Tag Archives: Household pests

Another larder invasion, and a lesson in biogeography

Another average day in the life of an itinerant entomologist as I receive the following photo from Viv via Facebook.

"Richard — do you know what this is? They are ant size and invading my kitchen and I can't work out where they are coming from or what to do about them.

“Richard — do you know what this is? They are ant size and invading my kitchen and I can’t work out where they are coming from or what to do about them.

Shortly after comes the report that they are emerging from a bag of bird seed in a cupboard. My suspicions centre around the grain weevil, Sitophilus granarius, perhaps the world’s most devastating pest of stored food, but not something you come across very often nowadays. Tupperware, clingfilm and fridges have done away with so many previously important household pests, which can now no longer find their way into our food reserves. The grain weevil is not a very 21st century household pest anyway, since we no longer store whole grain wheat, ready for milling into the daily loaf, in our houses any more.

Back in a pre-industrial world, the household or village grain store would have been constantly under attack from grain weevils, laying their eggs, one in each kernel, which would then be hollowed out by the grub until the adult beetle chewed the distinctive circular hole and emerged a few weeks later. The beetles, and the hollowed remains of wheat seeds are a regular find in archaeological digs throughout the Old World. Despite being flightless, completely lacking wings, it was already cosmopolitan, occurring throughout the Middle East, Europe, North Africa and Central Asia, something like 8000 years ago, as agriculture took hold on civilized humanity. Its origins are frustratingly unknown, it has never been found in any truly natural habitat and is only known from human granaries. It does not even occur in wheat fields, or in the Horn of Africa where our cultivated wheat progenitors are thought to be native, and still grow wild.

I don’t usually make house calls, but since Viv lives just up the road I called round at no extra cost. It’s easy to collect a few specimens; one just inside the front door, several in the kitchen and one from the cat’s water bowl. Now for a closer look.

Ah, so not the grain weevil after all. But I was close.

Ah, so not the grain weevil after all. But I was close.

Turns out it isn’t the grain weevil after all, but its congener the rice weevil, Sitophilus oryzae. It has similar life history, but is Far Eastern, breeding in rice grains, rather than wheat. It will also attack other seeds and grains.

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Oh look, I know someone who’s written a book about household animals….

Unlike the grain weevil Sitophilus oryzae can fly, and also unlike the grain weevil it is found out in the wider world, creating natural breeding reservoirs in spilled grain near the paddy fields.

So, Viv, you’d best revisit the pantry and check out the biosecurity of your basmati, arborio, lentils and pearl barley.

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Amiable but authoritative boffin-speak — my signature style is defined

From one height of smugness to another. A couple of days after an advance copy of the book plonked through the letterbox, this splendid book review appeared in BBC Wildlife. Book of the month, no less.

Sometimes good things get added to the to-do list.

Sometimes good things get added to the to-do list.

Ooh, look what the postman just brought

I wasn’t expecting this quite yet — an advance copy ahead of publication in February, so am feeling very smug.

One person's irritating larder infestation is another's amusing after-dinner anecdote.

One person’s irritating larder infestation is another’s amusing after-dinner anecdote.

Most of the after-dinner anecdotes are my own infestations; I would never mock anyone else’s house cleanliness. Although only a minor part of the book, the identification guide, more a rogues’ gallery of usual suspects, has 144 entries — one gross, how cool is that coincidence?

House guests, house pests

I’ve just received the approved ‘blads’ for House guests, house pests. They’re based on a few pages of sample text I wrote when the publishers agreed the contract. Their main purpose is to be shown off at bookfairs, to secure foreign rights and to drum up trade interest. I’m very pleased with the look of them. [Illustrations/design by Morphart Creation, Hintau Aliakse, Yingko and Shutterstock.]

Picture 6 Picture 7
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For the last year I’ve been trawling the latest research and the strangest anecdotes ready for an autumn writing blitz. I’ve more or less completed the Appendix/ rogues gallery/ identification section. My favourite so far is Scobicia declivis, the lead cable borer also known as the ‘short-circuit’ beetle. Primarily a wood-borer, it will also damage soft metal (lead) casings, probably because of textural confusion rather than nutritional need, hence its common name, and this  leads it to cause a unique type of damage. It has a penchant for the lead sheath of aerial telephone cables, close to where they attach to a building. The bores are made next to the cable support rings which are thought to give the beetle enough leverage to chew into the metal. In California, the damage is only revealed on the first serious rains after the adult beetle has emerged, when water entering the borehole causes short-circuits. Brilliant.