Cicada Killer Wasps: The Not-So-Killer Bee

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The Cicada-Killer Wasp is a gentle, shy insect. Despite its size and resemblance to the dangerous Giant Asian Wasp (also called Japanese Hornet) these bees are timid and not the killer wasp they appear to be.

Cicada-killer Wasps

The largest wasp species in North America at nearly an inch long, they look similar to the Asian Giant Hornet but these have a gentler disposition and are actually beneficial to mankind and nature.

Cicada Killer Wasp: Large Wasp

The cicada killer wasp is a large wasp of the Central and North Americas, often reaching 20mm (approx. 1-inch) in length. They have been sited by people whom, at first glance swear that they what they saw was a hummingbird-sized bee! Cicada killer wasps are found from Central to North America all the way up to and into Canada and somewhat common in the southern United States where they are sometimes mistaken for another large bee specie called the Asian Giant Hornet.

Also known as the Giant Japanese Wasp or Sparrow Bee, Asian Giant Hornet are an unwanted invasive eastern European specie. They can destroy an entire honeybee hive of many thousands of bees in just a matter of several hours. Using just three or four ’soldiers’ who wage a frontal attack against the hive, they kill every bee in the hive and plunder the honey and eat the honeybee larvae. The Cicada Killer Wasp is far more docile and beneficial.

The adult cicada killer wasps eat only nectar from flowers. The females of this specie also hunt cicada insects which they use to line the nest cells their yet unhatched brood of eggs. The cicada killer wasp lands upon a tree trunk or branch in a tree and stalks its prey, using the chirping vibrations of the cicada to locate the prey.

They pounce upon it and deliver the immobilizing sting. The now paralyzed cicada is flown away to the burrow lair and loaded into an underground ‘cell’ where several Cicada Killer Wasp eggs have been laid. The cell is then sealed-up. These underground burrows of the cicada killer wasp have been found to contain as many as 16 such cells.

Food for the Hatching Cicada Killer Wasps

The eggs of the cicada killer wasp will hatch within a few days; the live cicada will serve as a food source for the hatchling larvae. The hatched larvae will consume the still live but paralyzed cicada for up to 10 days depending upon the size of the cicada and the number of eggs in the cell. The cicada is reduced to a mere shell of inedible exoskeleton during this time. The larvae now enter the pupae stage where they spin a silken cocoon and they over-winter within the cell, emerging the following spring as a fully-fledged adult.

cicada killer wasp

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Worldwide, there are 21 species of related cicada killer wasps but in North America the most commonly referred to variety is the Eastern Cicada Killer Wasp.

The cicada killer wasp is a "loner" specie, preferring to nest in solitude. Small colonies can occur where conditions are favorable however. They do not form ‘hives’ in the conventional sense but if nesting conditions are favorable, a small area can support loose colonies of unassociated nesting females.

They are not aggressive towards other females in these colonies, or beyond. They merely share the same interest in preferred burrowing real estate.

They prefer to nest in well-drained sandy soils with little vegetation. Cicada Killer Wasps seldom choose to nest in thick vegetated areas with heavy turf and/or vigorous plant growth. Sometimes, the Cicada Killer Wasps will burrow in locations where their presence is not wanted such as lawns, near sidewalks, in playgrounds and on golf courses.

Ways to get rid of cicada killer wasps include of course, regular pesticides but a preferred method is the use of white lime to encourage thicker foliage growth around the nesting site. This in itself will discourage further nesting within a season or two and they will cease to colonize the area and relocate elsewhere.

Cicada Killer Wasp, Not a Japanese Giant Wasp

cicada killer wasp

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These wasps tend to not engage nor attack humans and will only sting if handled roughly or harassed physically and are given no avenue of escape. Generally if you swat at them they will just fly away and will not challenge you, unlike most other species of bee and wasps which would instead choose to turn and engage the aggressor.

If the wasp becomes entangled in your clothing however, it will wrongly perceive this as an attack and they will likely want to sting you. Despite their massive size, their sting is quite mild unlike that of most other wasps whose sting can be excruciatingly painful.

Male Cicada Killer Wasps has No Stinger

Only the female of the cicada killer wasp has a stinger. The male Cicada Killer Wasp is stingless. The males do, however, have a pointy barb on their abdomen which they can use to jab an aggressor or but it is not a true stinger with inject-able poison.

The males seemingly engage intruders with an attack that enter their immediate territory but it is mostly an investigative act on their part. They are defending their territory against other males and investigating any trespasser in case it is an available female whom may be ready to mate.

Cicada Killer Wasp Burrow

cicada killer wasp burrow

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Because the Cicada Killer Wasp hunts and kills mostly cicadas as a food source for their larvae they help to keep the cicada population down. Cicadas are a pest insect, they eat the deciduous leaves of fruit trees and in large numbers can ravage valuable farm crops.

The Cicada Killer Wasp is a beneficial insect and is part of nature’s way to help maintain a useful balance of cicada pests.


Annie Jean Brewer
Posted on Feb 28, 2010
Martha lownsberry
Posted on Sep 9, 2009