Cicada Killer Wasps: Information, Pictures, and Facts

Cicada killer wasps are a prime example of nature’s occasional brutality. These stinging insects hunt cicadas and drag them back to their nests for their larvae to feed on, often while the cicada is still alive.

Facts, Identification, and Control

Cicada killer wasps are solitary stinging insects that are part of a “digger wasp” species in the carbronidae family.

The Sphecius speciosus is also called the cicada killer wasp or cicada hawk. These insects measure between around .5 inch and 2.0 inches (1.5 to 5.0 centimeters) in length.

What does the cicada killer wasp look like?

These robust wasps are stinging insects that feature reddish-orange and black stripes on their body (thorax) with lighter yellow toward the rear, and translucent wings with an amber tint. If you look at pictures of cicada killers, you will notice the female cicada killer wasp is typically larger than the male.

Facts about Cicada Killer Wasps

Where Do They Live?

Cicada killer wasps are most prevalent in the eastern and Midwest United States and down through Mexico, and even into Central America.

What Do They Eat?

Cicada killer wasps are not typically as aggressive around humans as other wasps. The females feed on flowers, the nectar in particular, and sap from other plants. The cicada killer wasp larvae, conversely, find nourishment from the internal organs of a cicada.

The female cicada eating wasp will paralyze a cicada by stinging it, and then flip the cicada over onto its back to then drag its prey back to the nest. While in the nest, the female may feed on non-vital organs of the cicada to keep it alive longer. She then lays her eggs on the body of the cicada, and the larvae feed on the prey as they grow.

How Did I Get Cicada Killer Wasps?

Cicada killer wasps will nest in areas with lots of cicadas, especially if open dirt areas are available for them to tunnel. These stinging insects thrive in certain regions because of the prevalence of cicadas—their larvae’s food source.

A plentiful amount of nectar flowers in your yard or garden may bring in more adult cicada killer wasps, as the adults feed on nectar and sap, and open patchy areas in your yard make it easier for them to tunnel.

An abundance of trees and shrubs around your yard can also attract them, as this is where their prey (cicadas) live. However, cutting down a lot of trees or shrubs is not recommended.

How Serious are Cicada Killer Wasp Problems?

Burrowing and Lawn Damage

When you consider that cicada killer wasps dig into the ground to build their nests, you can quickly understand one of the primary problems these insects pose to homeowners: lawn damage. Cicada killer wasps can dig up pieces of land, and people will often see them flying low over yards to find a piece of land in somewhat flat areas near cicada-heavy areas (trees and shrubs).

Fear for Individuals with Allergies

Cicada killer wasps are not as dangerous to humans as other stinging insects, and they will typically only sting if handled aggressively or harassed. However, the females technically can still use their stinger, and for anyone severely allergic to stinging insects, it can be disconcerting to have these buzzing around your home. It is difficult to tell the difference between a cicada killer wasp and a yellow jacket if you are unfamiliar with them.

What Can I Do about Cicada Killer Wasps?

Cicada killer wasps do not build giant nests with lots of adults. These are solitary wasps so that each one will require elimination at its tunneled nest area.

Signs of a Cicada Killer Wasp Infestation?

Cicada killer wasps generally nest in open areas where grass does not grow as well (patchy spots in lawns) that are also near trees and shrubs where cicadas are abundant. Cicada killer wasps’ nests look similar to an anthill without ants, with an opening roughly the size of a penny.

Cicada Killer Wasp Prevention and Control tips

Control tip #1

Regardless of your method of insect control, you will need to mark the holes where these wasps tunneled. Mark the area during the day with a stake, small flag, or plastic utensil to find later.

Control tip #2

Cicada killer wasps leave the nest during the day to find nectar and cicadas. When treating holes, put on long sleeves and gloves to protect yourself and return to the marked areas at night when the wasp is likely resting in the nest.

Control tip #3

For each tunnel, have a bowl of just-boiled hot water ready. Pour the water in the hole and cover the opening with the bowl. The next day, if the cicada killing wasp managed to survive, it will be trapped and suffocate in the sun-heated bowl.

Control tip #4

You can also mark the tunnels and try another form of wasp control such as boric acid, hornet spray, or Demon Max Cypermethrin. Follow the instructions carefully on the label when using a chemical insecticide. Pour into the nest and leave the tunnel open with poisons to allow the female to travel across the poison.

Cicada Killer Wasp Professional Pest Control

If you only see a couple of cicada killer wasps around your yard, you can probably take care of the problem on your own. If you spot around five or more buzzing about, you might have a more significant infestation than you realize. Calling professional pest control in your area is a smart idea.

More Information on Cicada Killer Wasps:

https://www.si.edu/spotlight/buginfo/cicada-killer-wasps

https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/ENT-63

https://entomologytoday.org/2019/02/06/when-cicada-killer-wasps-become-cicada-stealer-wasps-kleptoparasitism/

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