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Cicada Killer Wasps

Cicada Killer Wasps

Cicada killers, also known scientifically as Sphecius speciosus, are a type of solitary wasp that is commonly found in North America. These large, striking insects are named for their behavior of hunting cicadas, which they use as a food source for their developing larvae. Here is an overview of cicada killers:

  • Physical Characteristics: Cicada killers are among the largest wasps in North America, with females measuring around 1.5 to 2 inches (3.8 to 5 centimeters) in length, while males are slightly smaller. They have a distinctive appearance, featuring black bodies with yellow markings, particularly on the abdomen and face. Their wings are clear and smoky-colored, making them easy to distinguish from other wasp species.
  • Behavior and Lifecycle: Cicada killers are solitary wasps, which means they do not form colonies like social wasps such as yellow jackets or hornets. The females are responsible for hunting cicadas, which they paralyze using their stingers. Once a cicada is paralyzed, the female cicada killer carries it back to her underground burrow, where she lays a single egg on the cicada's body. The larva that hatches from the egg then feeds on the cicada, eventually pupating and emerging as an adult the following summer.
  • Nesting: Cicada killers are known for their impressive digging abilities. They create burrows in loose, sandy soil, often in sunny areas. These burrows can be up to a foot (30 centimeters) deep and have multiple branching tunnels. The female cicada killer provisions each tunnel with a paralyzed cicada, laying an egg on one of them before sealing the tunnel. The provisioning and nesting behavior is crucial for the survival and development of their offspring.
  • Territorial Nature: Male cicada killers are territorial and establish areas where they defend against other males. They do not sting and are primarily focused on patrolling their territory and seeking out females for mating. Female cicada killers can sting if they feel threatened or provoked, but they are not aggressive toward humans and typically avoid confrontation.
  • Benefits and Ecological Role: While cicada killers may appear intimidating due to their size, they are generally not considered pests. In fact, they play a beneficial role in controlling cicada populations, which can sometimes reach damaging levels for trees and crops. Cicada killers are a natural form of biological pest control.
  • Seasonal Activity: Cicada killers are typically active during the summer months when cicadas are abundant. They have a relatively short adult lifespan, with most individuals living for only a few weeks.

Cicada killers are fascinating insects with distinctive characteristics and behaviors. They are valuable for their role in regulating cicada populations and have a relatively low impact on human activities. While they may appear intimidating, they are not aggressive toward humans unless directly provoked, making them an intriguing and ecologically important part of North America's insect fauna.

How To Get Rid Of Cicada Killer Wasps

Managing cicada killer wasps, also known as Sphecius speciosus, should be approached with caution and an understanding of their ecological importance. Here's a guide on how to address a cicada killer wasp issue if it becomes necessary:

Determine the Extent of the Infestation: Before taking any action, assess the size and location of the cicada killer wasp nests. If the infestation is small and poses no immediate threat, consider leaving them alone, as these insects play a beneficial role in controlling cicada populations.

Non-Lethal Deterrents: If the cicada killers are nesting in an area where you or your family frequent, consider implementing non-lethal deterrents to discourage their presence:

  • Heavy Foot Traffic: Simply walking near the nest entrances can disrupt the cicada killers' activities and may cause them to relocate.
  • Water Hose: Spraying a strong stream of water into the burrow entrances can temporarily discourage the wasps and disrupt their nesting.

Protective Clothing and Caution: If you must approach the nest, wear protective clothing, including long sleeves, pants, gloves, and a veil or face shield to avoid stings. Move slowly and calmly, as cicada killers are generally not aggressive unless provoked.

Wait for Natural Lifecycle Completion: Cicada killers are active for a relatively short period during the summer months. Their lifecycle typically lasts only a few weeks. If possible, you may choose to wait until they naturally die off, and their nests are abandoned.

Relocation or Nest Removal: If cicada killers are nesting in an area where their presence is a significant concern (e.g., near a high-traffic area), consider relocating or removing the nests. Here's how:

  • Relocation: You can carefully dig up the nest burrows and move them to a less populated area. Be sure to handle the nests gently to avoid damaging them or injuring the wasps.
  • Nest Removal: If you decide to remove the nests, wait until evening when the wasps are less active. Use a shovel to carefully dig up the nest, ensuring you get all the tunnels. You can then dispose of the nests by sealing them in a plastic bag and placing them in the trash. Be cautious during this process to avoid stings.

Professional Pest Control: If you are uncomfortable dealing with cicada killer wasps or the infestation is extensive, consider hiring a professional pest control service. They have the expertise and equipment to manage the situation safely.

Remember that cicada killers are generally beneficial insects that contribute to natural pest control. If their presence is not causing significant problems, it's often best to coexist with them and appreciate their role in the ecosystem. Always exercise caution when attempting to remove or relocate nests and prioritize your safety.

Cicada Killer Nests

Cicada killer nests are unique underground burrows created by female cicada killer wasps (Sphecius speciosus) to serve as a place for laying eggs and provisioning food for their developing offspring. These nests are a crucial part of the cicada killer's reproductive cycle. Here's a detailed description of cicada killer nests:

Location: Cicada killer nests are typically found in well-drained, sandy or loose soil. They prefer areas with direct sunlight, which helps maintain optimal temperatures for the development of their larvae. Common locations include sandy banks, gardens, lawns, and along the edges of driveways.

Structure: Cicada killer nests consist of a series of interconnected tunnels and chambers, all excavated underground. The nests can be quite elaborate and may extend up to a foot (30 centimeters) deep into the soil. The structure usually comprises three main components:

  • Entrance Tunnel: This is the tunnel through which the female cicada killer enters and exits the nest. It is typically about half an inch (1.3 centimeters) in diameter and can be up to 2 feet (60 centimeters) long.
  • Nesting Chamber: This is the main chamber where the female lays her eggs and provisions cicadas for her developing larvae. It's usually located at the end of the entrance tunnel and can be several inches deep. The female cicada killer lays a single egg on a paralyzed cicada and then seals the chamber.
  • Additional Tunnels: Cicada killers may create multiple branching tunnels off the main chamber, each housing a single cicada prey item. These tunnels are used to ensure that each larva has enough food to complete its development.

Cicada Provisioning: The female cicada killer hunts cicadas to provision her nest. She captures cicadas by paralyzing them with a venomous sting, rendering them immobile but still alive. After capturing a cicada, she transports it to her nest by flying or walking. The paralyzed cicada is then placed in one of the additional tunnels, and the female lays an egg on it. The cicada serves as a food source for the developing larva.

Nest Closure: Once the female has laid an egg on a cicada and placed it in an additional tunnel, she seals the tunnel with soil, effectively closing off that chamber. This prevents other predators or parasites from accessing the provisions.

Lifecycle: The female cicada killer repeats this process for several cicadas, creating a series of chambers and tunnels in her nest. After sealing the final chamber, she leaves her offspring to develop within the nest. The larva hatches from the egg and consumes the paralyzed cicada as it grows. Eventually, the larva pupates and overwinters within the nest, emerging as an adult cicada killer the following summer.

Cicada killer nests are a testament to the intricate behavior and biology of these solitary wasps. While their nests may appear intimidating, they are not typically aggressive toward humans and only sting in self-defense. Understanding their nesting habits and role in the ecosystem can help foster coexistence with these fascinating insects when they are found in residential or recreational areas.

Cicada Killer Size

Cicada killers (Sphecius speciosus) are among the largest wasps found in North America. These impressive insects exhibit significant sexual dimorphism, meaning there are distinct size differences between males and females:

Female Cicada Killers:

  • Females are considerably larger than males.
  • Female cicada killers typically measure around 1.5 to 2 inches (3.8 to 5 centimeters) in length.
  • Their robust bodies and distinctive black and yellow coloration make them easily recognizable.

Male Cicada Killers:

  • Males are smaller in comparison to females.
  • Male cicada killers measure approximately 1 to 1.5 inches (2.5 to 3.8 centimeters) in length.
  • They have a similar black and yellow coloration but are noticeably smaller and more slender than females.

The size of cicada killers, particularly the females, is a striking characteristic that distinguishes them from many other wasp species. Their impressive size is well-suited to their role as predators of cicadas, which are relatively large insects themselves. While cicada killers may appear intimidating due to their size, they are generally not aggressive toward humans unless they feel threatened or provoked.


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Stung By A Cicada Killer?

Being stung by a cicada killer wasp (Sphecius speciosus) can be painful, but it's important to note that these wasps are generally not aggressive towards humans and only sting in self-defense. If you're stung by a cicada killer, here are steps to take:

  1. Stay Calm: Try to remain calm and avoid panicking. Cicada killers are not typically aggressive, and the sting is usually a defensive response to a perceived threat.
  2. Move Away from the Area: If you were stung near a cicada killer nest, carefully move away from the area to avoid further encounters with the wasps.
  3. Wash the Sting Area: Wash the sting area gently with mild soap and water to remove any dirt or venom that may be on the skin. This can help reduce the risk of infection.
  4. Apply Cold Compress: Apply a cold compress or an ice pack wrapped in a cloth to the sting site. This can help reduce pain and swelling. Apply it for 10-15 minutes at a time, with breaks in between.
  5. Pain Relief: Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help alleviate pain and reduce swelling. Follow the dosing instructions on the medication label.
  6. Avoid Scratching: It's important to resist the urge to scratch the sting site, as this can lead to further irritation, potential infection, and delayed healing.
  7. Monitor for Allergic Reactions: While cicada killer stings are not typically dangerous, some individuals may be allergic to wasp stings. If you experience symptoms such as difficulty breathing, swelling of the face or throat, a rapid heartbeat, or a widespread rash, seek immediate medical attention. These could be signs of an allergic reaction, which can be life-threatening.
  8. Seek Medical Attention if Necessary: If the pain, swelling, or discomfort persists or worsens, or if you have concerns about the sting, consult a healthcare professional for further evaluation and treatment.
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