Tobacco beetles are also known as cigarette beetles, cigar beetles, or, scientifically, as Lasioderma serricorne and belong to the order Coleoptera of the family Anobiidae. They are similar in appearance to drugstore beetles (Stegobium paniceum) and to common furniture beetles (Anobium punctatum). As indicated by their name, they are a pest of tobacco, whether it is in the shape of cigarettes or just stored leaves. However, it can also affect oilcake, oilseeds, cereals, dried fruit, sage or flour.
Description and distribution
They are of light, reddish-brown colouring and around 2-3mm in size. They have a rounded, oval shape, with the head concealed by the pronotum (the plate covering the first region of the thorax), and a hard shell covering the body. When disturbed, they pull their legs in and tuck their head and remain motionless.
They look almost identical to drugstore beetles, but can be distinguished from them through their antennae, which are serrated, and their elytra which are smooth, as opposed to the drugstore beetle.
Tobacco beetles are widespread around the world, living in warm, humid environments. They prefer pan-tropical areas, but they can be found worldwide. There are normally encountered in places where the temperature exceeds 18 degrees Celsius, although they need more heat to thrive, with the eggs hatching at more than 23 degrees Celsius. They spend most of the time in darkened places (all sorts of cracks and crevices), but sometimes become more active, and can be seen flying in bright, open areas, though probably only in an attempt to find refuge once again. This activity usually only happens in the evening and at night, but you might also see them flying in the late afternoon and on cloudy days. They mostly spend their time in places where dried tobacco can be found in the form of leaves, cigars, cigarettes or chewing tobacco.
Breeding and dietary information
A tobacco beetle’s life cycle is formed out of 4 stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult, and is highly dependent on the temperature and food source they have at hand. The female tobacco beetle will lay around 100 eggs on an appropriate surface, one that is close to a food source or, most often than not, one that represents the food source in itself (e.g. cigarettes, paper, etc.). The eggs hatch in 6-10 days. The larva stage is considered to be the most devastating, seeing as, approximately 6-10 days following hatching, the larvae begin to feed on the surface they had been laid on, a process which continues between 5-10 weeks, time in which they go through 4-6 instars and can produce substantial damage. Following this, larvae transition to pupae (cocoon stage), which takes about 1-3 weeks, and then to adults. Once they reach adulthood, tobacco beetles crawl out of the place they had been inhabiting and stop feeding, although they will still consume liquids.
An average tobacco beetle will live around 2-6 weeks, but the exact period is highly dependent on environmental conditions. To be more specific, one life cycle can be completed in around 26 days at 37°C and in up to 120 days at 20°C. Adult tobacco beetles cannot tolerate the cold, dying within 6 days at 4°C. Eggs, on the other hand, can survive up to 5 days at 0-5°C.
Natural predators of the cigarette beetle include other species of beetles (such as Tenebriodes and Thaneroclerus), wasps (such as those of the families Pteromalidae, Eurytomidae, Bethylidae, etc.), while various species of predatory mites may eat the eggs. When disturbed or in perceived danger, tobacco beetles will tuck in their head and legs and remain completely still, playing dead.
As their name so clearly suggests, tobacco beetles love to feed on cigars, chewing through the wrappers and feasting on the tobacco inside, completely eliminating it. Not only that, but they are also willing to feed on books and book bindings, as well as seasonings such as pepper, chili, paprika, ginger, cocoa, and foods such as pasta, raisins, and a number of different types of seeds, not to mention coffee beans. Dry flower arrangements will not remain untouched, either, and studies show that cigarette beetles will even feed on pyrethrum, which is an active ingredient found in many insect baits and insecticides.
Tobacco beetles as pests
Tobacco pests have long since been associated with humans, with some having even been in found in the tomb of Egyptian King Tutankhamun. They are described by many to be the worst problem encountered in the tobacco industry, attacking tobacco plants, cigars, cigarettes, as well as chewing tobacco.
It’s not only an outside production of tobacco plants that you should be concerned about when it comes to tobacco beetles, though, seeing as these tiny pests can easily invade your home, as well. Not only will these pests feed on the variety of items mentioned just above, but they will damage them and contaminate them with eggs, larvae, and faecal matter.
The one that cause the most damage are the beetles in larval stage. They are the ones that cause direct damage to foodstuff and non-food items, and they can also bore through cardboard boxes or other types of packages in order to find a place to pupate.
Regardless, tobacco beetles do not bite or sting people, and although they have been known to get tangled in people’s hair or clothes, they do not actually cause any direct harm to humans. However, having your whole tobacco crop get contaminated is annoying enough. Knowing how to prevent an infestation is important, as the damage that can be done can be quite expansive. You can prevent tobacco beetles without the use of insecticides, by applying methods based on temperature control. Items can be placed in refrigerators or freezer in order to kill all stages of the pest. Heating small quantities of the items in an oven can also be effective. Also, in order to further prevent infestation, a high level of sanitation needs to be kept. Chemical treatment should be applied only in large infestations, and insecticides should be used only as a last resort.
For more details on how you can ‘Prevent infestation with Tobacco Pests’ and ‘How to get rid of Tobacco Pests’, you can visit our related articles, and find out more details regarding methods of prevention and control.