What is wax moth and how to protect against them?

What is wax moth?

There are two species of wax moth active in Australia, the lesser wax moth (Achroia grisella) and the greater wax moth (Galleria mellonella). As the name suggests, the lesser wax moth is the smaller of the 2 with adults reaching 10-13mm long, whereas the greater wax moth adult can reach 13-19mm long.

Both species are considered pests of active hives, however they most commonly cause damage to unattended combs in storage, especially in areas that are dark, warm and poorly ventilated.

What does wax moth infestation look like?

If you have ever inspected a weaker hive or stored frames only to find a webby, wormy mess, the likely culprit is the wax moth.

Although it is rare to see an actual adult wax moth, there are some obvious telltale signs beekeepers can easy spot if they have a wax moth problem. After hatching, the wax moth larvae tunnel in the wax comb, lining their tunnels with silky web as they go. Fully developed larvae spin white silky cocoons that can be found in a mass of webbing in the comb, and on the frames and internal surfaces of the hive.

wax moth infestation

wax moth cacoons

Wax Moth infestation

How you can protect against wax moth?

There are chemicals available that can be used to kill wax larvae, however many of them can be harmful to both the bees and humans and there is the risk of chemical residue in honey.

Maintaining strong colonies is the best method of protection against wax moth. A normal, healthy hive will keep the wax moth under control by removing the larvae. Weak hives with lesser populations can be overwhelmed by wax moth invasions.

Beekeepers should always try to keep strong colonies without excess empty boxes and frames. Only add extra supers when the population of bees is large enough to protect the extra added space.

Storing Frames and Boxes

The most common wax moth damage beekeeping will encounter is damage to stored comb after extracting frames. After extracting honey from frames, empty frames provide the perfect breeding ground for wax moth if preventative steps are not taken.

Wax moths cannot survive freezing temperatures at any life stage. Freezing your equipment at a minimum of -6.7C for 4 ½ hours will kill any eggs or lavae. After freezing, the equipment should be stored in a moth-proof environment such as sealed bags or storage containers.

The use of cool rooms to store combs and protect them from wax moths has also become increasingly popular in the beekeeping industry. A temperature of 4C will not kill wax moth eggs but will restrict wax moth activity until the frames are ready to be placed back in the hives.

Wax moths are one of the more common pests beekeepers will come across. All hives, even healthy ones, will encounter wax moths at some point. Although a wax moths infestation can be devastating, with a little care and basic bee husbandry, you can manage any damage that could be caused to your hives and equipment.

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Published: 28th August 2019

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  • Stephanie Langton on

    Wax moth damaged my some of stored combs (inside the house) and laid eggs in others. I destroyed the combs in the badly affected frames then froze these frames and the undamaged frames (that looked like they had eggs). A couple of frames have some capped honey in them. Can I re-use these frames in my hive once they have been frozen? or do they all have to be destroyed? or do I spray or threat them otherwise?

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