All hives, even healthy ones, will have wax moths. I didn’t understand this when we first started beekeeping. I thought that if we were good beekeepers our hives wouldn’t get wax moths. It wasn’t until one of our hives was destroyed by wax moths, and I started searching for wax moth treatments that I realized wax moths are just something that all hives face. However, that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing we can do to help the bees win the battle.
Wax moths are moths that sneak their way into a hive and lay eggs in the honeycomb. When the eggs hatch, the wax worm will eat through the beeswax, honey, pollen and sometimes even the bee larvae and pupae. As they eat their way through the hive they leave a trail of webs and feces. The webbing hinders the bees from being able to catch the worms and remove them from the hive. The bees can’t use the wax or even clean it when it has webbing.
In a strong colony, the house bees will find and remove the wax worms before much damage is done. In strong hives there is no need for wax moth treatment, just let the bees do what they’re supposed to do. In a weak hive, the wax worms can get the upper hand and destroy the hive in 10-14 days.
Once the wax moth worms pupate they spin tough cocoons into the wood of the hive. The cocoons are so tough that the bees cannot remove them. They literally drill into the wood and ruin the structure of the hive. Once the moths emerge from the cocoon, they fly off, mate and then the cycle starts all over.
Wax Moth Treatment
The most important thing you can do when bee farming is to have strong hives. Strong hives are hives that are healthy and working. They are hives that will be able to take care of themselves and still have enough energy to protect their hive from invaders. You’ll still need to check on strong hives and make sure they have access to water and are doing well, but they’ll be doing the work of maintaining their home.
When making your bee hive plans and building your own boxes, be sure to seal them well. When you’re putting the hives together use glue and nails to make sure there is a tight fit. The moths will try to slip in wherever there is a small opening. The more openings there are, the harder it will be for the guard bees to protect them.
Don’t pile extra supers on top a hive until they are ready for a super. If you go ahead and pile two or three supers on top thinking that eventually the bees will fill them with honey, all you are really doing is giving the wax moths a great place to lay lots of eggs. Just keep an eye on the hives and add one super at a time as needed.
I’ve read in several beekeeping and gardening books that mint is a deterrent to wax moths. I couldn’t find any hard evidence that this is the case but since there are many peppermint plant uses and we’ll be trying this in the future. If it doesn’t help, we’ll have plenty of peppermint to use in tea and other fun things.
Wax moths cannot survive freezing temperatures at any life stage. That is really great news for beekeepers who live where it freezes. However, they can survive in warm areas such as basements, garages, and hives. So, just because you live where it freezes, don’t think you won’t have wax moths. They’ll find a place to overwinter.
But since they cannot survive freezing temperatures, it’s a really good idea to freeze frames and boxes for 24 hours before storing them. We keep an old chest freezer that we use just for this purpose. If you have enough freezer space you can just keep the boxes in there at all times. But most of us don’t have that kind of extra freezer space.
For storing your supers, don’t store them in dark places like a garage or basement. Wax moths do not like the sun; they prefer dark, warm places. If you live where it snows, it’s perfectly fine to store your boxes outside and let the freezing temperatures freeze the wax moths and wax worms. If you live where it doesn’t freeze you can still store your boxes outside and let the sun help deter the wax moths.
When you stack the boxes for storing, try to stack them off the ground, in a criss-cross fashion so that light and air can get to all of them. They can be stored in a covered shed or put some corrugated fiberglass panels over them to protect them from the rain.
It’s important to check the boxes and frames for wax moths (at any life stage) before using them the next season. If you see wax worms or cocoons, scrape them off. You can also scrub them with bleach water and then lay them out in the sun to dry. Before putting them on the hive, be sure that all the seams have a tight fit.
Several beekeeping books and most agriculture extension websites recommend using Paradichlorobenzene (PDB) crystals to fumigate supers that have wax moths. PDB is not the same as regular moth balls from the store. Do not use regular moth balls in your hives. We’ve never used PDB and don’t ever plan on using it. However, this product is considered a safe wax moth treatment, so I feel it is prudent to mention it.
When our hive was destroyed by hive moths we scraped all the frames and the supers. We let our backyard chickens help us clean out all the worms by letting them pick through our scrapings. When the chickens were done, we burned all the scrapings. Then we scrubbed the frames and boxes with some bleach water and left them out in the sun to dry. We’ll check the boxes and frames again before we use them on another hive. We feel like this is a better way to manage wax moths than using a pesticide.
DIY Wax Moth Trap
Wax moths will wreak havoc on a beehive in a very short amount of time. A good way to deter them is to lure them away from the hive by giving them something else that smells wonderful and trapping them. Making a homemade wax moth trap is an easy and effective way to reduce the number of wax moths in your apiary.
Empty 2-liter soda bottle (or two smaller bottles, like a sports drink bottle)
1 banana peel
1 cup vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 cup hot water
Cut a small hole in the empty soda bottle right below the shoulder, about the size of a quarter. Put hot water and sugar in a glass bowl or jar and mix together. Using a funnel, pour the sugar water and vinegar into the bottle. Then put the banana peel into the bottle. Put the lid back on the bottle. It will ferment and draw the moths to it.
Hang it in your apiary but several feet from your hives, the goal is to lure them away from the hives.
Do you have any experience with wax moth treatment? Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments.