Wax Moths (in my kitchen)

Apparently I had a wax moth incubator in my kitchen the past three weeks that I was unaware of. I’d placed two empty frames in my pantry three weeks ago that I’d been meaning to put into sealed containers. Fast forward a few days after the frames sat in my pantry, I started seeing small moths flying around my kitchen. It didn’t click in my brain at first (that they might be wax moths) because I’ve never had experience with them. I thought in order to have wax moths you need to leave frames outside but I quickly discovered isn’t true.

After two weeks of killing about 8-ish moths a day it suddenly clicked that my issue may be related to the two frames silently sitting in my pantry. I picked them up and BOOM…the answer to “is this wax moths” was staring me in the face.

Silk lined tunnels

Achroia grisella Fabricius-wax moths, leave silk lined tunnels in brood wax. Adult females typically lay eggs in protected crevices near a food source. Eggs typically take five to eight days to hatch. Adult wax moths live approximately one week and are most active at night, thus why I would see them at night in my kitchen. Mating typically occurs within honey bee hives and males attract females to mating sights with ultrasonic signals. Females lay eggs at night and during the day adults remain hidden in trees and bushes near hives.

Close up of what the silk trailing looks like on frames

I’ve learned so much about wax moths and I’m actually glad it happened because otherwise I’d have no experience with them. Larvae tunnels through beeswax comb spinning tunnels of silk, which they cover in frass, or feces. (Ew) The larval stage is the only stage that eats and they typically consume comb containing bee brood (honeybee larvae and pupae), pollen, and honey. Larvae prefer brood and and pollen comb to virgin and/or honeycomb. However, wax moths are often found feeding on the hive floor because greater wax moths outcompete them for desirable brood comb in areas where both species co-occur.

Zoomed in photo of a silk tunnel. If you look closely you can see the feces-its brown and looks like little poops
Super close up on a silk tunnel and the conditions in which the larvae reside

This is really cool to see since Bald Brood occurs when larvae tunnel underneath capped brood, which cannot be seen with the naked eye. Larvae leave fecal matter on honey bee pupae (ew) and my actually cause a disorder called Bald Brood. Hopefully now you can understand what’s going on BEHIND capped brood and can see how Bald Brood can be a symptom of wax moths.

Worker bees find damaged cappings and remove the cap, exposing the developing bee pupae and this is what beekeepers can actually see. This will usually occur in a line, like what we can see from the very top photo. I often hear beekeepers talk about Bald Brood but holy crap it’s finally clicked about how to identify it and why and how it happens!

Another photo of tunneling

Damaged cappings (kinda beautiful, kinda sad)

As I was taking macro photos of the frames I am just about to snap a photo and I see something move…it’s a FREAKING LARVAE! Before this moment I still wasn’t convinced the wax moths were coming from these two frames but these dang things were right here under my nose!

Here’s what I saw when I was about to take a photo of the tunnels!

Because of what happened with these frames I now know that frames need to be stored and kept away from anything that can lay eggs and grow in them. I read the best way to kill all wax moth larvae and eggs is to freeze frames for 24 to 48 hours. So I froze the frames and pulled out the larvae and took a photo, obviously. The frames are now in a sealed plastic bin in the basement far away from the kitchen.

Ummm, ew. Look at the little hairs

Larvae in its silk cocoon

So if you’re ever in a starvation situation you should know that wax moth larvae are edible (vomit). Lesser wax moths are raised commercially as animal feed, fish bait, and models for scientific research.

Beekeepers consider lesser wax moths a pest, but the moths can help decrease honey bee diseases in natural settings. Invading wax moths remove the comb left by the bees in abandoned hives, leaving a clean cavity for a new colony to inhabit. In fact, the introduction of wax moths into New Zealand correlated with the reduced prevalence of American foulbrood  (National Bee Unit 2010), a serious bacterial disease of bees caused by Paenibacillus larvae and harbored in old combs. Here is where I got that info and all the information in this post.

Hey, thanks for letting me gross you out and hopefully teach you something! Thanks to my friend Heather for letting me borrow (her borrowed) macro lens. It was fun!

this queen cup just so happened to be on one of these frames

About the photography-if you are interested in learning more about macro photography and want to find lenses for your camera I recommend renting them first. One of my favorite places to rent lenses and camera equipment is Lens Rentals. The prices are reasonable and affordable if you are unable to put forth the big money needed for a lens because you are too busy buying bee stuff.