Finding Wax Moths in Your Hive
We beekeepers are constantly on the watch for anything that may threaten the health of our bees. A common beekeeper complaint is finding a Wax Moth – or many wax moth larvae. Could this little moth threaten my hive? Yes, it could but only in certain circumstances.
Not every hive is at risk for wax moth invasion. A colony with a strong population is well equipped to throw those pesky moths out!
However, maybe you have a beehive with a smaller population than you would like? These colonies are at the greatest risk from moth infestations.
There are several reasons for a colony to have a low population. A common situation with a smaller bee population involves new hives.
A new hive that you established from buying bees in a package will need time to grow. For several weeks – month, this young colony will be a risk until new bees emerge.
Do you have a strong colony that was split into 2 halves? If so, failure to include enough bees in each part could lead to problems.
Splitting a large colony into too many thin parts can result in a loss of all the bees.
The danger of wax moths ebbs and flows throughout the year. Moths are most active in the warm season.
Any time you mix warm weather conditions with weak hives, there is a potential for problems caused by a wax moth infestation.
Evidence of Wax Moth Damage
How do you know that you have a moth problem in your beehive? Believe me, it is easy to see.
A small amount of damage is no reason to panic. But, sometimes the devastation is unmistakable. Have you inspected a weaker hive only to find a webby, wormy mess?
What on earth is going on inside your hive? Has a family of spiders moved in?
No, I don’t think you have spiders – you have been visited by a wax moth – or several of them. They multiply quickly!
Finding wax moths in your beehives can be very upsetting. It is especially trying to new beekeepers who have no idea what is happening.
Seriously, it’s not a good experience for us experienced beekeepers either! So, why did this happen to your hive?
Even with advanced damage to the comb, the honey bee colony may be trying to save the hive. You may find a few bees trying to hang on or the colony may already be dead.
Did wax moths kill your hive? Yes and no. First, we need to understand the nature of the wax moth.
What Is A Wax Moth?
The first step to protecting our hives is understanding a bit more about the problem. What are wax moths?
These small winged insects are not much different than any other moth you can find. But, there are 2 types of wax moths that trouble beekeepers.
Both types of moth are attracted to the hive by odors. They often enter the beehive a night.
It is near impossible to keep the moths out of the hive. In my opinion it is an exercise in futility to try.
The adult moths are the beginning of a possible disaster for a hive that does not have a sizable population. Yet, the adults are not the real problem.
Moth Larvae are the Real Problem
The adult wax moths themselves, do no damage to the hive. But if the population of bees is not large enough to guard all of the comb, adult moths lay eggs on the comb.
Moth eggs can hatch in 3 days during warm conditions. These wax moth larvae are the pests that cause a large amount of damage to the bee colony.
When Wax Moth Larvae hatch, they are very small white grubs. To the untrained eye, they don’t look much different than bee larvae.
Then, they begin to eat and grow and grow. By now, the adult moths may have left for another site.
Or if the colony is very weak – adult moths stick around taking advantage of the free nesting area.
Many beekeepers put out “moth traps” to try to lessen the number of adult moths entering beehives.
These traps are commonly home-made with many different “bait” recipes in use.
Perhaps you can experiment with bait recipes. But don’t expect traps to the the complete answer to wax moth problems.
What do Wax Moth Larva Eat?
Wax moths prefer comb that has been used by the bees. Older, darker comb that has been used to raise young bees and hold pollen is very attractive to the adult Wax Moth.
This is the type of honeycomb that provides the most nutritious food for the Wax Moth larvae. Eggs laid in this region will be nearest to their food source.
Wax Moth larvae eat beeswax, the remains of bee larval cocoons, bee cocoon silk and bee feces in the cell. All of these are present in older frames of comb.
Bee cocoons are the materials left behind by a developing honey bee. Any comb that has had bee brood, will be more attractive to wax moths.
This preference for used comb is why Wax Moth larvae problems develop near the brood nest of the hive. But wax moth larva can live on pure beeswax.
Therefore, comb from honey supers is not completely safe. This is another reason to try to keep honey bee brood out of your honey supers.
This can be accomplished by using a queen excluder.
Older larvae turn grey and can measure up to 28 mm in length. They are very mobile and can move from one hive to another – although this doesn’t happen often.
Life Cycle of the Wax Moth
Wax Moth Larvae Complete Life Cycle
Eggs laid by an adult Wax Moth become voracious larvae. Eating and growing day by day.
A strong bee colony will chase the adults and remove moth eggs.
They generally do not remove the Wax Moth larvae. So any eggs that are laid, may have an opportunity to develop.
The larval moth stage can be completed in 19 days from hatch in warm weather.
When larvae feeding stage ends, it is time for the Wax Moth larvae to enter their next life cycle phase.
Larvae spin white cocoons for the transform into adults. They will often eat away wooden surfaces in the hive creating a wavy surface and causing damage to parts of the beehive.
Beekeepers who use plastic foundation have less of a clean up job on wax moth infected frames.
But those of us who prefer beeswax foundation need to keep extras on hand.
The cocoon stage lasts about 14 days before adult moths emerge and begin the life cycle again
Do Wax Moths Kill Bee Hives?
It is a common occurrence for a beekeeping student from my online beekeeping class to tell me “My hive was killed by wax moths”.
This is upsetting for any beekeeper and especially for those new to the hobby.
However, wax moths don’t normally cause bee colonies to fail. They are just a symptom of another problem the colony has.
In reality, wax moths seldom kill a hive of honey bees. Finding wax moths in bee hives is an indicator of something else.
How to Prevent Wax Moth Damage
A strong colony of honey bees will keep wax moth infestations under control. So why are you having a moth problem?
Do you have a lot of bees in the hive? Are there enough bees to cover most of the comb surface?
They must have a large enough population to prevent adult moths from laying eggs.
It is the weak beehives that are the biggest target. If your hive is weak, you must try to learn why.
This may involve removing extra boxes especially if you like to put several boxes on the hive at one time.
That is okay as long as you have enough bee population to patrol the area.
If your queen is failing, it may be time to order a new one so you will have plenty of new bees being produced.
Perhaps, something has happened to your queen. You didn’t squish her did you?
A queen failure or any condition that allows the bee population to drop is a problem.
How Do You Know If You Have a Wax Moth Infestation?
How does a beekeeper know if they have a problem with wax moths in the hive? The easiest method of detection is the presence of webbing and tunnels in the honeycomb.
Seeing an occasional adult moth or a couple of moth larvae is not cause for panic. Even a strong colony may have the occasional moth or wax worm.
But if you see several moth larvae and/or cocoons, that is a reason to investigate further.
Wax moth larvae can be found crawling on the comb surface. (They are easily confused with Small Hive Beetle larva, another bee pest.)
Wax Moth Damage
The defining characteristics of wax moths in beehives is the presence of webbing. Wax moth larvae tunnel through the honeycomb.
They leave behind noticeable tunnels with a “spider-like” webbing. This process continues until all the wax has been consumed. Leaving a webby, mess for the beekeeper to clean.
Their feces (small cylindrical black pieces) can also be seen on the bottom board.
How to Get Rid of Wax Moths in Beehives
- keep all colonies as strong as possible
- do not give the bees too many boxes at one time
- check colony population periodically throughout the warm season
- if a large crowded hive swarms – consider reducing the number of boxes if the population drops too low.
The best way to get rid of wax moths in beehives is to prevent infestations before they start.
However, there will always be times that things get away from us. We don’t realize we have a problem until it is a big one.
Control Wax Moths in a Hive
The best defense against wax moths is to maintain strong colonies. A healthy, strong colony will repel any attack and keep the bee hive relatively moth free.
Don’t give your honey bees more space than they can patrol. Too much space, too few bees – big trouble.
Take beekeeping boxes off the colony when not needed. Leaving too many honey supers on the bee colony in late summer is tricky.
If your bee population declines too quickly, you could end up with Small Hive Beetles and Wax Moth Larva both in the hive.
Monitor the population of your colonies. Did one swarm? If the population has dropped dramatically, you have comb that can not be patrolled.
Check the colony to ensure that the population of bees matches the space inside the hive.
Wax Moths in Honey Supers
One of the biggest mistakes made by new beekeepers is improper storage of honey supers. Adult Wax Moths are attracted to beeswax.
While they prefer comb with pollen or that which has held brood, they will consume your drawn comb. Especially, if a little bit of brood rearing has gone on in it!
Drawn comb is an expensive resource for beekeepers. We want to protect the honeycomb that our bees have worked so hard to make.
A honey bee colony that is drawing comb consumes a lot of food.
Starting your colony off with drawn out comb instead of foundation can result in a larger harvest next years.
2 Common Methods for Storing Honey Supers
- protect drawn comb from Wax Moths by Freezing
- protect drawn comb from Wax Moth by Storing exposed to light
After harvest, freeze any combs for 2-3 days, then place them in an airtight storage bin or plastic bag. You must freeze them first!
Freezing kills any moth eggs that you cannot see. After freezing, placing them in a tight storage container.
The other option is to stack your honey supers in a light airy place. If you live in a region that has cold winters, this will help you.
Stack the supers in a crisscross fashion that allows light and air to reach the honeycomb. (I knew one older farmer who would hang his empty supers from rafters in the barn during winter).
Adult moths are attracted to darkness and deterred by light. If you fail to store your supers of drawn comb properly, you may find a nasty surprise in the Spring.
Using BT for Wax Moth Control
The form of BT known as bacillus thuringiensis is used by some beekeepers to protect comb frames – though it is not labeled for such use in the US.
It was previously sold under the product label – Certan or Xentari. It was labeled for use in bees and helped control wax moths in beehives and stored comb.
This dry product is mixed with water and sprayed on new foundation or honeycomb.
This would be done before placing boxes on the hive or after removing them. BT kills wax moth larvae.
Certan is still available for use by Canadian Beekeepers. Xentari (the same form of BT) is sold in the US but availability is limited.
PDB-Wax Moth Treatment
PDB (Para Dicholorobenzene) is a chemical compound in a crystal form labeled for bees and approved by the FDA.
The pack of crystals is placed near stored honey supers to control wax moths. This chemical is also a known carcinogen. I have never used it.
Wax Moths Are Not a Beekeepers Enemy
While they may cause many headaches for beekeepers, wax moths are not an enemy of honey bees. They are a natural part of the bee ecosystem.
In the wild, wax moths enter an abandoned colony and clean up old comb. This leaves a clean disease-free cavity for the next bee swarm.
Some people actually raise and sell wax worms as fishing bait !
Understand the ways of the wax moths. Use honey bee management practices to deter wax moth infestations in your colonies. Proper storage techniques can protect your stored supers.
If you live in a region with cold winters, you will only have to worry about wax moths during the warm season.
Our beekeeping friends in warm climates must be vigilant year-round.