Wax worms (or "waxworms") are incredible feeder insects that have many purposes outside of nourishing our beloved reptiles. Although their adult form, the greater wax moth, is not necessarily much to see, the waxworm's versatility in applications to human and animal life is unmatched. Not only can they produce silk and provide high levels of nutrition to your pet reptiles, but they are also being considered as a biological control method to fight pollution. Wax worms are a multipurpose feeder insect that would undoubtedly benefit both you and your pet.
What is a Waxworm?
Wax worms are the larval stage of the greater wax moth, Galleria mellonella. Despite their name, greater wax moths are only about 3/4" in length (although some can reach a maximum of 1” long). They are nondescript moths with segmented bodies that are colored either white, tan, gray or brown. Waxworms are much softer than other feeder insects, such as mealworms, and must be treated more gently. Because wax worms are so soft, they're a great alternative for younger – or elder – reptiles that may need a bit more help in chewing and digesting their food.
The body of the waxworm has 13 segments: the head, 3 thoracic segments and 9 abdominal segments, along with 6 legs. Interestingly, their body is different from some of the most popular feeder species due to their “prolegs,” which are four pairs of extremities – similar to legs – distributed across their many segments. There is one pair of prolegs each for abdominal segments 3-6.
The importance of these unique structures is the presence of the “claspers" on their bases. Claspers are muscular pads that hold the larvae mobilized, allowing it to hold onto any given surface it may be walking across. Interestingly, waxworm tails also have a clasper (located on the 13th segment)! This insect's entire body is covered in stiff hairs, also referred to as “bristles,” along with rows of spiracles (small openings) on either side of the body.
Surprisingly, wax worms have no lungs! But what does that have to do with anything? Well, the aforementioned spiracles take the place of the lungs, taking in oxygen from the surrounding environment and allowing them to be distributed throughout the waxworm via bodily fluids.
As we mentioned previously, waxworms, just like all moths and especially their relative feeder insects, silkworms, produce silk. Their silk is essential to their life cycle because they produce it as webbing for two important purposes — being the provision of a surface over which larvae can walk and being used as the material to construct a cocoon around the larvae as they develop into their pupal form. They produce this silk using a gland underneath their head and expel it through small structures known as “spinnerets.”
Another unique thing about wax worms is their affinity to beehives. The adults lay up to 300 eggs in the crevices of beehives at a time. When in large groups, waxworms can overtake even the most formidable colony of bees. Beehives provide the perfect growing environment for developing waxworms because they are generally a consistent temperature of 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
You might be wondering, "What do wax worms eat when they grow in the beehives?" The larvae feed on pollen, honey, beeswax and even the carcasses of fallen bees found in the honeycombs. Unfortunately, this does not leave the hive in great condition – to reach these nutrients, the wax worms have to burrow into the honeycombs and compromise the structural integrity of the hive. They also tend to leave large masses of webs and other debris inside the hive, making it an unsuitable living space for any bees left inside.
Apart from feeding reptiles, scientists are finding some incredible applications for this destructive behavior. It is now widely known that waxworms are voracious feeders with a particularly strange diet – plastic! Researchers have found that wax worms are capable of eating up to 92mg of plastic overnight, making them a potentially vital tool in reducing plastic pollution worldwide.
Life Cycle of the Waxworm
Just like all moths, waxworms undergo complete metamorphosis. This means that they have four distinct life stages, each of the first three dissimilar to adulthood. In each stage, the waxworm is quite sensitive to environmental factors, with an emphasis on temperature (the ideal temperature for them is around 82-86 degrees Fahrenheit). Because they live within the combs of a beehive in their early stages, they tend to rely quite heavily on ventilation and light availability, as well. The life cycle of the waxworm is as follows:
Female wax moths lay their eggs immediately following mating and continue to do so over 5 days. Depending on the temperature, a female moth may produce between 300-600 eggs. She will lay her eggs in large batches, with a preference for dark, hidden areas. After 3-5 days, the eggs will hatch (given the temperature remains between 84 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit). If conditions are less than ideal, this hatching period may extend to a maximum of 35 days (this is most likely to happen with temperatures around 64 degrees Fahrenheit).
Once the hundreds of eggs have hatched, the larvae immediately begin to burrow into the comb, lining their tunnels with silk. Unfortunately, this is a highly damaging process and leaves the hive in poor condition. In warm conditions, the larvae can fully develop in as little as 20 days, while cooler temperatures may extend this period for as long as 5 months. Once they are ready to transition into their pupal stage, they construct a silk cocoon over a 2-3 day period. If there are a large number of waxworms, the hardening of the wax cocoons can fuse the combs together – an irreparable form of damage to the hive.
Inside the cocoon, the pupa is white to yellow in color and darkens to brown toward the end of pupation. In optimal conditions, the pupa can hatch within 3-8 days, while cooler temperatures will delay hatching for up to 2 months.
Like silk moths, adults live for only a short period – and this duration depends heavily on the sex of the moth. Females live significantly shorter than males, at an average of 12 days, whereas males persist for a maximum of 21 days. During this time, neither of them feed, and instead focus only on mating and reproducing.
Where Are Wax Worms From?
Wax worms naturally appear nearly everywhere around the world. They are found in Europe, North America, Russia and Turkey. In Australia, though, they are an introduced species. In all of these places, they can be found living near and within beehives.
Raising Wax Worms
Can bearded dragons eat wax worms? Or, what about crested or leopard geckos? Yes, waxworms are very nutritious for all of these reptiles! Because they offer many health benefits to your pet reptile, you should start raising wax worms yourself! With the right equipment, waxworms can be quite easy to raise. Below are some guidelines on how to get started:
1. Setting up the Perfect Housing
Now, don’t be paranoid when you are arranging the housing for your wax worms. Yes, they can eat plastic, but a thick enough container can hold them inside. You can use a glass, metal or hard plastic container to keep these buggers in. You can store about 50 waxworms in as little as a 1 gallon jar or a roomy 5 gallon tank (for breeding, you can add 75-100 waxworms per 100 grams of bedding). When choosing your container, just avoid getting a material that is too soft, such as soft or thin plastic, cardboard or wood – these are all materials that wax worms can easily chew through.
2. Layer the Substrate
Here’s where you can get creative. You can make a dual-purpose waxworm bedding that will provide them with comfort and warmth while also feeding them. The first ingredient should be either bran, uncooked oatmeal or wheat germ. Cover about an inch deep of the entire base of your mixing container with this substance. Remember how the wax worms prefer to live in beehives? That comes into play here because you'll need to add enough honey to the substance to make this a crumbly, thick paste – not so much that it is dripping honey. If you want to save money here, you can replace 90% of the required honey with corn syrup, although this will be a less nutritious food source. Let the bedding dry completely and add it to the waxworm container, up to an inch deep. Drop in some crumpled wax paper or cups of egg cartons to give the waxworms a place to spin their cocoons. Finally, cover the container with cheesecloth.
Now, all you have to do is keep the container in a dark, well-ventilated area (you can cover the container with a paper bag to avoid disturbing the airflow) and maintain a temperature between 82-90 degrees Fahrenheit. Simply make sure to remove dead larvae and pupae over time to keep the population healthy and happy.
Wax worms are some of the most interesting insects presently known to man. Their uses range from silk production and breaking down plastic to nourishing your favorite reptile (as long as you don’t feed too much of this fatty snack). Keeping a colony of waxworms can be a rewarding experience as well; just make sure to follow the above guidelines to keep them all happy, healthy and highly nutritious for your lizard or turtle.
Shop For Nutritious Feeder Insects
At Topflight Dubia, our specialty is selling tasty Dubia roaches for various reptiles. Like wax worms, these insects offer valuable nutrition and are easy to properly care for at home. Whether you're interested in starting your own Dubia roach colony or simply looking to purchase them in bulk, we offer these insects in as much as 10,000 per container. Check out our 3/16" - 1/4" roaches and order today! Wax Worms For Sale