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Wax Moths and Vultures Have a Lot in Common!

By: James Elam - Instructor, Texas Bee Supply Dayton/Huffman

A healthy beehive is one of the cleanest and most well protected homes in nature. Housekeepers work around the clock to provide both safe and clean living conditions within the hive.

Unkempt, non-hygienic colonies tend to be the result of low populations, possibly indicating the presence of pest and/or disease. Pests like the Greater Wax Moth, left unchecked, soon become invasive and destructive.

Wax moths normally perform the role we often see played out in nature by vultures.

Attracted by the various scents in a bee hive like wax, honey and pollen, they naturally stay near-by lying in wait for something to go wrong. When hive failure occurs, it is quickly followed by a pest invasion that often include the Greater Wax Moth. Wax moths do NOT typically cause colonies to fail.

Colony failure will most always be caused by an event like a weak colony, too much space, population drop from swarms and decline attributed to the dreaded Varroa mite.

As a normal part of nature and often part of a healthy hive, wax moths can co-exist in low numbers with our bees, doing minimal damage. A strong colony can proactively guard the adults preventing egg-laying and any chance of takeover. When left unguarded however, they will lay eggs that soon hatch into larvae.

The larvae then tunnel through the honeycomb as they eat, leaving behind damaged comb, silk webbing and feces. As they prepare for pupation, they burrow into the wood of the hive creating a cocoon. Soon after, adults emerge, and the process begins all over again

Seeing an adult moth or a few larvae does not constitute an infestation. Minor damage can be handled and cleaned up by the strong colony. A lightly damaged hive can possibly be reduced in size if it was necessary to remove some damaged frames. Once heavily infested with wax moths, the bee colony no longer exists. It has either absconded or withered away. Robber bees may be present to help with the final cleanup, but the beehive now has new occupants - Wax Moths.

At this point it is necessary to preserve what components might be salvageable. Scrape away any cocoons on the box and remove damaged frames discarding the debris away from the apiary.

On minor damage, it is possible to cut the webbed larvae trails out of partially damaged combs and reuse in a strong colony. Heavily damaged frames should be scraped clean prior to reuse. All reused components including frames should be pest free before reinstalling in a hive. Always freeze the frames a minimum of 48 hours to ensure all eggs and cocoons have been killed prior to re-use or storage.

Upright Freezer holding frames

Treatment methods for in-hive control without hurting the bees basically do not exist. Some beekeepers use “in the bee yard traps” to help control the local population but these tend to have only a minor impact. The real answer lies with a strong and healthy colony. Beyond that, protecting your biggest asset (stored frames and supers) should be your focus.

There are several options for proper frame and super storage. A small number of frames can be stored in a freezer for 48 hours, allowed to thaw, then placed in a storage tote or plastic bag and sealed. Complete supers (box and frames) should also be protected. . Because wax moths do not like light; use this to your advantage! Super boxes can be stacked crisscrossed in a lighted open-air, protected space such as a screened area.

The open-air method also has an added bonus in that it inhibits mold. While most honey frames are immune to wax moths because they contain only honey, some do contain random pollen and therefore fall into the same storage criteria.

Another commonly used storage method to protect against wax moths, involves the use of Paradichlorobenzene. This is found under the name Para-Moth. This specific moth crystal repels wax moths when properly used. Check out the video below showing you how! (This is NOT the same thing as moth balls.)

Are wax moths our friends? NO! But we should know that wax moths are not the enemy of beekeepers or honeybees. They are a part of nature, and they do fulfill the role of Vulture in the bee yard.

Check out this step-by-step video on "how to" store frames using Para Moth


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