What Is A Cicada Killer?

cicada killer wasp on a rock outside albany home

Bugs are often given names that describe what they look like, where they live, or what they do. Bed bugs live predominantly in beds, so it makes sense to call them bed bugs. Honey bees are bees that make honey; by calling them honey bees it is easier to understand how they are different from carpenter bees and other non-honey-making bees. House flies are flies that prefer to live in our homes with us. Longhorned beetles have antennae that look like--you guessed it--long horns. Pretty imaginative, huh? Those entomologists like to keep things simple for us. While they use "brainy words" like Melanacanthus scutellaris, and attach names from prominent scientists such as linnaeus, fitch, braun, and many others for pinpoint identification, they also give us the simple name of small brown bean bug. Today, we'll be talking about Sphecius speciosus, also known as the cicada killer.

The insect referred to as Sphecius speciosus goes by many simple names. It may be called cicada killer, giant cicada killer, cicada killer wasps, Eastern cicada killer, or other combinations of these terms. All of these names help to describe these bugs in simple terms. These are large wasps that prey on cicadas and have a distribution that began in the Eastern United States. Let's explore these in greater detail.


There are many species of cicada killer wasps. In our service area of New York, we deal with the Sphecius speciosus, or Eastern cicada killer. In the Southwestern part of the country, they see more of Sphecius grandis. In Florida, they deal with Sphecius hogardii. And points south of the United States have Sphecius spectabilis to contend with. This article will focus on Sphecius speciosus, and will be referred to as the cicada killer.


When we get a call to deal with a giant wasp, we can expect to find a cicada killer. These wasps are considerably large, and quite scary to have around. A full grown cicada killer can be 2 inches in length. If you've seen one of these wasps crawling out of a hole in the ground, we are not telling you anything you don't already know.

Cicada Killer

While this insect can be frightening to look at, it isn't as scary as it looks. Sure, you don't want to get stung by a cicada killer; it is unpleasant. But, cicada killers have no interest in stinging humans. They focus on hunting and apprehending cicada bugs, which they bring back to their nest, by elaborate means, to provide food for their offspring. They are also keeping a wary eye out for other cicada killers that compete for their food source. You are the least of their worries. But it is not a good idea to provoke these wasps or handle them.


The cicada killer is definitely a wasp. It has all of the physical characteristics. But it is not a social wasp like the yellow jacket. It is a solitary wasp, similar in many ways to carpenter bees. Like carpenter bees, male cicada killers have no stinger, but are very aggressive and will dive-bomb your head if you go near their nest. And, like carpenter bees, the females tunnel to make their home. But, instead of tunneling in wood, cicada killers tunnel in the ground. This trait, more than anything, is what makes them a pest insect.


A female cicada killer can make extensive tunnels, displacing several pounds of sand or soil. As they dig, they can loosen soil around ornamental plants, vegetables, and flowers. This digging can also create structural issues for a home or business when ground is displaced.

When large numbers of cicada killers infest a lawn, they are not only a hazard for people walking around in their bare feet, but they damage root systems with their digging, and they bring excavated dirt to the surface, making an unsightly mess.

If you're seeing giant wasps on your New York property, finding holes dug in the ground or displaced dirt piling up, contact the pest experts here at Thomas Pest Services. We have solutions that will work to protect your yard, your family, and your pets from these accidental intruders. While cicada killers are mostly harmless to humans, it is best to not have them around.

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