Wax moths are highly valued insects by fishing enthusiasts and those with pet reptiles. In order not to spend more money on moths at the pet store, how about starting your own breeding? Wax moths aren't difficult to care for, and you'll even have the opportunity to watch the entire life cycle unfold over the course of a few weeks.
Part 1 of 3: Setting up the terrarium
Step 1. Set aside a hard plastic, glass or metal container
A 4 l pot or a 20 l terrarium has enough room for approximately 50 moths of wax. Wax moth larvae are able to eat cardboard, wood and soft plastic, so avoid containers made of these materials.
Step 2. Prepare the terrarium lining
To start, separate enough bran, wheat germ or raw oats to cover 2.5 cm of the bottom of the terrarium. Place the chosen ingredient into a large bowl and add honey. Mix by hand until it forms a thick, smooth, crumbly and slightly sticky paste. Use a disposable glove to protect your hand, if desired.
- You can substitute up to 90% of honey for corn syrup if you want to save money. However, despite being cheaper, corn syrup is less nutritious.
- You can also add glycerin to the mixture, one tablespoon at a time, until it turns dark. Glycerin will help keep the lining moist and warm, encouraging rapid and healthy insect reproduction.
Step 3. Allow the liner to dry
Spoon the mixture onto the waxed side of a sheet of waxed paper. Put it to dry in an airy place.
Step 4. Place the liner in the container
After the lining hardens, break it into pieces and cover the bottom of the container until it reaches 2.5 cm in height. The substrate will serve as both soil and food for the moths.
The liner must remain tacky. However, if it's too soft and you can't break it, let it dry a little longer
Step 5. Throw crumpled wax paper into the container
The paraffined paper balls serve as support for the cocoons of the moths, facilitating the transport from one container to another.
You can also use egg cartons instead of waxed paper
Step 6. Line the sides of the terrarium with newspaper (optional)
In large creations, the breath of moths leads to the condensation of water droplets on the sides of the terrarium. Newsprint absorbs water, preventing the lining from becoming too wet for larvae. Leave only a few sides uncovered to be able to see inside the terrarium.
Step 7. Place the larvae in the terrarium
You can buy wax moth larvae online and at some pet stores. Healthy larvae are cream colored with no dark spots. Discard the darkened or dead larvae and place the healthy ones inside the terrarium.
A large pot or terrarium accommodates at least 50 larvae. However, in homemade creations, it is not so important to pay attention to the exact amount of moths. To encourage development and reproduction, add between 75 and 100 larvae for every 100 g of liner
Step 8. Cover the container with a cheesecloth or canvas
Close all entrances to the terrarium with a double layer of calico or a very thin 0.85 mm mesh to allow the passage of air. Secure the screen in place with a rubber band or hot glue.
If your terrarium came with a screened lid, secure the sides of the lid with tape so that it doesn't get out of place
Part 2 of 3: Taking care of larvae
Step 1. Place the moths in an airy place
Place the terrarium in a well-ventilated room so that the moisture evaporates before it condenses on the sides of the container. Larvae do not care much for moisture, but may have difficulty eating and moving if the substrate becomes too wet and fluffy.
Step 2. Heat the terrarium
Wax moths reproduce faster at temperatures between 28°C and 32°C. If you can't keep the entire room around these temperatures, heat the terrarium with a thermal mat or buy a heat lamp at a pet store.
- You can even rear the larvae at room temperature, but this will increase the length of the reproductive cycles by months. Set the heaters aside if you're raising the insects for personal use and don't need large amounts of moths.
- Do not let the temperature reach 40°C. Adult moths will eventually die before they finish laying eggs.
Step 3. Keep the terrarium dark
Wax moths do best in dark environments. Place the terrarium in a brown paper bag or wrap it in dark paper.
Step 4. Discard dead larvae
Open the container from time to time to look for wilted and blackened larvae. Throw them away before they rot to keep the rest of the creation healthy.
Step 5. Wait for the larvae to pupa
The larvae will dig tunnels in the substrate to feed and grow. During the process, they will loosen the skin several times. In a heated terrarium, larvae should pupa around the sixth or seventh week. They will build cocoons or, at lower temperatures, will close into a hard, dark shell.
- A large wax moth larva can reach 20 mm before pupae. Small moths can be about the same length, but they tend to have a narrower body.
- If you have a very large brood, you may have to add more edible substrate to the terrarium before the pupae stage. Large wax moth larvae eat very fast, so check the terrarium daily.
Part 3 of 3: Breeding New Larvae
Step 1. Transfer the pupae to a new container
With luck, the larvae will build cocoons on the waxed paper balls. In this case, just take the balls and move to the other container. If they haven't used the paper, pick the cocoons carefully with tweezers or your fingers. Line the new container with the same mixture used in the first one and close it with a lid that allows air to pass through.
Cocoons usually take at least two days to complete. Only get them out of the place when they're pretty hard on the outside
Step 2. Place paraffin paper in the terrarium for the eggs
Make accordions out of waxed paper and place them inside the new terrarium. When the moths come out of the cocoons, they will lay their eggs on the waxed paper.
You can also use plastic straws cut into small pieces
Step 3. Wait for the moths to come out of the cocoons
At warmer temperatures, moths should take at least ten days to come out of the cocoon. Don't be alarmed if the process takes a couple of weeks. Small moths take up to 40 days to leave the cocoon. At room temperature, you may have to wait up to two months.
Larvae undergo major changes in the first four to seven days to become pupae. The rest of the time, they devote their energy to transforming into adult moths
Step 4. Wait for the moths to cross and lay eggs
A few hours after emerging from the cocoons, the females will spread their wings to the males and the moths will cross. Then, the females will look for little corners to place the eggs. Ideally, they'll lay eggs on objects you've placed in the terrarium.
Adult moths do not eat but still survive for a few days after leaving the cocoon. Females die after seven days (small wax moth) or 12 days (large wax moth), whereas adult males live between 13 and 21 days, depending on the species
Step 5. Restart the creation
Ideally, eggs will hatch in three days if they are large moths, or in seven if they are small moths. At lower temperatures, the process can take up to 30 days. Leave them in the same container as the adult moths or transfer them to a new, prepared terrarium. Leaving them in the same container as the dead moths usually doesn't cause any problems. However, dead moths will start to smell bad over time and can increase the risk of disease.
- Don't let the moths get away. They will lay more eggs and destroy the region's bee hives. Before opening the terrarium, refrigerate it to slow down the moths. Open it in a small, closed room to catch moths that escape during the transfer.
- Newborn larvae can climb through the glass and eat or squeeze through almost any material. During this phase of the moth's life, place the terrarium in a basin with a little water to keep the larvae from escaping.
- Before reusing the terrarium for new larvae, sterilize it with boiling water to reduce the risk of spreading diseases that can kill the moths. If the container is plastic, it is best to throw it away and use a new one.
- Some beekeepers capture and guard the moths that attack hives. Look for a beekeeper to get moths for free or for a much cheaper price than in pet stores.
- In some cases, putting some pollen, beeswax or an old honeycomb in the terrarium can encourage moths to reproduce.
- If you need to delay the reproduction phase, store the pupae for a maximum of two months in an environment around 15 ºC and 60% relative humidity.
- Insect breeders and other professionals in the field use more complex substrates to encourage moths to reproduce. Here's a substrate recipe for a large creation:
- Mix 100 g of brewer's yeast, 100 g of wheat germ, 100 g of powdered milk, 200 g of whole wheat flour and 400 g of bran.
- Mix 300 ml of honey and 400 ml of glycerin. Then add to the first mixture.
- Add powdered vitamins and minerals recommended for animals that will eat moths.
- Cover with grated beeswax.
- Do not release moths into the wild. They can damage the local ecosystem, especially bee colonies.
- Wash your hands with soap and water after handling moths so you don't risk passing on diseases to other people and pets.