It’s a day like any other day—or so you think. You head to your humidor to grab a stogie; you haven’t had one in a couple weeks, and it’s time for a nice long, languorous smoke. You open up your humidor and you stumble backwards in horror.
They’re so tiny you may not see them; in fact, you probably don’t. They’re only about the size of a pinhead. But you do see the damage they’ve created. There are holes in your cigars where the tobacco beetles have burrowed. You might see them crawling on your stogies or the insides of your cigar box. Whether you see them or not, your reaction is revulsion, panic, and outrage. Are your precious cigars ruined?
There is nothing worse than losing a valuable cigar collection to tobacco beetles. You not only lose all those wonderful cigars, including probably some rarities, but all the money you invested in them. Is there anything you can do? Let’s learn more about these hated pests that are the plague of cigar connoisseurs, shops, and manufacturers around the world, and then we’ll talk about what you can do to save your cigars.
What Are Tobacco Beetles?
Tobacco beetles are tiny, just two or three millimeters in length. They only live a short time when they reach adulthood, about 2 to 4 weeks. Their entire life cycle is closer to 10 or 12 weeks. While that might sound encouraging, they breed like crazy, multiply like mad, and can quickly take over your entire humidor, even if you have a large one. They love heat and they adore cigars.
Adult female tobacco beetles chew their way through the leaves, making those distinctive burrowing holes. Inside the cigar, it is warm and dark and safe, the perfect environment to lay eggs. The eggs, like the beetles, are tiny. They are so small that even if you unraveled a cigar to look for them, you would not find them. One female tobacco beetle can lay around 100 eggs. Six to 10 days after she lays the eggs they hatch, and the larvae are born. The larvae then eat the delicious natural food source all around them. They devour your cigars and grow into adult beetles. The female beetles then burrow and the cycle starts all over again. Each of those adult females lays 100 more eggs and so on. You can see why these outbreaks are so hard to control!
If an infestation is really bad, you may even find piles of dust in your humidor—the pulverized remains of some of your cigars. Thankfully this is a rare case; most infestations are not this serious. If you find even one cigar with signs of infestation, though, you can be sure it is not alone, even if the others look fine. Often the signs of infestation are more subtle: you may see just one little pinhole on a single stogie. If you do have a really serious infestation and you ignore it, within just two days you could lose your collection.
How Did These Beetles Get Into My Humidor?
“My humidor is a sealed environment, so how the heck did these things get in here in the first place?” That is probably your next question. Usually tobacco beetles piggyback a ride when you bring home new cigars from a store that has an infestation. This is a bigger problem in some settings than others. You should always inspect new cigars at the store when you buy them. Unfortunately, even a cigar with no telltale signs could be harboring tobacco beetles.
For that reason, you should regularly check your humidor for signs of infestation. Regularly means every few days. Never walk away from your humidor for a week or more. Inspecting your humidor frequently is especially important if you recently purchased new cigars or do so often, or if you live in a hot climate where tobacco beetles feel at home.
Can I Save My Cigars?
If you have already noticed holes on your cigars or beetles, it is time to take immediate action. All hope is not lost if you act quickly. Take all of the cigars out of your humidor (except those that are really badly damaged – throw them away) and place them in Ziploc bags. Seal the bags and stash the cigars in the freezer. Remember, tobacco beetles thrive on heat. They hate the cold as much as they love the heat, so the freezer is a great way to kill them. Wait for three days, and then transfer the cigars to the fridge for a day. This intermediary step is to protect your cigars. If the temperature rises again too abruptly, you can ruin them. The fridge allows for a gradual transition back to room temperature.
It is essential that you freeze all your cigars. If you leave even a single stogie in the box, it could serve as a breeding ground for the infestation, even if it looks fine. Whether or not you see signs of damage on all your cigars, they all need to spend time in the freezer. While you are waiting on that, you can clean out your humidor. Wipe it down with a damp cloth. Do not use bug spray or disinfectant or cleaner. Chemicals will damage the wood and leave behind a nasty odor. That odor will cling to your cigars when you put them inside.
Put your cigars (they’re safe to smoke – just try not to think about that special addition to the filler) back in the humidor and make sure that the temperature and humidity inside are stable (around 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 70%). It is generally at temperatures above 72 degrees and humidity levels above 72% that tobacco beetles hatch. If your thermometer or hygrometer seems like it is lying to you, it may be time to replace the faulty gauge. Digital gauges give the most accurate readouts.
There are a lot of issues which can cause temperature fluctuations in your humidor. Where is your humidor right now? Is it near a heating or cooling element in your house? Under a light which produces heat? In the path of direct sunlight through the window during certain times of day? Make sure that you do not have any of these placement problems. Also consider the quality of your humidor itself. Does it seal properly? Is the quality high enough? Would it be wise to replace it with a better one?
To add an extra layer of stability to your humidor, you can put in some extra strips of cedar if you have them, or you can put in humidor beads to regulate the humidity levels. You may find this helpful if you live in a particularly humid or volatile climate. If you have just tackled an infestation, be sure to keep checking your humidor regularly for a few weeks to make sure there were no survivors. Preventing and getting rid of tobacco beetles does take time, work, and sometimes money—but it is worth it to protect your collection!