As long as people have been keeping honey bees, they have encountered wax moths. Wax moths are hive scavengers. These common moths constantly attack honey bee hives. The adult moths light on the outside of the hive and lay eggs. The young larvae crawl through the cracks between hive body boxes. Entrance locations are few, because the bees seal the cracks with propolis, or bee glue. Most wax moths that enter are killed by the worker bees. Once inside the hive, the wax moth larvae are voracious eaters. Even though their name is wax moth, they don’t feed on beeswax alone; they primarily feed on protein. Wax moths are attracted to the protein of stored pollen and silk cocoons of old brood comb. The pollen is used by the colony to make food for developing honey bees. When honey bees emerge as adults after passing through the stages of egg, larva, and pupa, they leave behind the woven silk cocoon in which they developed in the pupal stage. Beekeepers over hundreds of years have complained about opening a bee hive only to find a mass of webbing caused by the voracious eating of the comb by wax moth larvae. Many find the population of honey bees depleted and the frames covered in webbing. They often conclude that the wax moths killed the colony. Actually, the wax moths usually take over a hive after it becomes hopelessly queen-less or dies.
Peace Bee Farm uses the efforts of wax moths to clean brood frames of old comb. Frames from winter colony losses can be placed in empty hives and used as bait hives during the spring swarm season. If a swarm is not lured into the bait hive, wax moths will eat the comb and leave plastic foundation clean and exposed, as shown in today’s photo. We then paint the foundation with our own chemical-free cappings wax, saved from the previous year’s honey harvest, as part of our integrated pest management program.--Richard