Cork eaten by beetles!?

On the first day of our multi-day offline with tsunami (The Tsunamithon Big Grin) we drank a Gould Campbell out of the cellar of the Roots'.

When I wanted to decant the bottle, I saw that the cork had been partly turned into dust. The upper centimeter was gone. There were also strange marks on the cork. StevieCage suggested that it could have been some sort of beetle (or larvae) that ate its way into the cork. For his explanation and wodka-soaked determination, take a look at this thread.

I had heard that this could happen, but had never actually seen it before. Has anyone of you ever experienced this in a bottle?
And, not really unimportant, do these beetles have the bad habit of spreading to other bottles? If so, I have some checking to do. Eek Roll Eyes Eek
Original Post
This one has me kind of stumped. While I haven't heard of beetles specifically eating cork, it doesn't surprise me in the least (some beetles are known to bore through lead casings).

The questions is, what kind is it?

I can't find anything on "cork weevil" (a weevil is a member of the beetle family Curculionidae)- one might exist, but I don't know about it.

It could be a "larder beetle", one of several species in the family Dermestidae. These beetles are known to eat everything from cured hams to carpet. I hadn't realized this, but some adults have been known to chew into cork. If there was an infestation in the basement...

There is a minute chance that it could be a Pachnoda marginata larva (from the beetle family Scarabaeidae). Some people raise these critters 1. to feed the larvae to pet lizards and 2. because the adults look cool. I believe they originated in Africa. Anyway, apparently the larvae bore right through cork.

Finally, there are entire families of beetles (thousands of species) dedicated to chewing though the bark of trees. I don't know of any that particularly go after cork, but there is a chance that the cork was infested before it was placed in the bottle. Luckily, the critter ate outwards instead of inwards.

I'll look into this a bit farther. Does anyone have the corpse? I'll be glad to take a look at it!



I never drank anything stronger than beer... before I was twelve.- W.C. Fields
thebugguy: I only used the word “weevil” because I read about this being the historically “correct” terms for the critters.

Unfortunately, I was unable to get a complete specimen from the cork…just some segments, and I’m afraid I did not save them. However, I do think you could very well be correct with one of the Dermestidae. The way the cork was eaten suggests this family (not as “organised” as with the Scolytidae). My beetle guide is not very complete, but I was thinking of Dermestes lardarius (that's probably your larder beetle, in Dutch it’s called “Bacon Beetle”), or larvae of Anobium punctatum (“Death Knocker” in Dutch), which is very common over here. The size of some of the holes in the cork also seem to fit. But there are probably plenty of species more possible…

The most puzzling thing to me was that the capsule appeared to be intact: how did they get to the cork?
Anyway, thanks for this pleasant trip down memory lane: I’m a biologist myself, and although I got my MSc in Plant Ecotoxicology I always have had a soft spot for beetles and bugs (I used to have a T-shirt that said “weevils rule”… Roll Eyes). Should you be interested in a picture of the cork in question, I can always try to take a picture or scan it.
That's also a big question for me Stevie. There were even two capsules on the bottle, one plactic and one aluminium.

It would also be very strange if the beetle was already inside: that would mean that it ate its way outside, crunched the whole top of the cork until there was nothing left, and then went inside again...
Yaeh, the fact that the capsule appeared undamaged is odd. I can think of two scenarios.

1. the cork bark was infested before being placed in the bottle or

2. (duh), the insect got in after the capsule was sealed, but didn't damage the capsule in doing so.

In doing a little research, I was surprised to find that the cork-tree genus Phellodendron is extremely resistant to insect damamge and that there are very few insects that naturally attack it- seemingly ruling out 1.

2. is possible if an adult beetle inserted an egg in one of the tiny perforation often present in foil capsules and the larva munched away until it got too big to get back out. It is possible that one of several different dermestid species might do this, but it seems unlikely- we'd hear about it a lot more if it was common.

I dunno- it's still something of a mystery to me. Was the recovered insect an adult, or still in the larval stage?

And as an aside, I first tasted port as a senior in college in my wine tasting class. The very first time I smelled the stuff (and forever afterwards), my immediate impression of the smell was "pickled bugs". No kidding- the stuff smells very, very similar to a jar of alcohol packed with insect specimens and left to sit for a year or two. I pointed this out to thebuggal, and it has permanently turned her off to port, the smell was so similar.

This is very unfortunate for me, as I've developed quite a taste for the stuff, even if it does smell like pickled specimens!

I never drank anything stronger than beer... before I was twelve.- W.C. Fields
An excerpt from the link I posted above:

"Nemapogon cloacellus is found mainly in the spring and early summer. The moth grows to a length of 7.5 mm and has a wingspan of 10 to 14 mm. The cork moth lays its eggs not only on cork but also on moist wine casks in dark, dank cellars. The caterpillars of this moth species are also called cork worms.

Cork moths and cork worms are highly undesirable in wine cellars. The caterpillars destroy the corks in bottles of wine, and the wine either leaks out or tastes musty. The taste is caused by mould fungi, bacteria and mites. They settle on the cork-crumb "cocoons", which are interspersed with faeces, and thus ruin the wine."

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