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Cigarette beetles are tiny insects that measures between 2 and 3 mm. Like ladybugs, they belong to the order Coleoptera. The rigid reddish-brown wings visible when they are not flying actually protect another pair of membranous wings that they use to fly. When you examine this insect at a higher magnification, you can distinguish fine hairs covering its body, and its characteristic sawtooth antennae. Unlike the drugstore beetles they resemble, their wings are not striped with hollow spots running lengthwise.
After mating, the female normally produces 30 to 40 eggs, and sometimes as many as 100. The larvae shy away from light. After feeding on, and tunneling into, infested plant products they form a silk cocoon, covered with debris, inside which they metamorphose into nymphs. It takes two to three months to go from egg to adult. Furthermore, the adults fly more often on cloudy days or in late afternoon.
Places where they can be found in the home
In Canada, the larvae can only survive winter time inside heated buildings. Elsewhere, they spend the winter in cracks and remain in the larval stage all that time. The adult and larva feed on cut and dried tobacco, cigars, dried plants in bouquets or herbarium collections, and plant materials such as those found inside stuffed furniture. Cigarette beetles infest grain, rice, spices (especially paprika, pepper, chili powder, curry, ginger and celery seed), grapes, dates, coffee and seeds and crackers, dried fruit, nuts, dried fish, pet food, bird seed, and mouse bait. They also attack silk, leather, books, clothing, medicines, dead insect collections, and have even been found on dead rodents. With such food habits, they are apt to be found in various places in the home, but this cosmopolitan insect is mostly associated with tropical regions.
- By inspecting plant products regularly, you can detect any infestation before it becomes too widespread.
- Hermetically-sealed containers will protect food products
- Vacuum regularly to remove food debris in floor cracks.
- It is better not to use paper to cover shelves so that they can be inspected more easily, and to plug up any cracks in your pantry.
- Install fine screens to make it more difficult for them to get in.
Both the adults and larvae cause damage, but the larvae present the greater problem. You should therefore find the source of the infestation by making an inspection round. Sticky disks containing serricornin (a pheromone that attracts males) can be used.
The larvae becomes dormant at temperatures below 16°C. At 18°C, they do not develop (since they do not feed). Adults are active when the temperature is above 18°C. Cigars can be stored 35 days at 13°C so that the eggs will not be viable. One author claims to have used a gas burner in a library to raise the temperature to 60-63°C for six hours. It should be noted that carefulness is expected not to create conditions that would be more harmful to the house than the presence of a few cigarette beetles !
At 4°C (in the refrigerator), it would take over six days to kill the adults, but the insects would be killed at any stage of development if subjected to a temperature of 2°C for 16 days, or a temperature of -4°C for seven days. Regardless of the species in question, it is best to kill all the insects infesting food products before throwing them in the trashcan. Most of these insects will not cause a problem when the humidity is below 6%, but they multiply more rapidly when the humidity rises.
Even when it was still legally possible to purchase and use insecticides, their use in places where food is stored was rarely recommended. Diatomaceous earth would probably be preferable, if you feel it is necessary. In tobacco warehouses, cigarette beetle infestations sometimes require fumigation after a thorough washing down. For heavy infestations, chemicals that affect the insect’s development have been used, among other chemicals.
It is a good bet that a cigarette beetle will be described as “a tiny brown flying bug” by most people, but that could also describe several different species, and this might sometimes lead the occupants of a home to think there is only one kind of insect infesting the house, while in fact there may be more than one problem. A stereomicroscope – the tool that insect specialists (entomologists) prefer to the loupe magnifier – will allow you to see the insect up close to differentiate it from those that look alike but do not come from the same place. The family Anobiidae, to which the cigarette beetle belongs, contains over 70 Canadian species, including some brown insects that prefer to attack wood.
The cigarette beetle is one of the two most significant insects that infest food products.
This insect has been found in dried resin inside the tomb of the Egyptian king Tutankhamen.
The English reference for this insect is the “cigarette beetle” or “herbarium beetle” because of its feeding habits.