Identifying Small Bugs Attracted to Lights

Dear Home-Ec 101,
I noticed tiny, tiny insects on my sheer curtains about 3 weeks ago. Then I noticed one or two on my white tissue box holder. I decided to take the lamp shade off to see better and saw ALL these teeny tiny insects sitting under and even on the CFL bulb. I have kept the lampshades off now so I can see them. I’ve been vacuuming them off since they are so light, but don’t know where they are coming from, and how to stop them. I need to know what they are and why they are here. I have NEVER seen them before, but they move so I know they are bugs. They are about 1/16″ – Please help.

Feeling Squeamish
Heather says

Naturally I needed more details about the pests that Squeamish has been seeing and for the record just writing about bugs makes me itchy.

So. Itchy.

I asked:

1. Where do you live?
If I can’t help with the identification, there is a very neat service, usually run through state colleges called the Cooperative Extension System. They can help with all kinds of things from how to can vegetables, to learning what is killing your lawn. The United States is huge and covers a lot of different climates, it makes sense to have experts in each region who can help with specific questions and issues.
2. Do you have house plants?
All kinds of critters, mostly harmless, can come in with plants or the dirt they need to live.
3. Do you have animals in the house?
Animals and their food can each have a cache of critters associated with them.
4. Do you leave the windows or doors open?
Yes, the fresh air is lovely, but you can’t lay out the welcome mat and not expect someone to stop by.
The good news is the fact that the fact that the pest is attracted to light pretty much rules out bedbugs. If you are ever worried about bedbugs, frequent travelers are more at risk, check the seam of your mattress for dark specks. Bedbugs feed, yes on you, and then crawl into the tightest crevice their tiny little bodies can find. They excrete where they hang out and that generally leaves dark spots. If you find the telltale signs of a bedbug infestation call a professional to handle the situation. The pesticides available to the average consumer are not the same as those available to a licensed professional.
After a lot of Googling and scratching, bleh.
I was unable to pin down exactly what kind of bug we’re dealing with, but the size and number make it sound like it could be one of a number of pantry pests. If Squeamish disagrees with my hypothesis, she can contact her local cooperative extension and share the details. They are probably aware of any seasonal pests or localized issues.
It is incredibly easy to bring home contaminated food. At my last house I was dealing with pantry moths and finally traced the problem down to a forgotten package of slivered almonds.
To reduce the headache of pantry pests:
1. Store people and pet food in tightly sealed containers.
Once I got my own pantry moth issue sorted out, I bought two sets of these containers for my dry food items (cereals, sugar, cornmeal, and flour).
Pet food is notorious for bringing pests like moths and beetles into a home. I strongly recommend keeping all dry pet food in a container other than the bag it came in. If you are unwilling to do this, buy the smallest bag that makes sense to reduce the amount of time the potential vector is in your home.
2. Place dry food items like flour in the freezer for 48 – 72 hours to kill any active flour weevils and their eggs.
3. Always inspect the package of dry foods for tears and holes. This makes contamination even easier and increases the likelihood of bringing home new friends.
4. Use pheromone traps and replace them regularly.
Please note that the pheromone traps are not going to solve a moth infestation. They are an indicator that a problem exists. When you spot new moths in the trap, it’s time to clean out the pantry (again) and try to find the forgotten bag of slivered almonds (or whatever the actual cause is in your home). If a contaminated item is found, it should be thrown out immediately and the trash should be taken outside. Most of these moths, weevils, and beetles are very small and can easily escape notice.
Best of luck.
Ugh, my skin is crawling, I’m off to shower again. . .
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