These large (1-1/3- to 1-5/8-inch long) wasps fly slowly above the ground.
Cicada killers have a black body with yellow marks across the thorax and
abdomen. Wings are reddish-orange. Although these wasps are huge, they
usually ignore people. Males may act aggressively if they are threatened,
but are unable to sting. Females can sting, but are so passive that they
rarely do. Even if they do sting, the pain is less than that of smaller
wasps such as the yellow jacket or paper wasp and is similar to the sting of
a sweat bee. The cicada killer is a solitary wasp rather than a social wasp
like the yellow jacket. The female nests in burrows in the ground. These
burrows are quarter-size in diameter and can go 6 inches straight down and
another 6 inches horizontally. Adults normally live 60 to 75 days from
mid-July to mid-September and feed on flower nectar and sap. The adult
female seeks cicadas on the trunks and lower limbs of trees. She stings her
prey, flips it over, straddles it and carries it to her burrow. If she has a
tree to climb, she will fly with it. If not, she will drag it. She will lay
one egg per cicada if the egg is left unfertilized. Unfertilized eggs
develop into males only.
Fertilized eggs develop into females and are given at least two cicadas.
Cicadas are then stuffed into the female’s burrow. Each burrow normally has
three to four cells with one to two cicadas in each. However, it is possible
for one burrow to have 10 to 20 cells. Eggs hatch in two to three days, and
larvae begin feeding on paralyzed cicadas.
Feeding continues for four to 10 days until only the outer shell of the
cicada remains. The larva overwinters inside a silken case. Pupation occurs
in the spring. There is one generation per year.
Cicada killers are not dangerous, but they can be a nuisance. If you believe
control is necessary, treat the burrows after dark to ensure the female
wasps are in their nests. The males normally roost on plants near burrow
sites. They can be captured with an insect net or knocked out of the air
with a tennis racket during the day. Carbaryl (Sevin) or permethrin may be
used for control.
By: Ward Upham