While I often write about plants and pests outside the house, on occasion I also like to talk about common household pests that many of you may be dealing with — both seen and unseen. One such critter to inspect for is the cigarette beetle. Named after its fondness of stored tobacco, this beetle was also found in dried resin from King Tut’s tomb! But besides these food items, cigarette beetles get into a wide range of stored organic materials.
Cigarette beetles are minute insects about one-eighth-of-an-inch in length and reddish-brown in color. Rounded to oval in shape, adults will fly about from dusk on through the night in illuminated areas, but prefer to hide in dark nooks. A cigarette beetle life cycle is completed in 40 to 90 days. Adult females will lay up to 100 eggs which hatch within 10 days. The tiny, slightly fuzzy white larvae then take up to 10 weeks to mature and pupate.
So, besides tobacco, what else do cigarette beetles like to eat? Keeping in mind that adult cigarette beetles can only consume liquids, and the larvae are the main chewers, their list of food stuffs sufficient to keep them alive is expansive and variable. For instance, they like any variety of flours, cereals, cocoa, coffee beans, herbs, spices, nuts, and rice – they can actually chew through a carboard box to get to it! They also like dried fruits such as dates and raisins as well as dry dog food. Cigarette beetles are survivors and they also like things you would never consider edible, such as dried plants, dried floral arrangements, potpourri, decorative grapevine wreaths, prescription drugs and pills, medicinal herbs, furniture stuffing, papier-mâché, and bookbinding paste. The cigarette beetle uses symbiotic yeasts to digest items of such low nutritional value.
Almost all homes could experience this insect from time to time. Chemical control is often not practical and cultural controls really work the best. Accidental introductions are common and once you notice an infestation, cleanup is first on the agenda. Inspect stored products and clean up spilled flour and crumbs. Vacuum and clean as needed and store dry food products in airtight containers. The future use of see-through containers makes it easier to check for infestations. Items can be cold or heat-treated as a preventative measure or to stop unseen infestations.
Bottom line, monitoring, finding and disposing of infestations while they are small, and using insect-proof containers is the way to go to keep all types of stored products pests, including cigarette beetles, from making a mess and causing disgust. Infestations are generally easy to care for and prevent!
For more information on all types of household pests and their control, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline from 1-4 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Just as a reminder, our new office is located at the North Charlotte Regional Park at 1120 O’Donnell Blvd., Port Charlotte. The Plant Lifeline is now open at our new site. Our phone numbers and email addresses continue to remain the same. Don’t forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area. Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times — bit.ly/2SntjPq. Our Eastport Environmental Demonstration Garden is always open to the public outside the gate at 25550 Harborview Road and will continue to be in operation. Master Gardener volunteers tend this garden on Tuesday mornings from 8-10 a.m. and are available for questions.
Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the UF/IFAS Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or email@example.com.