In the "Before You Buy..." blog article posted on August 1, 2012, I briefly described what may occur if cigars are overhumidifed or kept in temperatures that are too high - the dreaded cigar beetle infestation.
Tobacco beetles, scientifically known as Lasioderma serricorne, are tiny bugs ranging about 2-3 millimeters in size that have the ability to wreak complete havoc on any cigar collection. They are reddish-brown in color during the adult stage; however, may be noted during its 4 life stages - egg, larva, pupa, adult.
Although the beetles may be found in climates where the temperature exceeds 65˚F, they typically hatch in conditions of high humidity and tempetaures greater than 73˚F. Most crops are destroyed by insects while the plants are growing. Tobacco storage for long periods (for curing and fermentation), permits the hatching of eggs into progressive stages of development of an adult beetle, which is why tobacco is not consumed while fresh.
The infestation may erupt anywhere along the line - from the curing barns to the cigar shop to the consumer. A female beetle lays pearl-white, oval eggs in the crevices of tobacco and they are virtually impossible to detect by the naked eye. Upon emergence from the egg, usually around 6-10 days after their climate-triggered birth, the larvae become menaces and start to feed off of the cigars for approximately 5-10 weeks. It is during this life stage when the most damage occurs, and their feeding leaves the cigars strewn with tiny holes. When the larvae metamorphoses into a pupa, it harmlessly rests within a cocoon, which will eventually hatch into an adult beetle. The adult beetle typically does not do any eating, but will leave holes in the cigar wrappers as it emerges from the cocoon and out of the cigar. Several adjacent cigars may be affected by virtue of crosswise burrowing of the larvae or adult beetles. It is believed that cellophane-wrapped cigars are not affected - this is untrue, as the beetles have been known to punch through the packaging.
How to Avoid Tobacco Beetles
You just may not be able to...at some point in life, you may encounter these pests. They are as natural as the tobacco itself, and it is no reflection on the establishment from which you purchased your goods. However, if you are overly concerned about some cigars you brought home, place them in a resealable plastic bag in your humidor and "quarantine" them for a while - may be overkill, but at least your other stock will be protected.
What To Do If Infested
No worries - all may not be lost...and your priced collection may be salvagable.
Step 1: Assess the damage
If you detect that there are beetles in your humidor, assume that ALL cigars are affected. Remove the cigars from your humidor and inspect every square inch. Check all cigars that may be wrapped in cellophane or in cedar. Tobacco beetles also leave behind tobacco dust, in addition to holes in cigars; so where there is tobacco dust, there may be beetles.
Step 2: Deep-freeze the infested cigars*
Separate your infested cigars and loosely pack them in resealable plastic bags (preferably freezer bags). Then place them in the deep freezer for about 3 days. Temperatures of 1˚F or less will crack the larvae and kill both eggs and adults. If you do not have access to a deep freezer, your household freezer will work as well.
*During this time, clean out your humidor - remove and clean out any drawers and trays. A small vacuum may be handy.