Cicada Killer

The Cicada Killer is one of our largest wasps. It grows over one and a half inches long. Its head and thorax (front two body sections) are a rust color. The large abdomen (back section) is black and yellow, much like a yellow jacket. The Cicada Killer’s legs are yellowish and its wings are clear with an orangish-red tint.

This wasp lives at the edges of forests, in gardens, and in waste places. Adult Cicada Killers eat very little, getting their energy from flower nectar. Larvae eat cicadas.

Cicada Killers are seen in early summer. After mating, the female wasp digs a burrow about six inches deep in the soil. Inside the burrow, she will make several cells, or small oval-shaped chambers. You can usually tell a Cicada Killer’s burrow by the U-shaped dirt around the hole.

Next, the female wasp hunts cicadas. Cicadas, such as the Dogday Harvestfly, are very important as a food source for young wasps. Once she finds one, she will sting it and paralyze the insect. Then the wasp will carry the cicada, which may weigh three times her own weight, back to the burrow. She will put the cicada in one of the cells and lay an egg on it. The female wasp will continue hunting cicadas until she has filled the cells of her burrow. Each cicada body gets its own egg.

In two or three days, a wasp larva will hatch from the egg. The larva immediately begins eating the cicada. When the larva finishes the cicada, leaving only the outer shell (about two weeks), it will then spin a cocoon and hibernate until the following spring.

In the spring, the larva will leave its cocoon and become a pupa (resting stage). From the pupa, an adult Cicada Killer will hatch. It will dig its way out of the ground and look for a mate. Male wasps die shortly after mating. Females die after laying all of their eggs.

Predators of Cicada Killers are the same as those of other wasps, including birds, shrews, and mantids.

Cicada Killers are helpful to people since they eat cicadas. Cicadas can be pests when they eat trees and plants. Sometimes, these wasps can be annoying since they may dig burrows in lawns or gardens. Cicada Killers rarely sting humans. Only the females have the ability to sting, and they only sting in defense if handled.

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