Buying Cigarettes
I came - I saw - I bought

Cigarette beetles graze far beyond tobacco

When I was very young, very strong, very handsome and very stupid, I started smoking.

This all began in basic training. My drill sergeant was a chain smoker. When we stopped for a break, the smoking lamp came on and those who smoked could light up and those who didn't had to police the area. By the end of basic training, almost all of us were smokers.

During my first tour in Vietnam in 1966, I found a pack of Lucky Strikes in my C-Rations. It was a small pack of only 10 cigarettes.

I opened the cigarettes and attempted to light one. It wouldn't catch. The reason it wouldn't catch was that it had been infested with cigarette beetles (as had the other nine). Fortunately, I didn't have to go through withdrawal. A buddy just happened to have some Zig Zag papers with him and we just rewrapped the tobacco.

The reason I bring this part of my personal history up (I stopped smoking almost 30 years ago, by the way), is that I received from an acquaintance a cigar that had the same problem: cigarette beetles.

My friend is retired military, like me, and is something of a connoisseur of fine cigars. He had purchased these particular cigars from a reputable tobacconist in London a few months earlier and they didn't come cheap.

Since this particular pest is found worldwide, it was impossible for me to tell if the infestation came with the cigars or if they moved in after my friend had brought them home. Female beetles lay between 30 and 100 eggs in a three-week period. The eggs hatch one or two weeks later and the larvae begin ending.

The lauval stage lasts from five to 10 weeks, at which point they enter the pupal stage. Their entire life cycle can last from 70 to 90 days, and there can be five to seven overlapping generations in a single year.

As their name implies, cigarette beetles (Lasioderma serricorne) most commonly infest tobacco products. They also can feed on barley, beans, bran, chili powder, cornmeal, curry powder, dates, dried flowers, figs, flour, leather, paprika, peanuts, raisins and wool. They also can damage books when they feed on the binding paste.

It's this wide range of food that makes this pest somewhat difficult to control. The source of the beetles must be located and destroyed.

Once the site is identified, all of the infested contents need to be thrown away and the area must be thoroughly vacuumed. I keep cornmeal, flour and dried beans in my freezers until I need to use them. If frozen long enough, it will kill any nascent infestations.

Scrupulous hygiene is the only way to control these beetles (and other pantry pests). I don't recommend applications of pesticides in this instance unless the infestation is just too widespread, and even then, I strongly suggest you use a professional pest control operator.

Tim Lockley, a specialist in entomology, is retired from a 30-year career as a research scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. To have him answer your individual questions, please send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Tim Lockley, c/o Sun Herald, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535.



Published: Thursday, December 20, 2012

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