth works by piercing the exoskeletons of the weevils before drying them out completely. While it is deadly to most insects, it is completely safe to use around children and pets.
Buy Smaller Amounts
I know, it can save a ton of time and money to buy in bulk! However, if you know you are struggling with a weevil infestation, it may make more sense to buy your dry foods in smaller quantities.
Flour, in particular, should be purchased in smaller quantities. If you leave flour sitting around for quite some time, weevils are more likely to lay eggs inside. The faster you use up your flour, the better – plus, it will be fresher and more suitable for baking, anyway!
Freeze Your Flour
It sounds odd, but freezing your flour or other dry goods as soon as you get them home can be an effective way to halt a weevil infestation.
Put the flour in a freezer bag and place it in the freezer for at least a week. This will get rid of any weevil eggs or adult weevils that are living inside. After freezing, you can take it out and put it in any airtight container.
Consider placing herbs inside your dry goods to help repel weevils. Weevils hate bay leaves in particular. Although you will need to replace the leaves every few months (or when they no longer have a scent), placing a few of these inside a bag of flour can be super effective at repelling weevils.
Consider an Insecticide
I’m not a huge fan of chemical insecticides, but there are several options you can use. I would not recommend using a chemical-based one around foods, but that’s your prerogative.
In addition, there are several natural insecticides that are non-toxic that you can purchase online. These are designed to be sprayed in the pantry and even on pantry shelves to keep pests out.
Set Up Traps
There are certain weevil traps, known as pheromone traps, that can be used to attract and kill weevils and even pantry moths, too. These traps are equipped with sticky strips that trap the pests. All you need to do is place them around the pantry and change them out once they are full.
The easiest way to prevent and get rid of a weevil infestation? Just stay on top of things. Try to get into the habit of checking your pantry for a weevil infestation on a regular basis. Adult weevils can live for a year or more, so it’s good to check at least once or twice a month.
Oh, look! Xia just brought me two more. How lovely.
Whenever one is spotted on the floor, wall, or countertop, we dutifully pick it up and drop it into the potty. Fortunately, their numbers are dwindling to one or two a day. We’re over the hump, it seems.
And that’s how to get rid of weevils. One stinking bug at a time…
Dealing with My Weevil Problems
I was right about the closet door not containing them. Upon closer examination, I found tons of weevils all around the perimeter of Xia’s room.
In the corners of the baseboard, behind her bed and dresser, in the wooden chest full of blankets, and even escaping her bedroom and fleeing down the hallway. Toward the kitchen!
Great. I really should have investigated on Day One. Now they’ve got a lead.
Enlisting the children in the hunt, our first task was to collect as many escaping weevils as we could find and flush them down the toilet. The kids, of course, thought this was great fun, and made a game of who could find the most. I was grateful for their enthusiasm, and their keen eyesight!
We focused on the positives while we worked. At least they don’t sting, bite, or fly.
One female weevil can lay up to about 250 eggs; we had to get every single weevil out of the house to avoid further infestation. Each and every item in Xia’s room had to be thoroughly examined and then removed if I was to find all of the bugs.
As you can imagine, this process took the good part of the day. Every single blanket in the chest, every piece of clothing, every toy, every everything had to be looked over, then taken to another room in the house.
When the room was clear of everything except the dresser and the bed frame, I hauled the vacuum in. With the hose in hand, I readied myself to tackle the closet with a vengeance.
The kids watched from behind as I forcefully sucked up every little black speck I could find. When all but the weevils-in-hiding were enjoying their new home in my vacuum canister, every single item in the closet had to be examined and removed.
I know. Fun times.
About nine hours into the project, I was finally ready to really tackle the issue. The bags of wheat, which I had totally put off storing, had been not-so-patiently waiting for me in two large cardboard barrels.
They have a lovely, locking plastic lid that seals and gives the illusion of safe-keeping. And so, tucked nicely in my daughter’s closet, they had pretty much been forgotten about.
Well, Jada made the observation that one of these barrels’ lid was askew. “That’s how they’re getting out!” she determined. And indeed, she was right. I shuttered at the thought of what was going on in the other, still closed barrel. One disaster at a time.
I cautiously removed the lid from the opened barrel and Jada and I gasped in horror at… not what we saw (we were prepared for that)… at what we heard!
The sound, it was coming from the uppermost bag of wheat in the stack.
Crunching. Crackling. The sound of a million moving and munching insects inside the bag, destroying my grains. It was horrifyingly loud. Like Rice Krispies popping in milk. And the sound continued, even after I quickly covered it back over. How did we not hear this before?!
Jada and I looked at each other. Now what?! I wasn’t about to take that creepy crawly bag out of the barrel to remove it!
I had to get the entire barrel outside before I attempted to remove the infested bag. Problem was, with five 25-pound bags of wheat inside of it, that barrel weighed more than I did! How was I to get it outside?
I remembered Jerry had a hand-truck out in his pickup. Just what I needed! I went and got it, and with a little heaving and hoeing, it was on the dolly and out the door in just a few minutes.
I wheeled the barrel to the water stove. As much as I hated to do it, I was going to have to destroy that bag of wheat. And fire seemed like the best way to do it.
But first. Jada was DYING to see inside of the noisy sack. As freaky as it was, there was some driving curiosity that led both of us to have to know if it was as bad in there as our imaginations led us to believe.
As my scissors got closer to the crunching and crackling bag, I almost couldn’t do it. Did we really have to see what was in there?
Yes. For the sake of appeasing my daughter’s raging curiosity, I did.
And yes. It was as bad as I’d imagined. Lovely. Aren’t we glad we looked.
I donned leather work gloves, quickly hoisted the bag up, and tossed it into the open water stove’s firebox. Wheat and weevils spilled out of the open bag, and I grabbed some tinder to start a fire with.
One bag down.
I looked into the barrel to find the other four bags of wheat covered in the crawling black bugs. I determined I had to open each one to know whether or not it was worth salvaging before just chucking them all. And that’s what I did.
I prayed that I wouldn’t have to learn this lesson too expensively.
And to my complete shock and delight, three of those bags had zero weevils in them, and one had minimal infestation. Saved!!
Immediately, I washed four buckets and lids, dried them, lined them with mylar bags, filled them with the clean wheat, dropped a 2000cc oxygen absorber into each bag, sealed them with a hair straightening iron, and covered the buckets with lids.
I did this even with the one with a few weevils in it. The O2 absorbers will kill any living bugs, and will prevent eggs from hatching. I just marked the buckets to remind me to sift the wheat before using it.
Thank goodness 100 lbs of wheat was spared!
With that out of the way, I turned my attention toward the other barrel in the closet. ANOTHER 125 lbs of organic wheat. I cringed at the thought of what I would find in there. Would they be infested, too? It took me a minute of struggling with the lid before I finally got it off.
Relief flooded my soul as I found no weevils inside. And again, I quickly got the wheat properly stored.
Nothing like a good ol’ bug infestation to kick you in the hind end with a dose of motivation!
Once the second barrel was removed from the closet, I worked well into the night vacuuming the weevils that kept coming out of the woodwork.
I even had to pull the carpet up in the closet to hurry the process. Those little guys love to hide in the nooks and crannies of the molding, and only come out when they feel it is safe to do so.
We were blessed that not all of our 250 lbs of wheat was ruined!
What’s frustrating is that I KNEW BETTER! I knew weevils could hatch out in my wheat. I guess I just figured I had more time than just a few months. Maybe it depends upon the bag itself, I don’t know.
But take a tip from me- get it stored properly right away! If you don’t have oxygen absorbers, you can freeze your grains for several days and that will kill bug eggs as well.
It has been five days since the cleanup, and we’re still finding random weevils throughout the house.
A city girl learning to homestead on an acre of land in the country. Wife and homeschooling mother of four. Enjoying life, and everything that has to do with self sufficient living.