Sunday, August 29, 2010

Lesson 81: Pests & Diseases Part 2, The Wax Moth

Hello from Long Lane Honey Bee Farms we are David & Sheri Burns, beekeepers, husband and wife team, here to bring you another lesson in beekeeping. Today, we’ll look at the greater wax moth that slips into our hives this time of the year and can be a challenge.
Before we begin our lesson, let me remind you that Sheri and I posted a new podcast. CLICK HERE TO LISTEN.
LESSON 81: Pests & Diseases Part 2 The Great Wax Moth
Wax Moth: Friend or Foe?
David Burns, EAS Certified Master Beekeeper
Lesson81a Finally you have some time to fire up the smoker, put on your hat and veil and inspect your hive. It has been over a month since your last inspection. You are hoping to find lots of bees, lots of stored honey and a laying queen. But as soon as you lift up the inner cover, much to your surprise you find this strange looking webbing, like condensed spider webbing, all throughout your comb. The bee population is greatly reduced. And you notice these small 3/4" grubs in the comb and cocoons everywhere. You panic!
Lesson81c To a new beekeeper, seeing this for the first time is overwhelming. Everything was going so well and now your hive appears to be lost. What's going on? All beekeepers will experience this from time to time. What is it? It is Galleria mellonia L. Sounds terrible, doesn't it? The more common name is wax moth.
It is known as the greater wax moth and yes, there is a lesser wax moth, but typically it is the great wax moth that attacks our hives. Wax moth larvae are friends to fisherman, but to the beekeeper they are our foes.
In this article I want to describe the wax moth's activity in the hive, what to do when your hive is attacked and how to keep it from happening.
Lesson81d Almost all beekeepers have experienced wax moths in the hive. It happens to the best of us. Wax moths can destroy colonies but typically only colonies that have become weak due to other issues. A strong colony does well to kill the adult wax moth if she enters the hive. A strong colony is quick to destroy wax moth eggs and larvae, preventing their take over. This is not the case when a hive is weak or if a strong colony has too much unprotected comb.
Let's sneak out into the apiary and figure out how the wax moth can take over a hive. Let's choose mid August to do our investigation. It was a hot and humid day and now it is a warm August night. The adult wax moth is flying around dodging car headlights and finally flies into our apiary, attracted to the smell of wax. The adult wax moth only lives a few days (at summer temperatures) and does not eat or drink. She flies into our test colony and slips past the guard bees and finds her way to a vacant corner inside the hive. There she begins to lay her eggs. She lays her eggs about 4-10 days after she emerges as an adult moth and lays around 300-600 eggs. Wax moth Larvae can crawl and enter surrounding hives as well.
Lesson81b Once in the larva stage the wax moth tunnels its way through the comb eating honey, pollen and sometimes beeswax, preferring darker comb, and finally spins its cocoon about 19 days later. These cocoons burrow into the wood slightly and once removed will leave small, striped indentations in the wood. As the population of wax moths grow, the remaining bees will finally abscond.
Lesson81e The damage can be mild to severe. It looks worse than it is. You can see wax moth droppings in the webbing and the webbing will sometimes make the frames difficult to separate. When you first saw wax moths in your hive it was because your hive became weak and could not defend itself from the wax moths. Perhaps you hive became queenless and bee population dropped. Little can be done once the wax moths have taken over your colony. The bees will eventually leave and you'll be left with bad looking comb. But don't despair. Fortunately you can kill all the larvae and eggs by freezing your combs and reusing them. 20 degrees (f) for 5 hours will kill all stages of wax moths in comb. Or only two hours at 5 degrees (f). Here in Illinois we have winter working with us to kill all left over wax moths in our stored comb. Stack your hive bodies and supers on a queen excluder to keep out mice and set them in an unheated out building for the winter. Your problems are solved. No more wax moths until next summer when new ones fly back into your hives.
Your best control against wax moths is to have a strong colony. Be careful not to place more hive boxes on than what is necessary to control swarming. Too much empty space will give small hive beetles and wax moths room to spread. Weak colonies in large hives are very inviting to wax moths. Keep your colonies tight and strong.
When selling comb honey, the comb can contain eggs and small wax moth larvae, which can grow in a warm environment. This can be very alarming to a customer. Comb honey should be frozen to kill any potentially unseen wax moth eggs or small larvae.
Bullet Points:
· Wax moths occur around the world wherever bees are kept.
· Bees will not rebuild comb on plastic foundation where there has been wax moth damage unless the foundation is recoated with beeswax.
· Wax moth larvae can travel over 150 feet to a new hive.
· Sealed bee brood can become trapped by wax moth silken threads of webbing and die from not being able to emerge.
· Moth balls (Naphthalene) can no longer be used to protect stored comb not on the hive. Para-moth (paradichlorobenzen) is a more acceptable fumigant for use with comb stored off the hive.
I hope you have enjoyed our lesson today and Sheri and I want to thank you for viewing our beekeeping lessons and hope they are helpful to you. Please consider sending your beekeeping business our way. We know you can go to much bigger beekeeping companies so we appreciate you keeping us in mind.
Check out our complete teaching video on wax moths at: or view it below:
PHONE: 217-427-2678
Until next time, BEE-have yourself!

Long Laney Honey Bee Farms
David & Sheri Burns
14556 N 1020 E Rd
Fairmount, IL 61841