Wax Moths

what is a what moth - wax moth standing on honeycomb
Wax Moth Classification
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Family: Pyralidae
Genus: Galleria or Achoria
Species: Galleria mellonella and Achroia grisella

The wax moth is a parasite of honey bees, laying eggs inside the cracks of their hives and eating the bees’ homes and food stores. A wax moth consumes the honeycomb of honey bee hives, including wax, the skins of larvae, propolis, honey, and pollen.

There are two major types of wax moth: the Lesser wax moth and the Greater wax moth.

The Lesser wax moth’s scientific name is Achroia grisella, while the Greater wax moth’s scientific name is Galleria mellonella. Despite belonging to different genera, these moths belong to the same subfamily, Galleriinae. [1][2]

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    Where Can Wax Moths Be Found?

    The wax moth is found throughout most of Africa, Europe, Australia, the United States, and Canada. Additionally, wax moths can be found in Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Japan, Jamaica, Sri Lanka, and other places.

    The wax moth is found almost everywhere honey bees live, but they do better in warmer climates than in temperate climates. 

    Neither lesser wax moths nor greater wax moths can live in freezing temperatures, but lesser wax moths are more tolerant of the cold. 

    What Does a Wax Moth Look Like?

    The wax moth is a small moth with two distinct wings, antennae, and six legs. The greater wax moth measures up to 19 millimeters in length, while the lesser wax moth measures up to 13 millimeters in length.

    When viewed from above, the lesser wax moth has an oval shape and is grayish brown in color. The greater wax moth has a rich red-brown color, mottling and spots on its wings, and a pointed head. In both species, male moths are smaller and less darkly colored than females.

    It is very difficult to see wax moth eggs, which are about half a millimeter in diameter. Both wax moth species produce larvae that resemble long, slim cylinders with several segments on their bodies.

    It is pertinent to note, however, that greater wax moth larvae are much larger than lesser wax moth larvae.

    Wax moth eating bees wax from bee hive
    Wax moths come in two types, lesser and greater. In contrast to the rich red brown of the greater wax moth, the lesser wax moth is a greyish brown color.

    There is some confusion between wax moth larvae and small hive beetle larvae, however with close inspection both types of lava are easily identified. This is because small hive beetle larvae lack four small legs near the tail end of the larvae, which are present in wax moth larvae.

    The larvae of the small hive beetle also have tiny spines on their bodies, whereas the larvae of wax moths do not. In addition, the adult beetles are very different from the adult wax moths, making it fairly easy to identify which type of infestation is occurring.

    Where Do Wax Moths Live?

    Wax moths live in beehives, laying their eggs in crevices within the hives. The larvae develop within the comb of the hive and line the tunnels with materials they produce as they develop.

    When wax moths are in their pupal stage, they build cocoons within the hive. Wax moths have a life cycle that is mostly focused within honeybee hives, making them an important pest for beekeepers to be aware of. 

    What Do Wax Moths Eat?

    Wax moths eat beeswax, pollen, propolis, and honey from honey bee hives. As larvae, wax moths tunnel through hives, feeding on their structures and damaging their combs. 

    As adult wax moths do not feed during their lifetime, most of the damage caused by wax moths occurs during their larval and pupal stages. 

    Wax moth larvae cocoons on the outside of a bee hive
    As wax moth larvae develop and burrow through the hive, they feed on the brood cells, significantly impacting the colony's growth.

    Honey bee larvae and pupae are only eaten by lesser wax moths. Greater wax moths do not eat live larvae or pupae of honey bees. 

    This makes lesser wax moths more dangerous to honey bees since they actively reduce the honey bee population, while greater wax moths simply feed on honey bee wax structures.

    Why Are Wax Moths Dangerous to a Honey Bee Colony?

    Due to their burrowing abilities, wax moths are dangerous to bee colonies. A wax moth burrows into honey bee hive combs, resulting in extensive structural damage and population decline within the hive.

    It is possible for wax moths to accidentally uncap brood cells within the hive when they burrow through. If the brood cells are not capped, the larvae and pupae inside may live, but their legs and wings may be deformed. This decreases the colony’s ability to forage and mate.

    Why Do Wax Moths Attack Bee Hives?

    In order to find food sources, wax moths attack bee hives. As a result of the wax, larvae, pupae, pollen, and honey that are stored in bee hives, wax moths are able to thrive there. 

    Wax moths do not have many food sources since their primary diet consists of wax from honey bee hives. As a result, wax moths attack bee hives since they are their only source of food. 

    In addition, because wax moths prefer dark spaces, they are attracted to bee hives since they provide such environments.

    Do Wax Moths Only Attack Honey Bee Colonies or Other Insects, Too?

    The wax moth is only a parasite of honeybee colonies. Wax moths do not feed on other insects. 

    As wax moths primarily attack empty or weak honey bee hives, a healthy hive is generally resistant to wax moth infestation. As wax moths target weaker hives, wax moth infestations are often indicative of the presence of other parasites.

    What Does a Wax Moth Do to a Honey Bee's Body?

    Wax moths tunnel through the hive and sometimes uncap brood cells, resulting in deformed legs and wings on the affected bees. 

    Wax moths have more impact on honey bee hives than the honey bees themselves. The wax moth larvae tunnel around in the hive and fill it with silky thread that they produce, ultimately destroying the combs within the hive by filling the hive completely with thread. 

    Sometimes bees are trapped in their brood cells by the silky threads that the wax moth larvae produce, which leads to the death of the bees.

    What Is a Wax Moth Infestation and What Can It Lead To?

    Wax moth infestations can cause severe damage to an active hive due to the destruction of the bees’ homes and food stores. 

    Most wax moth infestations occur in hives already preyed upon by other parasites, since wax moths prefer weak or near-empty hives. 

    hone super from bee hive that has been destroyed by wax moths
    An adult female wax moth will enter the hive laying between 300 and 600 eggs that upon hatching will traverse the hive and cause extensive structural damage

    Additionally, wax moths can interfere with the storage of honey since they destroy the comb inside the hive. In the event that honey storage is damaged by wax moths, the bees are deprived of food resources and may starve to death.

    Beekeepers are also affected economically by this situation, since any loss of honey results in a loss of income. [3]

    How to Detect a Wax Moth Infestation

    A wax moth infestation can be detected by examining the hives for larvae, eggs, and adult moths, as well as evidence of larval tunneling and thread spinning. 

    When you examine the hive, you should remove the combs and check for eggs, larvae, adult wax moths, tunnels, and silk thread. This will assist in the identification of wax moths. 

    Furthermore, bald brood in a hive is likely to indicate a wax moth infestation. Bald brood occurs when moths dig through the brood combs, disrupting the cells and causing them to open.

    wax moth larvae in cocoon stage
    The presence of silk thread, spun by the wax moth as it tunnels through the hive, is a good indication of an infestation of wax moths

    A thorough inspection of hives for adult wax moths in dark corners and crevices can also be effective, particularly at night when wax moths are most active. 

    Beekeepers can also inspect their hives for wax moth eggs, which are small silvery orbs laid in groups in crevices.

    How to Prevent and Get Rid of Wax Moths

    Keeping a healthy colony of bees is the most effective way for beekeepers to prevent wax moths, as wax moths prefer to feed on weak and unhealthy bee colonies.

    Therefore, wax moth infestations can be prevented by keeping the hive and the bees free of other parasites and well-nourished. 

    It is also possible to prevent wax moths by ensuring that an apiary does not contain empty or weak hives, as wax moths are attracted to them.

    Additionally, wax moths cannot develop in combs that have been stored at extreme temperatures. 

    A lower temperature is generally better than a higher temperature since high temperatures can cause beeswax to melt. A freezer is a suitable place to store combs in order to prevent infestations with wax moths. 

    Beehives should also be kept in well-lit and adequately ventilated areas to prevent wax moth infestations. 

    As wax moths prefer darkness to light, adequate lighting and fans are not conducive to their survival. Detecting wax moths will also be easier for the beekeeper.

    How Do Wax Moths Spread Between Apiaries & Colonies?

    Due to the fact that wax moths infest unused combs, it is possible for them to be present in old or empty combs that are then transferred to active hives by beekeepers. Bee colonies are infested by wax moths in this instance. 

    To prevent possible wax moth infestation, it is imperative to avoid using old combs without first freezing them and inspecting them for wax moth larvae.

    In addition, wax moths can fly between hives while in their adult stage, spreading infestations from one hive to another. 

    It is possible for a new hive to become infested with wax moths if an adult female wax moth flies from one hive to another to lay her eggs. Since wax moths fly mostly at night, it is difficult to determine when a new hive is infested with them.

    Reproduction & Lifecycle of Wax Moths

    a diagram explaining the lifecycle of a wax moth

    At the beginning of the wax moth’s life cycle, an adult female crawls into a beehive and lays between three hundred and six hundred eggs. Larvae, or caterpillars, hatch from the eggs and traverse the hive.

    As wax moth larvae dig burrows within the hive, the hive itself is destroyed. For the purpose of preventing bees from defending themselves, wax moth larvae spin silk webbing to line their tunnels. 

    The larvae feed on wax, propolis, pollen, honey, and, in the case of the lesser wax moth, bee larvae and pupae. 

    The wax moth does not feed after becoming an adult; instead, it flies, mates, and lays further eggs to continue its life cycle.

    Wax Moth vs. Small Hive Beetle Larvae

    Wax Moth Larvae Small Hive Beetle Larvae
    Appearance Three pairs of legs near their heads, four pairs of prolegs near their tail ends, no spines on their bodies. About a half of an inch long, three sets of legs near their head, spiny bodies, tiny heads, cream-colored.[4]
    Spread Wax moths are most often transferred between colonies when beekeepers remove unused combs infested with moths and place them in active colonies, infesting the active colony. Adult beetles can fly, meaning they can easily infest new hives and colonies.
    Reproduction Adult female moths lay between three and six hundred eggs in cracks within the hive, which hatch into larvae. Larvae, or caterpillars, tunnel through the hives for a few days and then spin silken cocoons to pupate in. After pupating, the adult moths emerge and lay eggs again. Beetles can lay up to one thousand eggs during their lifetime. Eggs hatch in about three days. When beetles exit their larval stage, they leave the hive and pupate in the ground for up to six weeks. When they emerge as adults, they smell out a bee colony to infest and repeat the cycle.
    Diet Larvae feed on the wax honeycomb, pollen, propolis, and sometimes honey. Lesser wax moth larvae also eat bee larvae and pupae. Beetle larvae feed on pollen, honey, and bee larvae and pupae.
    Damage Spin rugged cocoons into the structure of the bee hive, causing foundational damage. These cocoons are too strong to be removed by the bees. Only damages colonies that are already weak, does not damage the combs of the hive and does not produce silken webbing. Feeds on the eggs, larvae, and pupae of bees. Beetle defecation can cause honey to ferment and run out of the honeycomb in a more liquid form. Contaminated honey cannot be sold or eaten by bees.
    Detection Larvae tunnel through the comb, eating it, and leave behind silken spun webs that they produce. Eggs can be found in groups of three to six hundred resting in cracks and crevices within the hive. Adult beetles can be seen within the hive crawling on the frames and combs. Larvae cause combs to become slimy and filled with larvae in extreme cases.
    Prevention Keeping honey bees healthy and combs full of honey and brood; storing hives in well-lit areas, especially at night; inspecting hives regularly for larvae and silken threads produced by larvae and freezing infested combs; storing unused combs in the freezer. Keeping honey bees healthy and combs full of honey and brood; storing hives in well-lit areas, especially at night; inspecting hives regularly for adult beetles and larvae.
    Population Growth Population increases during times of weakness in the colony when there are few worker bees and the combs are mostly empty. Population increases when there are fewer worker bees in the hive to protect against beetles, such as during swarming or when the colony is weak and not producing many worker bees. Beetle larvae feed on grease patties that are used for mite control and protein patties that are used to feed bees, so if these are used in an infested hive the beetle population may grow. Population decreases in the winter as reproduction pauses.

    How Can Wax Moths Be Beneficial to the Environment?

    Wax moths are highly beneficial to the environment due to the fact that they naturally break down old, unused combs that are left over after bees abandon the hive or die. 

    Abandoned honeycombs can become filled with other insects and may attract rodents causing further trouble, further highlighting how wax moths can be beneficial in a particular environment.


    [1] Wikipedia [2] Wikipedia [3] Clemson.edu [4] Bee Health


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