Wax moths progress through four stages in their lifecycle: egg, larva, pupa, and adult moth. The length of each phase is highly dependent on environmental factors like humidity, light, temperature, and airflow.
This guide will look closely at the lifecycle of wax moths. Understanding how these parasitic insects develop will help beekeepers better manage and protect their hives.
Stage 1: Eggs
Female adult wax moths typically lay eggs in early spring after mating. They look for reclusive hiding spots like dark crevices and leftover hive debris for laying eggs. A food source like pollen or old brood will also be located nearby.
Female wax moths lay eggs in clusters for 3-5 days. The total number laid will vary depending on climatic conditions. The optimal conditions are dark, no ventilation, and a temperature of around 90°F (32°C).
It is common to find 50-150 eggs in the United States. They are often laid in hives and on stored comb.
It generally takes 5-8 days for wax moth eggs to hatch, although cold weather will slow the process. These creamy white eggs are tiny, so it is challenging for beekeepers to spot them.
- Greater and lesser wax moths produce eggs that look very similar.
- Adult moths produce 4-6 generations of offspring each year.
- In cold weather, eggs pause development until temperatures rise.
Stage 2: Larvae
The second stage in a wax moth’s lifecycle is the larval phase. Once the larvae hatch from their shell, they begin tunneling through comb and lining the inside walls with silken web and feces. For beekeepers, this is a wax moth sign that is easy to spot.
A larva has a thin, white body with a light brown head. It has three sets of thoracic legs and a pronotal shield. It takes around 6-7 weeks to develop but may take up to five months in cold weather.
To assist with growth, larvae feed on pollen, bee brood, cast skins, propolis, virgin comb, and honeycomb. At maturity, they will have reached a length of 20mm.
- Larvae are highly destructive and can render honey unsaleable. Beekeepers can learn ways to prevent wax moths here and how to get rid of wax moths in this article.
- Honey bees may develop deformities as a result of bald brood.
- The larva doesn’t feed on other live larvae.
Stage 3: Pupae
As wax moth larvae begin transforming into adults, they will go through a pupal stage. The pupa forms within a white cocoon spun from silk as a larva. Webbing holds each cocoon in place.
Wax moth pupae are 11mm long and change from whitish-yellow to dark brown as they mature.
The pupa hatches within 3-8 days in optimally warm conditions or several months in cold weather. On average, the pupal phase takes 37 days.
Stage 4: Adults
Female wax moths have a life expectancy of around 12 days, while males live 21 days. Lesser wax moths reach a length of ½” (13mm), and greater wax moths measure ¾” (20mm). Males are typically a little smaller than females.
Once wax moths reach the adult stage, they will search for a suitable place for mating. The inside of hives is a popular spot for this activity. When the male finds a good location, he uses ultrasonic signals to attract a mating partner.
- Wax moths go without food for their entire life.
- Greater and lesser wax moths have a similar appearance and are best distinguished by their size.
- Adult female moths often lay eggs at night and hide during the day near the hive.
- In areas where greater and lesser moths co-exist, lesser wax moths may feed on the hive floor as the greater wax moths force them away from brood comb.
Commonly asked questions
What conditions are best for wax moth development?
The optimal conditions for wax moth development are temperatures of 90°F (32°C) and 20-33% humidity. They enjoy dark enclosures with a good food source, and no airflow also helps this insect develop quickly.
What conditions slow wax moth development?
Temperatures below 73 °F (23°C) and above 113 °F (45 °C) will stunt the growth of wax moths. When conditions reach freezing point, larvae will die.
Are wax moth larvae confused with other pests?
Beekeepers may confuse the larvae of wax moths and small hive beetle. They both look similar in color and have six legs near their head. However, wax moth larvae have small prolegs along their bodies. They also lack the two rows of spines that SHB larvae have protruding from their backs.
Are the signs of wax moth the same as small hive beetle?
Small hive beetle infestations result in slimy honey that smells from fermentation. This sliminess and foul aroma won’t be present on most infested hives. Wax moths leave webbing and cocoons on hive frames which isn’t a symptom of SHB.
Can a hive have wax moths and small hive beetles simultaneously?
A hive can have an infestation of wax moths and SHB concurrently. Wax moths often target hives weakened by other pests or diseases. They may attempt to move in if they see a colony struggling with SHB or varroa mites.