What Are Those White Worms in My Honey?
Ask the Expert! Is My Honey Still Safe if I Found Worms in It?
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Q: I recently started selling my honey. Just a few weeks ago, during the extraction process, I saw a few small white worms in it. Is that normal? The honey is from wild bees in a tree hive.
A: The little white “worms” we sometimes see in honey are not actually worms at all. Instead, they are the larval stage of the wax moth. Just like honey bees, wax moths go through four stages of metamorphosis: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.
After five to eight days in an egg, the larvae hatch and crawl around looking for something to eat. Although they appear to eat wax, what they really want is leftovers from honey bee brood rearing, such as empty cocoons or bits and pieces of bee. For this reason, you are much more likely to see wax moth larvae in comb that was once used for brood rearing.
In a situation like yours, where the honey came from a tree hive, it is not unusual to see wax moth larvae in the honey. The wild bees most likely used that comb for brood rearing before they filled it with honey for the winter. Beekeepers who use box hives, such as the common Langstroth, can use queen excluders that prevent the queen from laying eggs in comb that will be used for honey. Since that comb never was used for brood rearing, it is less likely to attract wax moths.
A few wax moths in the honey is more an annoyance than anything else. Honey has many chemical and physical properties that prevent pathogens, including bacteria and viruses, from surviving in it. In fact, honey has been used for generations as an antibiotic agent in human health care. Honey is highly hygroscopic, meaning it pulls water from living organisms, causing them to wither and die. It is also very acidic, produces hydrogen peroxide, and contains pathogen-resistant plant chemicals.
The best thing to do is what you already did—simply strain the honey to remove any moths that remain. This is good practice anyway because straining also removes any wax bits, bee wings, or pollen pellets that may detract from the honey’s appearance. The raw honey that remains is pure and healthful.