Cicada Killer Wasp: Friend Or Foe?

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While working in the flower beds this summer, you may encounter what looks like the biggest wasp you have ever seen. However, this wasp is unlike any other wasp of which you have come in contact with. You just had a close up view of a cicada killer. The cicada killer is one of the largest known wasps, reaching a size of 1 ½ or more inches in length. The cicada killer has a rust colored head with black and yellow abdomen, much like a yellow jacket. The legs are a yellow or orange color and the wings, while being transparent enough to see through, are an orange/red tint.

The good news about this behemoth wasp is that it has no interest in you and does not pose a danger or threat. The cicada killer female has one thing in mind. She finds a spot in the ground and digs a burrow about six inches deep with several lateral cells or chambers. The cicada killer female will then begin her search for a cicada. Once she finds one, she will paralyze the cicada by stinging it. The cicada killer will carry the paralyzed cicada to the burrow even though it may weigh three times as much as she does. She will then drag the paralyzed cicada into one of the chambers of her burrow and lay an egg directly on it. This process will continue until each chamber has a cicada and all eggs have been deposited. The female cicada killer will then die.

The cicada will become food for the larva that will soon hatch—usually within two or three days. The newly hatched larva will immediately begin feasting on the cicada until only the thin outer shell is left. This will take approximately two weeks, after which time the larva will spin a cocoon and hibernate until next spring.

The female cicada killer is equipped with a stinger but will rarely use it on humans. This will only happen if you accidentally step on one or pick one up. Otherwise, the cicada killer is not a danger to people. The male cicada killer does not even have a stinger. While they may act aggressive at times in an attempt to protect their territory, there is never any danger from the males. Once they mate with a female, the male cicada killer will die.

Cicada killers are only around for about a month and, other than an occasional burrow in the ground, cause no harm and pose no danger to humans. One thing to remember is that they cannot burrow into the ground that is covered with healthy grass. They prefer loose, well-drained soil. The advantage or benefit of the cicada killer is that they will reduce the number of cicadas in your area, limiting the damage cicadas invoke upon young trees and twigs.

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