Galleria mellonella (Linnaeus, 1758)
Greater Wax Moth
(one synonym : (Galleria austrina Felder & Rogenhofer, 1875)
Don Herbison-Evans
Stella Crossley

Galleria mellonella
(Photo: courtesy of H. A. Turney Texas A&M University)

The Caterpillars of this moth are an international pest in beehives, tunneling through the combs, feeding on pollen, wax and honey. Their preference is for abandoned hives, or hives where the colony has been weakened. As well as eating wax, they have also been found to be able to digest polythene plastic

The caterpillars are a pale honey colour with a brown head. They are used to study insect physiology, and they make excellent bait for fishing. They are often used for the study of Nematodes.

Galleria mellonella
(Photo: courtesy of Dr. Toru Shimada, Tokyo University)

The Caterpillars make white cocoons in the hive, which shield the orange pupa.

Galleria mellonella
(Photo: courtesy of The BioZentrum, University of Wurzberg)

The adult moth has brown forewings each with vague markings, and a broad red band along the hind margin containing black spots. The hindwings are white. The moth has a wing span of about 3 cms. The moths are capable of hearing sounds up to 300KHz, which includes the range commonly used by bats to echo-locate moths.

Galleria mellonella
(Photo: courtesy of Donald Hobern, Aranda, Australian Capital Territory)

The female moth often lays over 1,000 eggs, usually in batches of about 100. They are laid in cracks or corners. The eggs are also a pale honey colour, oval, and about 0.5 mm across. They are well camouflaged and easily overlooked.

Galleria mellonella
(Photo: courtesy of the Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics, University of Guelph)

Attempts are being made to control the pest by :

  • heating the combs,
  • freezing the combs,
  • the gas carbon dioxide,
  • the gas sulphur dioxide,
  • the gas phosphine,
  • acetic and formic acids,
  • paradichlorobenzene,
  • pheromone traps,
  • a baculovirus,
  • the parvovirus "gmDNV",
  • the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis ( BACILLACEAE ),
  • toxin extracts from Bacillus thuringiensis,
  • the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa,
  • the nematode Heterorhabditis bacteriophora ( HETERORHABDITIDAE ),
  • the egg parasite wasps Trichogramma species,
  • the wasp Apanteles galleriae ( BRACONIDAE ),
  • the fly Archytas marmoratus ( TACHINIDAE ),
  • apiary hygiene, and
  • using races of bees that resist it, such as Italian Bees.

    Galleria mellonella
    female, drawing by Rudolf Felder, listed as Galleria austrina
    Zoologische Theil, Lepidoptera, Reise der Osterreichischen Fregatte Novara,
    Band 2, Abtheilung 2 (1875), Plate CXXXVII, fig. 7,
    image courtesy of Biodiversity Heritage Library, digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

    The moth species is found all over the world, for example :

  • Brazil,
  • Canada,
  • Russia,
  • South Africa,
  • U.K.,
  • U.S.A.,

    and was introduced by unfortunate accident into Australia, and now occurs in :

  • Queensland,
  • New South Wales,
  • Australian Capital Territory,
  • Victoria,
  • Tasmania,
  • South Australia, and
  • Western Australia.

    Further reading :

    Ian F.B. Common,
    Moths of Australia,
    Melbourne University Press, 1990, fig. 31.6, pp. 47, 68, 347.

    Rudolf Felder & Alois F. Rogenhofer,
    Zoologische Theil, Lepidoptera,
    Reise der Osterreichischen Fregatte Novara,
    Band 2, Abtheilung 2 (5) (1875), p. 10, and also Plate 137, fig. 7.

    Carl Linnaeus,
    Insecta Lepidoptera,
    Systema Naturae,
    Edition 10, Volume 1 (1760), Class 5, Part 3, p. 537, No. 257.

    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths

    (updated 7 May 2008, 29 April 2024)