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What are these stupid bugs and why won't they die??

We found teeny tiny little bugs in our sugar bowl close to a year ago. They're about 1/4 to 1/2 the size of a gnat, maybe the size of a comma in 8 point font - I'm talking tiny. They looked like specks in the sugar. I dumped the sugar, washed it out (a classic pottery glazed sugar bowl with a non-vacuum lid), and refilled. Bugs again. I picked up the sugar bowl, and saw that the windowsill directly underneath the (non-glazed) bottom of the bowl was crawling with them too, but they were restricted to exactly that circular area - no migrating to the corked jars of beans and rice. I dumped the sugar, bleached the bowl, wiped down the counter with bleach solution, and put the bowl back without refilling.

It's now been close to a year. They're still there!! There's been no sugar in that bowl for all this time, nothing else edible in that area (except the dried beans and rice, but there's been no evidence of migration), but there's always a couple specks in the bowl and a few score crawly bugs underneath. I keep cleaning it and waiting for them to die, but they seem indestructible! I don't want to use a pesticide where we keep edible food... They're not flour mites; I can't seem to identify them, and thankfully we haven't found any elsewhere, but what gives?? It's annoying to dig out the giant sugar canister every morning for my coffee...

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  1. I don't know what these superbugs are but what about refilling the bowl and storing it in the fridge? Then you can determine whether the bowl itself is spawning bugs or at least remove the doomed bowl from the scene of the crime.

    1. Try putting the bowl into the microwave and running it for a minute (or if it has any metal on it, an actual hot oven for 15 minutes or so). If there IS anything alive in there that should take care of it.

      1 Reply
      1. re: BobB

        Don't count on microwaves doing the trick. On more than one occasion - including at least one five-minute session - I opened the door to remove the zapped food and a cockroach ran out! That was in Nashville; none here in SoCal so far …

      2. Put a couple of bay leaves in the area and see what happens.

        1. Is there any gap or otherwise space by the windowsill leading to the outside? If so the fill the gap with putty, silicone, cement etc. This will be to stop them from coming inside. I doubt teeny bugs have even 2 weeks of lifespan. So it's highly doubtful they are the same original bugs. The other suggestions seem like good ideas as well. We need to get the bowl off the suspect list!

          1. Thanks for the suggestions! Problems:
            tcamp - I'm a little worried to put it in the fridge as I don't want the bugs (if they're living in the pores of the bowl or something) to discover the fridge food. There's not much edible on the windowsill, but the fridge could become a nightmare infestation if they survive the cold. Am I being paranoid?
            BobB - great idea, but it's handmade pottery from Spain, so I'm not sure if it's microwave or oven safe. I'll try pouring boiling water over it, though, and see if that does it - I've washed it in hot, but not boiling. Thanks!
            wyogal - I know certain herbs are bug repellants - I assume bay is one of those? What does it do? Thanks for the tip!
            sinfullydecadent - unfortunately, we rent, so we can't do anything permanent, and the window does open and is the only window in the kitchen. Again, I'm afraid to move the bowl to a different area at this point, as I don't want to move the bugs with it if they're living in it! I feel captive by insects...
            Keep the thoughts coming! I will defeat these little beasts, I swear it...

            3 Replies
            1. re: thursday

              If it were me I'd very quickly just get rid of the bowl!!

              1. re: thursday

                Even low fired pottery should survive a trip in the oven. Just put it in a cold oven and let it warm up as the oven gets hot. It's thermal shock that usually causes pottery to break. Low fired pottery (if it's terra cotta, then that's what it is) is typically fired to about 1900 degrees F for glaze firing. Oven heat shouldn't be a problem.

              2. I agree with the other posts about figuring out if the bowl itself is the culprit or is involved... Can you isolate the bowl somewhere else for a while? Since you haven't used it in a long time anyway, it doesn't sound like a week or two without it would hurt.

                I was thinking of sticking it in a plastic storage container for a while, somewhere not near any food - like a basement or garage, or even in a spare bathtub or sink somewhere. If you stuck the bowl in a big bin, and the bin in the sink, then the bugs are in a spot where you could easily clean them up and they aren't going to spread through carpet or anything. After a few weeks, if you no longer have bugs on your windowsill, but now have bugs on in the tub, then the bowl is to blame!

                1. Don't know where your located, but most U.S. Counties have an Extension Service that is an expert source for all things farm and garden. Most of these offer pest identification and eradication advice. So I would advise you to contact your county Extension Service. Should be identified in both White and Yellow Pages under county government.

                    1. re: GH1618

                      wow. really helpful website, GH. Never knew about the cabinet beetles. It might explain what I thought were carpet beetles in my kitchen.

                      1. re: GH1618

                        Thanks DH - that was helpful in identifying a beetle I have seen in my house . . . I always called them carpet beetles, but see they are dermestid beetles!

                        1. re: vday

                          According to that guide, a carpet beetle is one type of dermestid beetle.

                      2. How about putting the bowl in a large ziplock baggie (you can get really large ziplock baggies for storage at hardware stores). If you clean the bowl first, then put it in the baggie and watch, you'll know if the bugs are coming from the bowl or not since it will be encased in ziplocked plastic. I know that insects can burrow through plastic, but if you check frequently, you'll know if the pottery is harboring the mites before they can "burrow out". Let us know!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: freia

                          Catch one of the bugs, stick him in a small clear bottle (i.e. an empty pill bottle) and bring it to an exterminator shop. They'll identify the bugger right away, how he got there, if you should be concerned and they'll let you know what you should do to remedy a potential problem. That's what I did many years ago when I had a similar situation in my pantry.

                        2. A friend of mine just had a similar issue, and it turns out what she had was cheese mites- something of a misnomer : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheese_mite

                          1. My SIL had a similar issue with tiny bugs around her kitty food bowl. No evidence of paths to and from the bowl, and they were small. She thought they were ants but they were teeny tiny and usually with ants you see a path or trail in or out.
                            Interestingly, the kitty bowl was a clay based glazed bowl...hmmmm....

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: freia

                              The implications of this just freak me out completely...WTF?