But how do you keep greater wax moths from destroying your colony?
These pests are found in most apiaries, in spite of the experience level of the keeper. The mere presence of the moth does not seal the doom of a colony. This is due to the fact that a strong colony of bees can defend their home through vigilance and overpowering numbers.
The moth is a tenacious prowler and utilizes stealth tactics. The female will generally attempt entry of the hive during low-light conditions when the honey bee's acute eyesight is somewhat diminished. She is most often found flying around the entry to the hive during the early evening hours into darkness. If the guard bees fall off their vigil, she can enter the hive and lay her eggs in some nook or crack in the wood. If the sentinel bees keep her from gaining entrance, she will initiate a plan which will allow her offspring to gain entrance through some other means.
If she failed to enter the hive, she will lay her eggs in crevices on the outside of the hive. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae can easily gain entrance to the hive through tiny hair-line cracks in the hive structure. Once they are on the comb, they will then eat their way through the wax, feeding on the old brood combs which contain cast larval skins and pupal cases of the bees.
The preferred comb for larval feeding are the dark ones that have had numerous brood hatched through them, versus the new, whitish comb. As the larva worms its way along, eating honey and pollen, it builds a protective tunnel with a mixture of wax and it's own silk and excrement! This shell increases in length as the larva moves throughout the honeycomb.
The shell also protects the larva's body from attacks from the honey bees, and since the head and neck are the only exposed portion of their body, the bee finds it difficult to remove them. The larva are impervious to the bee sting due to their scaly helmet and neck.
The slow trek through the honey comb continues for about three weeks. The stench from their activities begin to have an effect on the colony. The loss of usable brood cells for the queen to lay her eggs begins to diminish the bee population in the hive. Eventually, the larval stage of wax moths create so much disruption to the hive, that the honey bees look for another home elsewhere (abscond). The picture above is from a hive that was being invaded by the moth. The two tubular cells in the center of the picture are queen cells. The honey bees raised another queen and abandoned their home to the moths.
After three weeks in the larval stage, the moth pupates. Each larva will first eat a groove out of the wood and then build a pupal case around itself. The case is white and measures about an inch in length. The pupal case is extremely durable and immovable by the bees. The pupa will remain encased for about a week in around 95-degree temperatures.
After it's seven day encasement, it then finishes its' metamorphosis into an adult wax moth. Adults are between 1/2" to 3/4" in length and are generally a brown to gray color on top. Each female may produce up to 9,000 eggs in her lifetime. Their lifespan is between 50 days and 180 days (depending on harsh/ideal conditions).
"How does every fact in the history of the bee, when properly investigated, point with unerring certainty to the wisdom of Him who made it!"
-Founder of moveable frame hive and modern beekeeping
(LL Langstroth) -1859
Bee enemies and bee diseases often work in tandem.
Learning how to identify and prevent the entry of wax moths into your apiary will pay off many times over.
The cost is much higher if a foothold from this pest is gained and your colony is lost.
Maintain a strong colony with a vibrant queen, keep your apiary clean and conduct routine (10-12 day) inspections. Early detection aids tremendously in protecting yourself from the ravages of the wax moth!
Bee removals are extremely rewarding.
Not only is the beekeeper providing a service to the resident, but he/she is also saving bees and building up their apiary. An added benefit is the genetic diversity gained through the introduction of potential feral colonies.
Here are some of my recent adventures...