Nature Soft in Tooth and Claw

A suspiciously tidy kitchen cupboard

My recent post about Josephine the compost rat  having generated a goodly number of comments from you, dear readers, I’ve decided to write a double postscript to it.

Postscript I.

First, Colleen Dick mentioned “pantry moths”, a good, descriptive, polite-company name for them. While I don’t know their proper name, I think Seabrooke would classify them as “micromoths” (she would know, being half the team preparing the upcoming Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America).

Pantry moths are itty-bitty, skinny brown things. It takes two of them to make a family, and one family to make an invasion. The white, pink-tinged caterpillars enjoy cornmeal or other grains, dried beans, or even dried fruits. They can chew through plastic bags. They spin their winsome little cocoons in any modest cranny. Both larvae and adult are slow, stupid, soft, and squishable. Ugh.

So the other day, E.g. and I cleaned the food cupboards, discarding wormy grains, reducing cocoon hideouts, and gathering like objects — teas, pastas, dried fruit, legumes — into sealable containers.

And guess which lucky rat is benefiting from the composted chickpeas, bulgur, and dates?

More tidiness! What do you make of it, Inspector?

Postscript II.

Second, Alyson asked whether corgis don’t have the ratter instinct. I don’t know about Pembroke Welsh Corgis (the “Queen’s Dog”), but yes, the Cardigan Welsh Corgi was originally bred as an all-purpose farmhand, whose duties included rat-catching.

It was Fergus and Cai, in fact, who originally alerted me to Josephine’s presence this Fall. Fergus, especially, kept hanging around the compost bin, circling three sides of it, or snuffling the narrow space between bin and lean-to.

One day, as I was shoveling out some finished compost through a bottom hatch, I heard a squeak, a rustle of dry leaves, and a soft clatter where Josephine had fled through a gap in the lean-to wall. Now I knew for sure: a) she’s moved in, and b) she’s safe from the Cardis.

A few weeks after the bustle-and-squeak incident, I noticed the furchildren hesitating near the raised veggie patch beds. As I walked towards them, Fergus picked up something in his mouth to show me. “No no, drop it!” I called, and he laid it down again: a dead rat.

I picked the thing up in a gloved palm to dispose of it, and was surprised to find it still gasping for breath. I have since read in Rattie’s blog that rats don’t tend to live long, so maybe the poor thing was dying when Cai and Fergus found it. At any rate, I carried it just beyond our back fence, and sprinkled a few dry leaves over it for a privacy screen.

What fascinates me, Al, is that for all Fergus’s interest in the compost bin, and Cai’s delight in shaking the shoot out of rubber throw-toys, neither had the instinct  — the heart? — to dispatch that poor old rat.

Look at that topline! Cai trees an oatmeal stout mash tun.

13 Responses to Nature Soft in Tooth and Claw

  1. Shelley says:

    Topline?? Someone has been hanging around show people to much ;)

    Having survived an invasion of pantry moths last year, be sure dog food, bird food and cereals are in closable containers. Check your open boxes of crackers, nuts, etc.

    They are inisdious – and spread like wildfire. Funny that the caterpillars from mine are pale green!

    I saw a couple of moths again last week and sure enough the new bag of bird seed I had just bought was starting them again :(

  2. Inspector says: Good work!

  3. Tony says:

    I’ve never heard of Pantry moths before. We occasionally get silverfish, which is a weird name because they aren’t fish. We have had the occasion mouse in the kitchen cupboards but they have never managed to get into the pantry. What kind doggies for not killing the rat. Dixie had a baby sparrow yesterday that had fallen from their nest in the eaves. I don’t know if it was dead when she found it amongst the lavender bushes or if she found it & killed it. Hopefully it was already dead

  4. lavenderbay says:

    As this is a blogklatsch entry, Shelley, I tried twice to include you by adding your name after the word “topline”, but linkage doesn’t seem to work in photo captions. Looks like you read my mind anyway! :D
    The birdseed is safe, as it’s stored in the garage, and so far the kibbles — both in tightly-lidded containers — haven’t suffered. We did have to throw away some bickies, though.
    Maybe “my” caterpillars show up pinkish against our eggyolk-yellow walls?

    Thank you, Ma’am! Now, about that promotion…

    I’ve seen the odd silverfish in previous homes, Tony, and have been very glad that one didn’t become a dozen. Bleah!
    We’ll give Dixie the benefit of the doubt re the sparrow. I’ve seen dogs chase after baby birds, but I’ve seen a lot more dead nestlings without anything having chased them!

  5. Binky says:

    Furchildren! Ha! That about says it all.

    I hope you’ve got your moths under control, but in that first picture, middle shelf, it looks as if you’ve got someone’s green brain! I sure hope it isn’t mine.

  6. Alyson says:

    Fergus is a good boy..Gemma has a driven all-work face about her when there are rodents to dispatch – and she doesn’t even hear me, but if there is a reptile about it’s a different story, much barking/yelping and waiting for me to say “Get inside!”

  7. lavenderbay says:

    At least mine don’t demand laptops and cell phones and oil paint and rocket fuel like Chris’s do, Binky.
    Twink might enjoy serving that “green brain” to Fraz: it’s split peas, still waiting for a more solid container.

    Lol, Alyson! It’s great the way dogs like to save face — Cai has thoroughly told off garbage bags, for example.

  8. Colleen Dick says:

    Meh the green brain is prolly a bag of split peas. We have a rule now that everything goes in sealable containers. I think I get rid of the pantry moths, won’t see one for months, then bam, they are back. Oh well, if I miss one and accidentally cook it in the couscous, that’s a little extra protein. They are non toxic. All commercial food products have an acceptable level of extraneous insect parts and it’s not zero.

  9. lavenderbay says:

    It’s the starting into a nice piece of dried, sweetened tamarind as a quick cupboard snack and then noticing squirmies in the bag that puts me off, Colleen. I would just as soon not have to think about it.
    I believe you about the officially-acceptable level of (invisible, one hopes) bug bits, but I’d love to know how factories are supposed to monitor the amounts.

  10. Binky says:

    Well it’s good to know that the green brain is really peas, and that you’re not Mrs. Frankenstein.

    “Squirmies in the bag”; I thought you said squirrels in the bag, which would be rather hard not to notice.

  11. lavenderbay says:

    Rest assured, Binky, my experiments are usually warm, fuzzy ones, i.e. making hooch.
    You’re right about the squirrels, though; I’d prob’ly notice one in the cupboard even before my first cup of tea.

  12. Seabrooke says:

    There are a few species of moth and beetle and weevil that will infest stored products. If you’re interested in a little experiment next time, you can save some of the wormy product in a margarine container and poke small holes in the lid for ventilation, or cover it with saran so you can see in. The caterpillars will feed themselves quite happily on the meal without you having to add anything, and after they pupate and hatch out as adults you can see what they turn into. And then release them outside when you’re done. ;)
    And thanks for the mention. :)

  13. lavenderbay says:

    So that explains the colour choice in caterpillars!
    The Caterpillar Cabin is a good idea, Seabrooke. That way, the moths could be photographed in their unflattened state — much better for I.D. purposes.

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