If you see a wax moth fly in and out of your beehive, this isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. If you have a strong colony, the bees naturally defend the hive and will kill the wax moths before they do too much damage. In a weak hive, wax moth larvae can destroy a beehive in just 10–14 days.
What Are Wax Moths?
There are two types of wax moths, and both can infest beehives and cause damage:
- Galleria mellonella — the greater wax moth
- Achroia grisella — the lesser wax moth
Moths are attracted to beehives by odors, much like ants, and they typically enter hives at night. Once inside the hive, they lay eggs in the honeycomb. The eggs can hatch in just three days during warm conditions. While the wax moth itself isn’t a problem to bees, its larvae can be very destructive.
When the wax moth larvae hatch, they begin to tunnel through the honeycomb, causing damage to the comb, and leaving behind silky webbing and feces. The wax moth larvae continue this process until all the wax has been consumed. The webbing makes it difficult for the bees to catch the larvae and fight them.
The larvae also eat into the wood in the beehive to pupate, where they spin silk cocoons. These bees aren’t strong enough to remove them. The larvae remain inside these cocoons for up to 14 days as they transform into adult wax moths. They then leave the cocoons, and the process continues.
How to Prevent Wax Moth Infestations
Preventing wax moths from taking over your beehives is the best form of defense. This can be done in several ways:
- Maintain strong colonies
- Limit the space in the hive
- Well-sealed containers
- Freeze and rotate frames
- Moth trap
- Use mint
Maintain Strong Colonies
The best way to prevent wax moth infestations in a beehive is to maintain strong honeybee colonies. A strong colony of bees will attack and kill any wax moths that enter. They’ll also remove wax moth larvae from the hive.
In strong hives, the bees can take care of themselves, yet still have the energy to protect their hive from invaders. The strength of a colony is based on the number of adult bees in the colony. A healthy and active queen bee is essential for the maintenance of honeybee numbers inside the hive.
Don’t Give the Bees More Space Than They Can Control
If you have a small honeybee colony, we suggest that you remove some boxes to ensure that you have an ideal space that the bees can manage. Remember that the bees guard their hive and will attack foreigners. Too much of an area and the bees can’t defend effectively. Wax moths can then easily enter and lay eggs inside.
In time, and as the colony grows, feel free to add more boxes to accommodate them.
Ensure the Boxes Are Well-Sealed
If you’re building your boxes, it’s important to ensure that they’re well-sealed. Use glue and nails to ensure you have a tight fit. Wax moths will attempt to enter through even the smallest of openings.
Freeze and Rotate Your Beehive Frames
Wax moths can’t survive freezing temperatures, so another effective way to prevent infestations is to periodically freeze your beehive frames and rotate them. This will also kill wax moth eggs and larvae.
We recommend that you keep extra beehive frames to rotate in the hive. You should freeze frames before storage and then store them in moth-proof bags.
Use a Moth Trap
A wax moth trap is an effective way of defending your hive from wax moth infestations. Place one near your hives, and wax moths will be drawn to the trap.
Plant Mint Near the Beehive
Planting mint near your beehive is another good idea as wax moths are repelled by mint. You may also want to place some branches of mint among stored beehive boxes to deter wax moths.
What to Do If You Have a Wax Moth Infestation?
If you notice wax moth larvae crawling on the comb surface, it’s a sure sign you have a wax moth infestation. Look out for sticky, spider-like webbing and dark droppings to confirm this.
Once you know you have an infestation, follow these steps:
Step 1: Remove and Freeze the Brood Frames
If you see evidence of a wax moth infestation, you need to remove the infested brood frames, put them in a plastic bag and freeze them.
Aim for a few hours in the freezer. All the larvae should be dead after this length of time. If you want to be certain, leave them in for 48 hours.
Step 2: Remove Fecal Matter
Once you’ve removed the frames from the freezer, remove any wax moth feces from the frames. This is a good time to get rid of the damaged comb, too. Use a hive tool for this.
You should also remove any wax moth larvae and sticky webbing.
Step 3: Check and Reinsert Frames
Once you’re happy with the condition of the comb in the frames, check the hive for further infestation before inserting the frames back into the hive.
If You Have a Heavy Infestation
If the hive has a heavy infestation, a deep clean is needed. It may be necessary to take apart the boxes. This will enable you to get into spaces where wax moths may have laid eggs.
Follow these steps:
- Kill and remove all traces of the moths and larvae, as per the above steps.
- Clean the beehive frames and boxes. Clorox or a bleach is a good choice here.
- Spray them with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to stop the return of any further wax moths.
Keep Your Beehive Healthy
Wax moth infestations are more likely in the winter as, during cold weather, bees often leave the entrances to their hive unguarded. They gather deep inside, giving wax moths a perfect opportunity to enter the hive and lay eggs, so you should inspect your hives regularly during the cold weather.
Wax moths can’t survive below freezing at any life stage, which is good news if you live in an area where it freezes! No matter how bad the infestation, due to this temperature weakness, you should be able to fix the problem.