The waxmoth has been known to the beemen of the old world since a very early time. Since Aristotle wrote concerning it more than 300 years before the time of Christ, it is probable that it has been troublesome since man first began the keeping of bees in such convenient cavities as were available to him. We find mention of the waxmoth in the beekeeping literature of Virgil, Columella, Reaumur, Swammerdam, and Linneaus, who carry the records down through the years.
Apparently the first bees brought to American were free from this pest, although it is difficult to understand how this fortunate condition was brought about.
We are indebted to early editions of L. L. Langstroth's Hive and Honey Bee for such records as are available concerning its introduction. In his third edition, 1859, he quotes Dr. Jared P. Kirtland, of Cleveland, Ohio, as authority that the maxmoth was not introduced prior to 1805. At that time movable frames had not yet come into use, and bees were universally kept in box hives or sections of hollow trees. A few skeps of the old world type were also in use. At the end of the season the weak colonies were killed because it was known that they could not live through the winter, and the heavy ones, because they would yield a liberal amount of honey, were likewise treated. Colonies of medium weight were saved for use the following year. With no diseases or enemies to combat, beekeeping was a simple matter, and results obtained from such primitive practice were usually quite satisfactory.
In 1806, in the Boston Patriot, appeared the first account of the waxmoth in this country of which we have any record. The insects were described and their depredations discussed as something of recent introduction to the vicinity. Within two years of that time four-fifths of all apiaries in that vicinity are said to have been abandoned.
Dr. Kirtland records that in 1828, while visiting a sick family in the County of Trumbull, Ohio, he observed that a large apiary was suffering severely from the ravages of the worm. The owner informed him that it had appeared for the first time that season. Within another year it had spread all over northern Ohio. In the winter of 1831 he learned from the members of the legislature that it had reached every part of the state. With box hives there was no means of controlling the pest nor could the beekeeper ascertain the true state of the colonies. Black bees were then common, the Italians not yet having been introduced. Losses were enormous, for bees weak from any cause were likely to be overcome by the moths before they could recover.
The invention of the Langstroth hive and its general introduction made possible a satisfactory control of the pest in the hands of those who had an understanding of the essentials of successful management.
For some reason, the waxmoth seems unable to survive in high altitudes, and certain portions of Colorado and surrounding regions have remained free from it, but it soon spread into all parts of the country from the Atlantic to the Pacific at lower elevations.
It has remained the bane of the inexperienced beekeeper, but practical apiarists long ago lost their fear of it. Langstroth himself pointed out that it was only necessary to keep the colonies strong to avoid injury from this cause. When the Italian bees were introduced, they proved to be able to repel the moth much more successfully than the common black bees on which the beemen had depended previously.
From Thomas Affleck's Bee Breeding in the West, published in Cincinnati in 1841, the following is quoted. While Affleck offers an earlier date for the introduction of the moth, he fails to give the source of his information, thus leaving us in doubt as to his accuracy:
About the year 1800, the insect now familiarly known as "the bee moth" first made its appearance about Boston-or rather, its ravages did not until that time become generally complained of. It is considered by naturalists to be, like the insect on which it preys, a native of Europe, and if so-and we are inclined to doubt it-must have found its way here in some inexplicable manner.
In 1805 it showed itself in and about Wallingford, Connecticut, where it soon became the pest of the apiaries.
It is noticed as being already very troublesome about Philadelphia, in 1812-but it was not until fifteen years afterwards, that it showed itself as far west as the Ohio line, and did not spread over the state until some years later.
About 1830 it appeared in the vicinity of Cincinnati. It seemed to continue its course slowly and gradually westward, almost exterminating the bee as it went-people did not know to what to ascribe the destruction.
The life history and habits of the greater waxmoth (Galleria mellonella) were studied at the Texas College of Agriculture by F. B. Paddock, assistant entomologist, and published in bulletin 158 of the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station in June, 1913.