As already mentioned in the "Life Cycle" section on this site, the Cicada Killer (Sphecius speciosus) is a large digger wasp that specializes in hunting cicadas.  They are often seen flying around parks and residential neighborhoods where they appear large enough to carry away your pets or children.  But rest assured, unless you're a cicada, they mean you no harm.  However, they like making their burrows in soft, sandy surfaces which can disrupt a perfectly good garden!  For those with a green thumb, they can become an annoying distraction!   If you come too close to their nesting site, they will give off a threatening buzz and will dart directly at you as a defensive ploy!  Otherwise, these wasps are normally docile and will avoid interactions with humans.  Their sting is very mild and harmless towards people and animals but is quite paralyzing to a cicada! 


These imposing creatures are 1.5 to 2 inches in length with the males being somewhat smaller.  Males do not partake in the hunting (They like nectar!) but are fiercely territorial when it comes to females and will engage in battle (Wrestling contests!) with other males to win over a prospecting mate! 


After mating, the female wasp hunts cicadas primarily by sight and sound. These wasps begin to appear in July and target an unsuspecting annual cicada (Neotibicen spp.). Once the wasp locates a cicada, it tackles it and stings it. The sting again merely paralyzes the cicada and renders it helpless. The sting also preserves the cicada's bodily fluids from drying out and keeps it alive!  Stung cicadas will live longer than un-stung cicadas. The wasp will then drag the heavy cicada up the side of a tree or other support and take a short flight with the cicada tucked underneath the wasp's body. The weight of the cicada causes the wasp to fly only a short distance at a time and she will have to repeat this step over and over until she reaches her burrow.


The burrow is dug out of loose soil and will extend underground often at a depth of a foot or more. This burrow will have several rounded chambers branching off of the main entrance tunnel. There, the wasp will store the cicada and lay an egg near the thorax of the cicada's body. The wasp will already know the sex of the egg and will stock two cicadas to a chamber if the egg is female and one cicada if the egg is male. Once the wasp finishes stocking all of the chambers, she will seal off the entrance to the nest.


Within several days, the egg will hatch and the wasp larva will begin to feed off the fluids from the cicada's body. The cicada will live through much of this ordeal and will be slowly drained by the larva until only a husk remains. The larva will then spin a thin cocoon around itself where it will remain in the larval stage and overwinter. In spring, the larvae will pupate and emerge from its cocoon during mid-summer. The new wasps will leave the old nests, mate, and the females will dig new burrows to begin the next generation.


Cicadas BEWARE!!!!

Cicada Killer - Sphecius speciosus


Photographs taken: 08/15

Green Creek Township

Sandusky County, Ohio

Cicada Killer Burrow


Photographs taken: 08/01


Sandusky County, Ohio

All images were photographed in Sandusky County, Ohio unless otherwise noted in the descriptions.

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(Background photo: Magicicada septendecim (Brood V)

Mohican State Park, Ashland County, Ohio  06/99)

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