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Galleria mellonella
Galleria mellonella 1.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Family: Pyralidae
Subfamily: Galleriinae
Tribe: Galleriini
Genus: Galleria
Fabricius, 1798
Species: G. mellonella
Binomial name
Galleria mellonella
(Linnaeus, 1758)

Numerous, see text

Galleria mellonella, the greater wax moth or honeycomb moth, is a moth of the family Pyralidae. It is the only member of the genus Galleria. It is found in most of the world, including Europe and adjacent Eurasia, its presumed native range, and as an introduced species on other continents, including North America and Australia.

Its close relative, the lesser wax moth (Achroia grisella), is also a member of tribe Galleriini of the pyralid subfamily Galleriinae. The greater wax moth is the type species of this tribe and subfamily.

Description, ecology and use by humansEdit

Mounted, dorsal view
Mounted, ventral view

The adults' wingspan is 30–41 mm. This moth flies from May to October in the temperate parts of its range, such as Belgium and the Netherlands.

The caterpillar larvae, or waxworms, feed on the honeycomb inside bee nests and may become pests of apiculture. Less often, they are found in bumblebee and wasp nests, or feeding on dried figs.[1] The larvae are commercially available. They can be used as food for the rearing of captive animals in terraria, such as geckos or predatory insects.

Vairimorpha ephestiae is a fungal parasite of the wax moth. Pseudomonas aeruginosa is also pathogenic to G. mellonella. The associations of virulence factors are the same for plant and animal infections.

When fried in oil, the larvae explode and take on a shape resembling popcorn.[citation needed]

In researchEdit

The waxworms of the greater wax moth have been shown to be an excellent model organism for in vivo toxicology and pathogenicity testing, replacing the use of small mammals in such experiments.[2] The larvae are also well-suited models for studying the innate immune system. In genetics, they can be used to study inherited sterility. NOTE: cellular and humoral immunity are part of acquired immunity, which is only in vertebrates. Insects only have innate immunity.

Experiments with infected waxworms support the hypothesis that the bacterial stilbenoid 3,5-dihydroxy-4-isopropyl-trans-stilbene has antibiotic properties that help minimize competition from other microorganisms and prevents the putrefaction of the insect cadaver infected by the entomophagic nematode Heterorhabditis, itself host for the Photorhabdus bacterium.[3]

G. mellonella is reported to be capable of hearing ultrasonic frequencies approaching 300 kHz, possibly the highest frequency sensitivity of any animal.[4]

The caterpillar of G. mellonella has attracted interest for its ability to eat and digest polyethylene plastic. In laboratory experiments with G. mellonella caterpillars, about 100 caterpillars consumed 92 milligrams of a polyethylene-plastic shopping bag over the course of 12 hours.[5] While it is clear that the caterpillars are consuming the plastic, more research needs to be done to determine if this chemistry is the result of G. mellonella or its gut flora. The moth's larvae break down polyethylene to ethylene glycol and a mass loss of 13% polyethylene over 14 hours has been documented in polyethylene films.[6][7] Another closely related species of waxworm, Plodia interpunctella, has been the subject of research which isolated two strains of bacteria from its gut, Enterobacter asburiae and Bacillus species which have been demonstrated as capable of growing on and decomposing polyethylene plastic in a laboratory setting.[8]


As a widespread and somewhat notorious species, the greater wax moth has been described under a number of now-invalid junior synonyms:[9]

  • Galleria austrina Felder & Rogenhofer, 1875
  • Galleria cerea Haworth, 1811 (unjustified emendation)
  • Galleria cerealis Hübner, 1825 (unjustified emendation)
  • Galleria crombrugheela Dufrane, 1930
  • Galleria crombrugheella (lapsus)
  • Galleria mellomella (lapsus)
  • Phalaena mellonella Linnaeus, 1758
  • Phalaena cereana Blom, 1764
  • Tinea cerella Fabricius, 1775 (unjustified emendation)
  • Vindana obliquella Walker, 1866

Junior synonyms (and otherwise invalid names) of the genus Galleria are:[9]

  • "Adeona" Rafinesque, 1815 (nomen nudum)
  • Cerioclepta Sodoffsky, 1837
  • Vindana Walker, 1866

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Grabe (1942)
  2. ^ Harding, C. R.; Schroeder, G. N.; Collins, J. W.; Frankel, G. (2013). "Use of Galleria mellonella as a Model Organism to Study Legionella pneumophila Infection". Journal of Visualized Experiments (81): e50964. PMC 3923569 . PMID 24299965. doi:10.3791/50964. 
  3. ^ Hu, K; Webster, JM (2000). "Antibiotic production in relation to bacterial growth and nematode development in Photorhabdus--Heterorhabditis infected Galleria mellonella larvae". FEMS microbiology letters. 189 (2): 219–23. PMID 10930742. doi:10.1111/j.1574-6968.2000.tb09234.x. 
  4. ^ Moir, H. M.; Jackson, J. C.; Windmill, J. F. C. (2013). "Extremely high frequency sensitivity in a 'simple' ear". Biology Letters. 9 (4): 20130241. PMC 3730633 . PMID 23658005. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2013.0241. 
  5. ^ "Could These Tiny Plastic-Eating Caterpillars Hold The Answer To Our Trash Problem? - Hydration Anywhere". Retrieved 2017-04-25. 
  6. ^ Bombelli, Paolo; Howe, Christopher J.; Bertocchini, Federica (2017-04-24). "Polyethylene bio-degradation by caterpillars of the wax moth Galleria mellonella". Current Biology. 27 (8): R292–R293. ISSN 0960-9822. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2017.02.060. 
  7. ^ Khan, Amina (April 24, 2017). "Stubborn plastic may have finally met its match: the hungry wax worm". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 25, 2017. 
  8. ^ Yang, Jun; Yang, Yu; Wu, Wei-Min; Zhao, Jiao; Jiang, Lei (2014-12-02). "Evidence of Polyethylene Biodegradation by Bacterial Strains from the Guts of Plastic-Eating Waxworms". Environmental Science & Technology. 48 (23): 13776–13784. ISSN 0013-936X. doi:10.1021/es504038a. 
  9. ^ a b See references in Savela (2009)
  • Grabe, Albert (1942). Eigenartige Geschmacksrichtungen bei Kleinschmetterlingsraupen ["Strange tastes among micromoth caterpillars"]. Zeitschrift des Wiener Entomologen-Vereins 27: 105-109 [in German]. PDF fulltext
  • Savela, Markku (2009). Markku Savela's Lepidoptera and some other life forms – Galleria mellonella. Version of 2009-APR-07. Retrieved 2010-APR-11.

External linksEdit