Protecting your investment in your favourite passion
What is the Tobacco Beetle?
Well, it's official title is "Lasioderma serricorne" aka the Cigar Beetle or Tobacco Beetle or even the Cigarette Beetle.
It can cause extensive damage to stored tobacco, both raw and manufactured.
The larvae are of a white-yellowish colour, each larva has three pairs of legs and a brown head. They can measure from 2 to 3mm.
The adult beetles are small, oval-shaped and a yellow-reddish or brown-reddish colour. They can measure from 2 to 2.5mm long. Their head is bent forward at right angle to their body, so they seem to have a pronounced humpback when looked at from the side.
The adult beetle has a life-cycle lasting 2 to 4 weeks; the adult female lays approximately 100 eggs between 6 and 20-days; the eggs are oval-shapped and a white colour; they take 6 to 10 days to hatch.
When the larva emerges it perforates the stored tobacco product causing damage to the tobacco and infesting it; larvae reach their maximum growth in 30 to 50 days, then enter the pupal stage which lasts for 8 to 10 days or more depending on the temperature.
The growth period from egg to adult is variable, but usually lasts between 6 and 8 weeks under favourable conditions of humidity and temperature (20 to 37 degrees celcius).
Lasioderma serricorne cannot tolerate cold weather, the adults die within 6 days if the temperature is 4 degrees celcius and the eggs only survive for 5 days at temperatures from 0 to 5 degrees celcius.
How do they get into your Humidor?
The good news is, for the past few decades pretty much all cigar shipments are frozen prior to dispatch; that being said in the last 25 years I have seen less than 10 beetle encounters.
The majority of these were traced back to happening prior to depature to New Zealand; however a couple have occured here when temperatures soared.
The reality is, they are a thing, they do exist and it can happen.
How to watch out for Tobacco beetles?
Below is a severe amount of damage by Tobacco beetles; remember it can be as little as a single hole. The key thing is if your humidor gets way too hot, start checking and check regularly.
Cigars (ideally stored in a humidor) at a temperature of 18 to 20 degrees celcius should be fine; higher; panic!
These suckers can do damage and fast; cellophane is just another snack to them, so that doesn't even help.
Spanish cedar from your humidor is a barrier, but in all honesty that's where your cigars are anyway.
What can you do if you do notice Tobacco beetle holes or worse?
Well, if you find a beetle hole but don't find little tiny particles everywhere, don't freak out - every chance this happened a long time ago and the cigars were frozen by the manufacture before being shipped to New Zealand.
On the other hand, if you find lots of tiny particles everywhere - panic!
Isolate ALL your cigars, visually check them; if no more holes are present in the other cigars; destroy any cigars that have holes/damage to them.
The remainder, place into a ziplock bag; then place that bag into another ziplock back and put them in the fridge for 24 hours; then move them to the freezer for 3-days.
During this process, clean your humidor - vacuum it totally clean; some go so far as to whipe the inside of your humidor down with rubbing alcohol.
After three days, take them out and put them back into the fridge for 24 hours; then place them into your humidor; give them a few days to recover before attempting to smoke them.
How to discourage Tobacco beetles and infestations
Remember, temperature is the key here; high temperatures over 20 degrees celcius will create more humidity (that's why it is called Relative Humidity); so; bottomline is - do not let your humidor get too hot.
It is why the office at Canteros New Zealand is permanently set to 18 degrees celcius.
The other key things are; always check your cigars when you are reaching for one to smoke and always keep your humidor clean; any little scraps of tobacco, vacuum them up and keep it tidy.
Can I still smoke a cigar damaged by Tobacco beetles?
Personally, if you find a pin hole sized hole or more; I'd say no - they have generally carved out a nice cave inside your cigar (sorry).
There may also be larvae in there with their cocoon, so, nope.
TCM Tip: Sometimes a cigar has a "hole" in the wrapper, punctured by a stem or something else; it is a case by case and best judge for youself kind of thing.
But if it is obvious, then despose of that cigar quickly and follow the advice on this blog.