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How To Treat Wax Moths: Identification And Prevention

Wax Moths can be a serious problem for beekeepers. They are often blamed for the death of a honey bee colony. However, this pest is often a symptom of a larger problem or beekeeper mistake in the hive. Learn how to identify a wax moth infestation and the various wax moth treatment options.

Wax Moths – Pests of the Beehive

Larvae and cocoons of wax moths in a beehive image.

Wax Moths (also called “bee moths) are a natural part of the environment. They are attracted to beehives by the scent. Beeswax, honey, pollen and other hive odors lure the moths inside.

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While a wax most infestation can destroy a colony, most hives will not fail. A colony with a strong population is well equipped to throw those pesky moths out!

However, weaker honey bee colonies are at the greatest risk of severe wax moth damage. For a very small hive already struggling to survive, an infestation of moths may be the last straw.

What Is A Wax Moth? – Identification

There are actually two types of these beehive pests to consider. The Lesser Wax Moth (Achroia grisella) – (left) and the Greater Wax Moth (Galleria mellonella) – (right) are both smaller grey-beige moths.

Both are attracted to the hive by odors. They are most active after dark and often enter the beehive at night. In the hive, most beekeepers won’t recognize which type of moth is present. In fact, you may not see one at all – but that doesn’t mean it has not been there.

A strong bee colony with plenty of worker bees is in little danger. Chasing adult moths from the hive and possibly removing moth eggs, bees keep the damage to a minimum.

Adult bees generally do not remove moth larvae. If there are not enough bees to patrol all the comb, the moths may get the upper hand.

Life Cycle of the Wax Moth

Females moths can lay up to 600 eggs in clusters on the honeycomb or in crevices of the hive. The spaces between boxes are also a favorite location.

Moth eggs can hatch in 3 days during warm conditions. These wax moth larvae (called wax worms by some beekeepers) are the true pests.

The larvae are very small white grubs. To the untrained eye, they don’t look much different than bee larvae. In fact, it is not uncommon for a new beekeeper to say – “hey, my baby bees are crawling out of the cells!”

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The larval moth stage can be completed in 19 days from hatch in warm weather. When larvae feeding stage ends, larvae spin white cocoons for the transformation into adults.

They will often eat away wooden surfaces in the hive creating a wavy surface and causing damage to the wooden parts of the beehive. The cocoon stage lasts about 14 days before adult moths emerge and begin the life cycle again.

Diagram of Wax Moth Development

Diagram of wax moth life cycle image.

What do Wax Moth Larvae Eat?

Wax Moth larvae eat beeswax, the remains of bee larval cocoons, bee cocoon silk and bee feces in the cell. Older, darker comb that has been used to raise baby bees and hold pollen is very attractive to the adult moth.

This is the type of honeycomb that provides the most nutritious food for growing moth larvae. Moth eggs laid in this region will be nearest to their food source.

Contrary to the information of some sources, wax moth larvae can live on pure beeswax.  This is another reason to try to keep honey bee brood out of your supers intended for collection. This can be accomplished by using a queen excluder.

Feces and webbing from wax moth damage on honeycomb image.

Evidence of a Wax Moth Infestation

The easiest method of detecting wax moth problems is the presence of webbing and tunnels in the honeycomb. Moth larvae leave behind noticeable tunnels with a “spider-like” webbing.

Larval feces (small cylindrical black pieces) can also be seen on the bottom board and in the webbing on the comb.

Wax moth webbing tunnels in honeycomb of a beehive image.

In unguarded comb, they continue to eat until all the wax has been consumed. Leaving a webby, mess for the beekeeper to clean.

Sometimes, wax moth larvae can be found crawling on the comb surface. The larvae are easily confused with Small Hive Beetle larvae, another bee pest.

Bald Brood

As wax moth larvae tunnel through the comb just below the cappings – they may cause a condition called “bald brood”. The moth larvae are partially removing the cell caps as they burrow.

Then worker bees chew the rest of the cap off. This exposes the head of developing bee pupae often resulting in deformed adult bees.

Wax Moth Treatment and Prevention

The best way to treat wax moths in your hives is to avoid letting the situation get out of control. There is no chemical that you can put in your hive to kill moth larvae and not damage the bees. Here are some techniques that can help your bees be able to defend themselves against wax moths.

  1. keep all colonies strong
  2. do put too many boxes on the hive
  3. monitor hive population all season
  4. consider trying some outside moth traps

1. Keep strong healthy colonies with lots of bees. Are there enough bees to cover most of the comb surface? Wax Moths can be a problem during any of the warm months of the year.

Be careful with new colonies or when making splits – you need enough bees to patrol the comb.

When you split a bee hive, failure to include enough bees in each part could lead to problems with moth damage. Any time you mix warm weather conditions with weak hives, there is a potential for a wax moth infestation.

Likewise, a colony that loses it’s queen may dwindle in population unless the beekeeper is able to requeen in time. Monthly inspections are a minimum during warm weather.

2. Don’t put too many boxes on the hive at one time if the population of the hive can not patrol the comb. We all make this mistake sometimes as we prepare for the honey flow.

A new hive started from buying bees in a package will need several months to build a population. It may be a target especially if the beekeeper adds too many boxes at once.

3. Monitor the population of your hives during the season. If a colony swarms and experiences a dramatic drop in bee population – they could be at risk.

4. It is near impossible to keep moths out of a hive. In my opinion, it is an exercise in futility to try. However, some beekeepers do set up various types of moth traps near the bee yard – maybe they help?

Recipe for Moth Trap Bait

Some 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.

This is a common one : take an empty soft drink bottle – with a one inch hole placed near the slope of the neck. Fill the bottle with 1 cup of water and sugar, ½ cup of vinegar – add a banana peel. Let this mixture ferment for a couple of days. Then, tie it to a tree near the bee yard.

Experiment with different bait recipes. But don’t expect traps to be the complete answer to moth problems. They will not make up for good hive management.

Protecting Stored Honey Supers

One of the biggest mistakes made by new beekeepers is improper storage of honey supers. Your bees did a great job and you want to save all that beautiful wax for them to refill next year.

Well, Wax moths are not only a danger to occupied hives. In fact, they do some serious damage to draw comb.  Eggs can be present on those frames even if you don’t see any. Then you place them in a nice dark place – perfect for moth larva – they love the dark.

If you must put your supers away, be sure to prepare them first. Freezing comb for a few days and then place it in a tight storage container.

Or use approved chemical repellants designed for this use. Another option is the use of a Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) solution such as Certan.

Cleaning Up a Hive Infested with Wax Moths

If you have been in beekeeping for a while, you have likely experienced a box full of moth larvae and webbing. What a mess.

Don’t be too quick to throw away those frames of comb. Comb that has a moderate amount of damage can be reworked by a strong colony. You may find a few bees trying to hang on or the colony may already be dead.

If your bees are all gone (or too few to survive), it is best to disassemble the hive. Scrap away any comb debris webbing etc. You will need to scrape any cocoons away from the frames and inside of the box.

Wax moth cocoons and damage in a bee hive box image.

Beekeepers who use plastic foundation have less of a clean up job on wax moth infected frames. They can scrap the mess off that plastic and the bees can reuse the foundation.

Some debris may still be down in the wax imprints but that’s no worry. This is not a disease – it is a pest. You could pressure wash the foundation but there is usually no need.

Those of us who prefer beeswax foundation need to keep extras on hand so we can replace the wax foundation. Any “good” frames of comb that you remove from the hive should be frozen for 2 or 3 days to kill any moth eggs and then stored in a moth free place until needed.

Scorching the inside of the box with a propane torch will aid in killing any cocoons or eggs that are not easily visible. Sometime I do this and other times I don’t bother – a good scraping usually does the job well enough.

Strong Colonies Can Repair Wax Moth Damage

Seeing an adult moth or a few moth larvae is no cause for panic. Even a strong colony may have the occasional moth or wax worm. In the case of a minor problem, the bees will clean and repair the comb.

If the colony still have enough bees and a queen, they may still be saved. Remove the frames that are most infested or damaged and reduce the hive size down to fewer boxes.

A 2 deep hive may need to temporarily be reduced to a 1 story deep. A single deep may need to be in a 5 frame nuc for a while until the colony population rebounds.

While they may cause headaches for beekeepers, wax moths are not an enemy of honey bees. They are a natural part of the bee ecosystem. In the wild, bee moths enter an abandoned colony and clean up old comb. This leaves a clean disease-free cavity for the next bee swarm. 

The best way to treat wax moths is use good bee management practices. The same can be said of Earwigs and roaches. Keeping colonies strong with the proper amount of space to guard will allow the bees to do the job.

FAQs

Do wax moths kill beehives?

It is a common occurrence for a beekeeping student from my online beekeeping class to tell me “My hive was killed by wax moths”.

However, wax moths don’t normally cause bee colonies to fail. Finding an infestation in your hive is just a symptom of another issue the colony has.

How do I get rid of wax moths?

You will never keep them all out of the hive. Instead, help your bees be strong enough to control the problem on their own and provide support with traps, box manipulation etc.

What does a wax worm turn in to?

Wax moth larvae go through a pupal stage and turn in to adult moths.

Can wax worms bite?

No, wax worms have small jaws and mouth parts that pose no danger to human skin.

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38 Comments

  1. Hi Charlotte,
    Thanks for your blogs. Wondered if you can tell me if worker bees normally throw out the drones every few weeks during the season? I observed smaller bees stinging bigger bees outside one of my hives yesterday. Figured they were kicking out drones. The bees have been acting weird lately. Not out foraging like usual. We’ve had weird wet & cold weather for two weekends in a row. What do you think?

  2. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    With the weird weather we have had this year I’m not sure what normal is ! LOL. Seriously, the bees only throw out drones in 2 situations that I know of. One of course is in the Fall. October for me here in SC. They dont need them over winter and dont want to feed them. And the other situation is when resources are scarce. For instance, if I have really hot summer weather with drought – some of my colonies will cast out the drones to save on food. If they need some, they just make some more. No way to know whats happening inside the hive without doing an inspection. Watch out for robbing! That could be what you are seeing. I have a good post on honey bee robbing behavior.

  3. when transferring bees out of the wild to my bee box
    THEY DIE….can u give any possible reason as to why
    the least hive i brought home was only 15mins away from my home

  4. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    First, you must be sure to get the queen bee and she must be well mated. After that, pest management such as developing a mite treatment plant is vital.

  5. Jenny Corbett says:

    I have had bees in a chimney for 3 years now. They have rendered the room practically unusable and I could see no way of moving them. Then lately I have had an infestation of wax moth and the bees seems to have disappeared. I do need to clear the chimney of bees and the moths seems to be doing that but how can I make sure that another swarm do not arrive? I will have the chimney blocked up but there always has to be ventilation so bees will get in again. Is there something I can use to get rid of the smell so they do not return? Should I now have the chimney swept and then light a smokey fire or is that dangerous.

  6. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    I would definitely have the chimney cleaned. Yes, hopefully the cleaning process and some smoke will discourage future swarms.

  7. My weak hive was infested with wax moths. I am a new beekeeper. Can I just scrape the infested wax off of the frame plastic foundation?

  8. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    Absolutely. That is one advantage to plastic foundation, you dont have to put new wax in the frames.

  9. We have the same problem but with wood frames what should we do different?

  10. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    I use wood frames as well. If the comb is not destroyed, just freeze the whole frame and all for a few days and scrape off any cocoons etc that you might see. Then they are fine to re-use. If the comb is over 50% destroyed (on 20% for me), I just replace it with new foundation and use the wax for other purposes.

  11. I have holes in my wood frames where the larvae dug in. Do I need to fill them? If so, what should I fill them with?

  12. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    No Missey, I never bother as long as the frames are still strong enough.

  13. Rick Webb says:

    I am a new bee keeper and I have read a lot of atricals on the day to day challenge of my new hobby. I have to say that your information that you give to your followers is clear and decide. You have a way of getting to the point and being very informative about your skill. I would love to join you blog and get some more ideas and information about this skill you and others have learned. I have invested a lot in my hives and now that fall has come I have realized that it is now getting to the next chapter and will be a totally new learning curve with the different types of pest and the way that they need to be controlled. Thank you for your time and your help and I look forward to your wisdom.
    Thank you Big Rick W

  14. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    Thank you for the kind words Rick. I try really hard to give clear ideas and allow for each beekeeper to do things their own way when possible. Please sign up for my newsletter to insure you don’t miss updates. If you are on Facebook, feel free to like my business page Carolina Honeybees and join my beginners group. Help for Beginner Beekeepers with Beekeeper Charlotte

  15. I’m a newb and have a top bar but I don;t see much info on top bar hives, would you put some info on TB hives TY

  16. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    It is an area that I would like to expand. Most of my readers do not use top bar hives but I think they are very interesting. Thanks for the request.

  17. Hello Charlotte,

    Love your blog, it is very helpful and reassuring to new beekeepers like myself. I have been observing moths creeping into the hive at night (with my trusty red light) and seeing cocoons on my corflute. Was starting to panic until I read this post. Last I saw there were plenty of bees so the girls ‘should’ be ok. We are coming into winter soon here in Australia.

    One question – does a wax moth infestation smell any different to a healthy hive? I notice a smell at the front of my hive but as a new beekeeper I have no idea what I’m meant to be smelling.

    Kind Regards
    Kay

  18. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    You might notice a different smell if there was a big problem. If your hive seems healthy with lots of bees and not obvious dead brood, they may be working some type of plant nectar that is causing a smell.

  19. Late to the convo here, but I just tore out drawn comb from about 30 stored frames that were infested with wax moths. Do I need to freeze the empty frames before I put new beeswax foundation in them? Where best to store drawn comb?

  20. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    No I dont worry about frames, I just scrape them good to make sure I have removed any cocoons. For drawn comb, either freeze it and then store tightly or store is in an open airy place.

  21. Hi, I live in Massachusetts and this is my third year as a “beekeeper” – not all that successful,with one hive. The prior two years the bees left – CCD. However talking to others – it seems that is not that uncommon. This year i decided to add another hive, giving me two. My question is this. One of the hives, is doing fine. The second hive has very few bees, no queen and larvae crawling around. The comb is not gooey nor is there the silk. Is this wax moth damage. What should I do?

  22. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    It could be moth larva or Small Hive Beetle larva. With few bees and no queen the hive is doomed. If the comb is still in decent shape, freeze the frames for 48 hours and then you can use it later.

  23. My hive was totally destroyed by wax moths. 🙁 While cleaning it out, I was visited by a few bees. (None were left in the supers) This makes me think they might be close by. If I put a few new frames and foundations in, do you think they will come back? I know it is late (almost November in VA) but want to help them if I can.

  24. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    No unfortunately, those were probably bees from another hive – even a wild one. For next time, think about what happen to your hive. Why did the population get so low that moths were able to destroy the comb.

  25. Lena Nishanian says:

    I had bee problem in the ceiling of my kitchen. Between my first and second floor we had a specialist come and remove the queen bee. While we were happy to be bee free now it’s been more than a month that we are fighting with moth thinking it is from my pantry or from any kitchen item… yesterday we realized that the flying moths are coming from the ceiling mounted lights .
    I read about it and I’m wondering how can I get rid of the rotten hive that is built between my ceiling and the second floor.
    There was a little hole outside my house and I know that the bees had access from that little hole all the way to my kitchen ceiling .
    Is there anything I can spray all I have to cut completely my ceiling and take care of it that way. I know it will be very costly but I don’t know what else I can do.
    Please give me an idea and thank you very much.

  26. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    Yes, the moths “could” be coming from the left behind bee products. Just getting rid of the bees is never the answer. The honey, comb, dead baby bees etc need to be removed to prevent problems with ants etc. There is nothing you can spray that will make the left behind material disappear. As long as it is in there, things will be looking for it. Do be sure that the outside entrance allowing bees access has been plugged. Otherwise, a new group will move in .

  27. Hello. I am a new beekeeper and I just went out to my hive and all my bees were gone. There has not been a lot of activity lately but I just figured it was because it was getting colder. There is evidence of wax months. I dont know why they left. They left behind 3 full frames of honey. Is the honey safe to eat? There is no evidence of wax moths on the frames with honeyThanks

  28. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    As long as you have not used mite treatments while this honey way in the hive, it should be safe to eat. However, why not freeze it and have a boost for next years colony.

  29. Hey Charlotte,
    I pulled 4 frames off my stash about about a week ago and and did a quick scan of other frames looking for evidence of wax worms, beetles and mites on bees. Everything looked clean and functioning like it should. Finally got around to cutting the wax off this morning and noticed 3 areas the size of a nickel with the telltale webbing. I know those weren’t there when I pulled them a week ago. I would’ve seen them because I would’ve recognized it right off. I’m freaked out. So.. got back in hive this morning and removed the inner queen excluder for winter, pulled a few frames from the brood boxes. Found the back corner has the beginnings of another nickel size webbing area but not seeing worms there or chewed wood. Found only one worm and “took care of it”.
    Now I’m second guessing myself. Should I go back in and pull every frame I ncluding brood box for inspection? I pulled the outer frames and one inner frame on each box. 2 broods and one super.
    New hive this year due to European bees invading last fall. Wiped the prior hive out clean. The current hive is strong with a lot of bees. They’ve done an excellent job keeping the population high. Not overcrowded, and not too much space. Beekeeping is great when everything falls into place. I’ll be losing sleep worrying…

  30. Thanks for the lecture about the wax moth. It’s really informative

  31. We are first year beekeepers, in East Texas, one of our hives super was totally full of honey from this years nuc and the hive had grown large and was doing well. We noticed recently that the hive had gotten smaller figuring the hive was preparing for winter. Then we noticed a large number of bees flying outside the hive, after a closer look we noticed we had been robbed. All honey gone and most bees dead outside the hive and queen gone or dead. We have frozen the frames. The question is, “can we put some of those frames in the surviving hive to replace the frames where no activity has taken place?” BTW the girls are still being in pollen.

  32. Charlotte Anderson says:

    Absolutely, that’s a great way to get good use from frames of honey

  33. Kathleen M Angulo says:

    What do I DO to a plastic bin that I had stored some drawn comb frames in and wax moths got to them? I set them in the FULL SUN and sprayed Home Defense BUT I have NO IDEA what to do next? How do I ASSURE that they are DEAD? Will they come back?

  34. Charlotte Anderson says:

    Well as for the plastic bin, I would not spray it with pesticides – especially if you ever plan to use it again. A good wash with hot soapy water should help remove cocoons etc. If there are still cocoons in there – scrape them out and burn them. Then wash your container.

  35. I have larvae in a hive. Thank for your posts. I think I can clean them up and reduce hive. Hive is a couple years old…?just shake off bees into new boxes or use vac?

  36. Charlotte Anderson says:

    Depending on how bad the infestation is….a colony with a good population of bees will clean them up for you. They get control when there is too much space (comb) and too few bees to patrol. You need to reduce the number of boxes on the hive or find out why your bee population is low.

  37. Paul Burris says:

    When cleaning frames and foundations in preparation for storage, and to kill wax moth eggs, will soaking in bleach and water solution suffice in place off freezing?

  38. Charlotte Anderson says:

    I honestly don’t know. I know that some people do like to use bleach but I am not sure if it would do as good a job as freezing.

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