The tobacco beetle: lifecycle, symptoms and effective treatment

 

The tobacco beetle (Lasioderma serricorne) is a troublesome warehouse pest. Also known as the cigar or cigarette beetle, it can be found in temperate and tropical regions all over the world. The beetle likes to live in dried tobacco including in leaves, cigars, cigarettes or chewing tobacco. 

But do not let the name fool you. The tobacco beetle causes damage to a variety of stored products. These include cereal, dates, dried fish, ginger, grain, pepper, pharmaceuticals, raisins and seeds.

Tobacco beetle
Tobacco beetle larva covered with frass. (Photo Credit: John Obermeyer)

The tobacco beetle lives in dark or poorly lit areas. You can find it in cracks, corners and crevices. The beetles can become active in bright, open areas, but are most active at dusk and throughout the night. 

The tobacco beetle could be damaging at least 1% of all warehouse tobacco in the USA. This is comparable to $300 million of stored tobacco every year and has serious economic consequences. 

Additionally, adults can fly long distances. As a result, they can damage products far away from the original infestation site. 

Lifecycle and identification of the tobacco beetle 

For a detailed description of the tobacco beetle’s lifecycle, see this webpage 

The tobacco beetle has a four-stage lifecycle: egg, larva, pupa and adult. The beetle is very similar in appearance to the drugstore beetle (Stegobium paniceum). And it also looks like the common furniture beetle (Anobium punctatum). 

Eggs 

Mature females lay up to 90-100 eggs. These hatch after five to seven days.  

Tobacco beetles can reproduce as soon as they become adults. The eggs are pearl white in colour. In shape, they are oval with a slight swelling in the middle. One end of the egg has small, raised bumps. When freshly laid, the eggs are translucent, smooth and shiny. 

tobacco beetle eggs
Figure 2.  Eggs of the tobacco beetle, Lasioderma serricorne (F.)

Larvae 

When they hatch, the larvae are lively and become fully grown in 40-42 days.  

They are creamy-white in colour with a yellow head and brown mouthparts. Mature larvae of the tobacco beetle are C-shaped and about 3/16” long. They have long, yellowish-brown hairs. 

Tobacco beetle larva
Figure 3. Larva of the tobacco beetle, Lasioderma serricorne (F.). Photograph by B.J. Cabrera, University of Florida

Pupa/adult 

Pupation lasts from one week to a month.  

The duration of the tobacco beetle’s lifecycle depends on the food that is available and the temperature. The beetles do not like the cold.  

The adult tobacco beetle is about 1/10” long and light brown in colour. It has a ‘humpbacked’ appearance from where its head is bent down. The back is covered in small hairs and the antennae are jagged.  

For more information, please check the ISC datasheet. 

Tobacco beetle adut
Figure 4. Lateral view of adult tobacco beetle, Lasioderma serricorne (F.). L. (museum set specimen). © Georg Goergen/IITA Insect Museum, Cotonou, Benin

Infestation of the tobacco beetle 

Tobacco beetle larvae can infest and feed on dried tobacco. Any form will do – bundled leaves, cigars, cigarettes or chewing tobacco. 

They can also feed on common crops like cereal and grain as well as book bindings, leaves and pharmaceuticals. They cause irreparable damage to anything they infest. They are a common pest in museums and stately homes. And they can spoil far more food than they consume. 

Tobacco beetles hold symbiotic yeasts that produce B vitamins. The yeasts are deposited on the eggs. These deposits are eaten by the larvae when the egg hatches. 

These yeasts give the tobacco beetle its nutrients. They enable them to feed and survive longer on foods and items that are low in nutrition. 

Tobacco beetle larva and cocoons
Figure 5. Larvae and cocoons of the tobacco beetle, Lasioderma serricorne (F.). Photograph by B.J. Cabrera, University of Florida.

Getting rid of the tobacco beetle: Control methods 

Biocontrol and biopesticides 

Biological control (or ‘biocontrol’) is based on natural technologies. It is the use of living organisms or naturally sourced compounds to control pest and disease populations.  

It uses natural enemies or predators to control pests in an environmentally safe way. When used correctly, it can help growers to reduce the use of synthetic pesticides. Synthetics can harm crop production, soil health and wildlife. They can even harm people. The goal of  biocontrol is to protect growers’ plants from unwanted pests and diseases. 

Tobacco beetle predators include beetles such as Tenebriodes sp. (Tenebrionidae), Thaneroclerus sp. (Cleridae). Other natural enemies include parasitoids – an organism that lives on a host, at the host’s expense. These include wasps in the families Pteromalidae, Eurytomidae and Bethylidae. 

Only one tobacco beetle biopesticide exists – in Bangladesh. The lack of biopesticide products makes integrated pest management all the more important. 

Integrated pest management (IPM) 

Integrated pest management (IPM) programmes are a planned series of steps for managing diseases, pests and weeds. Integrated pest management can control infestations at processing, distribution and storage facilities. 

There are three key steps taken in integrated pest management. These are in the areas of prevention, detection and control. 

Prevention  

Preventing infestations of the tobacco beetle can be done in many ways. One way to prevent is to inspect all incoming food items for pests. Then these food items should be stored in hardy pest-proof containers. 

Additionally, ensuring good cleanliness particularly in food storage areas, and nearby locations will reduce the risk of an infestation. Keep any potentially infested items in regular rotation.

Detection 

To detect any tobacco beetles sticky traps can work. The female tobacco beetle sex pheromone, serricornin must be used with the trap. Using traps, it is possible to capture and, therefore, see and monitor the beetles. Traps help growers detect infestations.

When, and if, you locate any traces of tobacco beetles, dispose of the infested items as soon as possible.  To ensure fast and accurate detection, change any pest monitors and service traps on a regular basis.

Control 

In an IPM approach, it is important to consider what biological control options exist first. You can search for biological control and biopesticide products on the CABI BioProtection Portal. 

Insect growth regulators can also be used as part of an integrated pest management programme as they are based on natural substances. Insect growth regulators confuse insects and interfere with how they grow and reproduce. Methoprene is an example of an insect growth regulator. It was one of the first to be used on a stored product. 

As a last resort, chemical insecticides can be used if there are no other viable alternatives, such as biological pest control. However, these insecticides can have long-lasting effects and should be avoided if possible.  

See this page on the CABI BioProtection Portal for more information. 

Want more information about managing the tobacco beetle? See the CABI Invasive Species Compendium datasheet. 

Interested in bioprotection products for your crops? Check out the CABI BioProtection Portal.