Tips & Tricks: Beetle Bustin’
For the first time in years, I pulled a cigar out of one of my humidors and upon examination, I noticed a small round hole in the wrapper. After a cartoonish reaction and the air raid sirens ceased, I collected myself and put my eyeballs back in their sockets. I immediately emptied the suspect humidor and examined each cigar. One advantage to having multiple humidors is that you can mitigate large-scale destruction. To my utter relief the affected cigar was the only victim. After isolating the lone stogy, I began to methodically inspect other aspects of the humidor to ensure I was not creating a warm, cozy environment for the dreaded tobacco worm aka Lasioderma (the adult beetle is called Lasioderma serricorne). I verified the temperature was at or below 70° and the humidity was between 67-69% RH. I recalled I’d only recently purchased the affected cigar about a week prior. Given all environmental aspects checked out and that none of the other cigars were affected, I concluded any potential damage must have come from within the B&M where I purchased it. Bullet dodged. Change of shorts not required.
I’ve personally never had to deal with even a small-scale worm/beetle infection, but after this experience and after listening to the tales of others, I quickly researched and devised an emergency action plan should anything resembling a beetle apocalypse ever materialize. Do yourself and your prized cigars a favor and get a plan together. I’ve put together some helpful preventative tips, but just in case you see evidence of “Holy Smokes”, we’ve got you covered there too. But first, a quick triage to get you up to speed with your nemesis:
- Adult beetles lay their eggs deep inside tobacco leaves, usually when the leaves are in bales inside warehouses.
- Within 20+ days, the eggs hatch. The white, larval worm begins feeding on the tobacco leaf. Since it can be a couple of weeks before they hatch, many of the leaves have since been rolled into cigars.
- Loves warmer temps and higher humidity (>75° is ideal).
- Usually confined to a single cigar.
- Adult beetle is the size of a pen nib and can fly.
- Typically, the worms will bore straight up and out of the cigar. They rarely burrow down the length of the wrapper.
- Susceptible to cold.
Now that you’ve met the specter that would love to feast on your figurados, lets focus on what WE can do. Fortunately, many tobacco growers control this little guy by fumigating their warehouses every 30 days or so. But after our Undercrowns and Cohibas are boxed up, it becomes our task to ensure WE enjoy them, not these tiny worms. Below are some helpful tips to prevent you from inadvertently throwing out the welcome mat to the smorgasbord in your humidor.
Surveillance & Prevention
- If buying singles out of a box in a B&M, look them over carefully. It never hurts to politely ask the proprietor if they’ve had any previous bouts with Lasioderma worms/beetles.
- Inspect the cigars you purchase. Open the box of cigars and inspect them all. If storing them in their box, empty the box and make sure you do not see any dead beetles (brown) or worms (white) in the empty box.
- If you periodically rotate your cigars, this is a good opportunity for inspection.
- Keep your humidor properly humidified, at or <70% RH. Since most age at 65-67%, you should be good. Use “controlled” humidity that allows a natural feedback system to ensure the humidity doesn’t get too high. Glycol-based solutions, beads, Boveda packs, etc.
- Monitor the temperature in your storage devices. 75° is the magic number as anything equal to or higher is party time for egg hatching.
If you are the unwitting host of a Lasioderma hootenanny, fear not, help is on the way. When you’re done, be sure to send a “Thank you” card to Richard Carleton Hacker, author of the Ultimate Cigar book.
- Put down the Coke can full of Jack Daniels that’s not fooling anyone and empty the cigar box or humidor. It may only be one, but to be sure, you need to subject ALL potentially infected cigars to scutiny.
- If it’s a box of cigars that is suspect, lose the box. That is, unless it’s a collectors item of course or one you’re particularly fond of, subject it to the cleaning in step 9a.
- Place all cigars on a light-colored paper towel making it easier to spot bugs.
- Inspect all cigars for wormholes. Any found should be thrown out immediately.
- Inspect the empty humidor or cigar box for any dead reddish-brown beetles – only about 2mm-3mm long. Bury them, feed them to your Rottweiler or just burn them in effigy. Your call.
- Place all remaining non-holy cigars in a Ziploc bag. Gently squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible, seal it and place it in your freezer for 2-3 days. Emphasis on three.
- Remove the bag of stogys from the freezer and place them in the refrigerator to allow them to thaw slowly. Exposing them to room temperature straight from the freezer may cause them to split or may cause other unwanted effects.
- Once thawed, remove the bag from the fridge, remove the cigars from the Ziploc bag and let them sit at room temp. Do not try to speed-up the process by letting them sit outside or in direct sunlight. This may cause the wrappers to split.
- While your cigars are basking at room temperature, aerate and clean out your humidor or cigar box.
- Wet a paper towel with warm water. NO SOAP! Gently wipe the interior with the paper towel. Wipe the entire interior dry as well.
- Add your lounging stogys back into their happy place.
NOTE: To be clear, it is NEVER recommended that you ever put your cigars in either the freezer or refrigerator. These methods are only to exploit a weakness in the worm/beetle which die when exposed to temps below 4-5°.
All is not lost and fortunately, most scary moments like this often end up with minimal loss and tears. Solid prevention and surveillance is key. Hopefully this never happens to you or your friends. And if you do notice a suspicious stick you just received from an online retailer or from a B&M, you owe to them to let them know immediately. They, and I’m sure a whole host of their other customers, will thank you. – In Fumo Pax!