DEAR JOAN: We found this dead caterpillar in our driveway. It sure looks like a luna moth, but I was always under the impression that luna moths were found in the East Coast rather than west of the Rockies.
So, what do you think? Is this an anomaly -- a wayward/ectopic moth -- or have I misidentified the caterpillar?
DEAR BOB: The consensus of the experts is this is not the caterpillar of a luna moth, but the larva of a polyphemus moth.
It has the little orange dots that mark it as the Polyphemus, plus the caterpillars are common in Northern California.
The adult moths lay eggs on the leaves of a broad-leaved tree -- birch, oak, maple, walnut, citrus -- and tiny orange caterpillars emerge. The caterpillars molt five times, eventually becoming bright green with a row of orange dots.
It's a shame the critter died before becoming a moth, because they are really beautiful: large, tan and with purple ringed oval spots that resemble eyes. These spots are what gives Polyphemus its name. In Greek mythology, Polyphemus was a Cyclops who eats several of Odysseus' crew before Odysseus blinds him and escapes with his men.
DEAR JOAN: For the past few years my house has been invaded by some small moths. They seem to multiply at this time of the year; they are dormant for most of the rest of the year.
I think they could be the apple moth I have previously heard about. They are about a half inch in length.
I'm wondering how to get rid of them and prevent them from returning and breeding. We have used fly traps that seem to catch some of them, but we cannot get rid of all of them. They seem to hide in or near food and reproduce by creating larvae. Then they become moths and start flying around.
This week I have seen and killed more than 100 of them.
Please help me.
DEAR KIRK: I went to the Contra Costa Master Gardeners for help on this one, and they have identified your unwelcome visitor as the Indian meal moth, a common household pest also known as the North American high-flyer, the pantry moth, or generally referred to as the flour moth or grain moth.
They feed on a wide variety of common household staples -- cereal and grains, flour, rice, dried fruit, dehydrated vegetables, nuts, chocolate and candy (keep an eye on your Halloween stash).
The female can lay up to 400 eggs, which hatch in two weeks. It doesn't take long before things get out of hand.
By the time you notice the first moths flitting around, it's already too late. Controlling them will take time and a load of patience.
Start by checking your food, especially things that have been opened or are exposed. If you see even the smallest sign that the moths or caterpillars have been visiting, you'll do well to start pantry clearing. Contaminated food will have evidence of webbing on it. Before restocking the pantry, scrub the shelves with soap and water and use a vacuum in crevices to removes eggs and pupae.
In the future, store susceptible products in airtight containers or keep them in the refrigerator or freezer. Simply storing in zip-lock bags won't prevent an infestation.
Pheromone traps attract only males. Use them in conjunction with cleaning and proper food storage.
To see pictures of the Polyphemus larva and the Indian meal moth, go to www.pinterest.com/gardenjoan.
Contact Joan Morris at firstname.lastname@example.org; or P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.