How to Control Cocoa Moth in Cacao / Chocolate Production

Last Updated on November 16, 2020 by marvz

Worms can live on chocolate bars. If you see gray moths flying around, it’s time to do in-house control.

What is a Cocoa Moth?

Cocoa moth, Ephestia elutella, is a pest of cocoa and chocolate. Cobwebs, larva, and small black feces are signs that your chocolates have been infested.

Damages do by Cocoa Moth

The cocoa moth feeds on nuts, almonds, cocoa beans, and dried fruit. Also damages flours and cereal products.

If you’re a chocolatier, you’re gonna lose a lot, if customers come across an infested bar. A lot more if he shares the bad moment with others.

bean to bar chocolate with signs of moth infestation
Small black particles are feces left by cocoa moth larva

Is Cocoa Moth Bad for My Health?

Webs and moth feces may cause gastrointestinal disorders, skin problems, and allergic reactions.

But, getting such disorders is unlikely. The appearance alone is enough to fend you off.

How does The Cocoa Moth get into your Product?

Product scent attracts moth. The moth lays eggs on or near the product. Then the larva crawls through the gap.

The moth eats and crawls. Then forms cobwebs during pupa stage.

It cannot penetrate sealed packages. But can eat through thin papers and plastics.

Cocoa Moth Characteristics

Small creature but easy to identify.

Cocoa moth,  general appearance

  1. The adult moth is grey to brown-grey.
  2. Forewings have wavy transverse bands with dark borders.
  3. Has a length of 14-17 mm.
  4. The caterpillars are whitish, yellowish, or reddish. They have brown head and neck shields.
cocoa moth crawling on a chocolate bar

Moth, other notable characteristics, which makes it able to infest cocoa with ease

  1. Moth can hide well
  2. Can bite through thin packaging
  3. Small enough to pass through screw cap gaps
  4. Can fly and creep up to 400 meters.

Cocoa moth lives on and eats the following foods

  1. Flour
  2. Muesli
  3. Baked goods
  4. Legumes
  5. Almonds
  6. Nuts
  7. Chocolate

Moth’s scientific names, in case you’re interested

  1. Indian meal moth, Plodia interpunctella
  2. Meal moth, Pyralis farinalis
  3. Flour moth, Espestia kuehniella
  4. Cocoa moth, Ephestia elutella, is a pest of cocoa and chocolate.
Cobwebs and numerous black particles are cocoa moth feces

Where Does Cocoa Moth Come From?

From the cacao farms. Moths live in the wild. They’re unintentionally included during harvesting. With food and the right conditions, moths in cacao proliferate.

From immediate surroundings. So, it’s a good practice to seal all entry points. Install screen on doors and windows. Then set up moth traps.

How to control cocoa moth at farm level

At the farm level, FAO (2002)  listed some pointers to keep the moth population at a minimum.

  1. Harvest early, with 5-7 days interval. This practice breaks moth’s life cycle.
  2. Harvest all pods within 1-2 months. Then harvest all alternative host such as:
    1. Rambutan — Nephelium lappaceum
    2. Namu-namu — Cynometra cauliflora
    3. Kola nut — Cola nitida
    4. Mango — Mangifera indica L
    5. Sugar apple — Annona squamosa
    6. Star fruit — Averrhoa carambola L
    7. Sweet orange — Citrus sinensis L
    8. Lansones — Lansium domesticum L
  3. Observe garden sanitation.
    1. clean up garbage
    2. prune trees to reduce canopy
  4. Get rid of honeydew producers such as white fleas, green fleas, and Aphis species.
  5. Don’t use pesticides to conserve natural enemies.
  6. Maintain nectars-producing plants to support cocoa moth predators.
  7. Use predator insects like Ichneumon flies (Trichogramma evanescens). It’s only 0.4 mm long. Lay its eggs in moth eggs.
  8. Use pheromone traps. The chemical that attracts male moths.

How to Control Cocoa Moth at Factory Level

Expect your beans to have some upon arrival. Some will fly around after opening the packages.

None will survive the roasting and subsequent processes. But re-entry to finished products is likely.

Do the following to control cocoa moth inside the factory:

  1. Keep the area clean and get rid of all breeding grounds.
  2. Heat treat beans, 60-65°C.
  3. Use traps, consisting of vinegar and syrup mix.
  4. Protect all finished goods by tight sealing or use of fine mesh material.

Keep the moth away

  1. Only buy food with intact packaging.
  2. Put stocks into airtight containers and store them in a cool and dry place.
  3. Air your rooms regularly,
  4. Use mosquito nets for your windows.
  5. Don’t offer hiding places for the moths by using lining paper
  6. Remove crumbs and dirt from your shelves regularly
  7. During cleaning, don’t use a wet cloth.  It builds a damp condition, which is ideal for moths.
  8. Scent cabinets with essential oils to keep the pests away. Use peppermint, lavender.
  9. Use sustainable methods instead of using hazardous pesticides.
  10. Dispose of all affected food. Burn them to kill the pest.
  11. Treat with a hairdryer because heat harms or kills the pantry moths in their different stages.

Cocoa Moth Life Cycle, in a brief

Excerpt from Aphzal Mohamed  et al (2016).

Moth is present in all temperate-zone countries. Yet, mass reproduction only happens in temperate climates.

The eggs are usually laid in cacao. During pupation, the webs occur which causes the food to stick together. A clear indicator of moth infestation.

The grown-up moths live for a maximum of two weeks and lay their eggs in food again.

The next section is about the cocoa moth life cycle. From egg, larva, pupa, and adult.

Cocoa moth eggs

  1. Eggs are 0.25 mm long
  2. Laid in a mass of 25 – 150 eggs
  3. Laid on a moist surface, or in water
  4. Hatch in 2-7 days

Cocoa moth larva

  1. Develop in a moist or wet habitat
  2. Has four larval stages, lasting from 2 weeks to a year
  3. The fourth stage can live through the winter months
  4. The caterpillars cover the infested goods with webbing

Cocoa moth pupa

  1. 1-3 mm long
  2. Completes in 2-3 days
  3. Pupation occurs in a cocoon

Cocoa moth adult

  1. 1-3 mm long
  2. Males and females emerge in late spring to early summer
  3. Males and females feed on nectar and mate
  4. Males die after mating
  5. Females feed on blood and develop eggs
  6. Females can live for a few weeks and lay several egg masses
  7. They are active at night
  8. Live for 13 to 14 days

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