Although female Cicada Killer Wasps rarely sting unless disturbed, homeowners may become alarmed or frightened because
of their very large size (nearly two inches) and foraging habits in unwanted areas. These solitary wasps may become a nuisance
when they dig holes in lawns, sand base volleyball courts, flower beds, gardens, and golf course sand traps, kicking out a
six to eight inch diameter horseshoe-shaped pile of dirt (mound) around the nest entrance. Male cicada killer wasps have
especially aggressive territorial behavior, but have no sting. Female cicada wasps are difficult to provoke, can sting,
but rarely do. The female cicada killer wasp is not aggressive and control is rarely needed except in unwanted places.
Adults appear in mid to late summer (July and August) causing special concern to individuals with young children.
The adult cicada killer wasp is a very large (1-1/8 to 1-5/8 inches long), robust wasp with a black body marked with yellow
across the thorax (middle part) and on the first three abdominal (rear part) segments. The head and thorax are rusty red and
the wings russet yellow (brownish). Legs are yellowish. Coloration may resemble the yellowjacket wasp.
Life Cycle and Habits
Solitary wasps (such as a cicada killer wasp) are very different than the social wasps (hornets, yellowjackets and paper
wasps). Cicada killer wasp females use their sting to paralyze their prey (cicadas) rather than to defend their nests.
The female cicada killer wasps are non-aggressive and rarely sting unless touched, caught in clothing, disturbed by lawn equipment,
etc. Though the male cicada killer wasp aggressively defends nesting sites, they have no sting. Adult cicada killer
wasps feed on flower nectar and sap exudates.
These killer wasps are commonly seen in late summer skimming around the lawn, shrubs and trees searching for cicadas. Cicadas
are captured, paralyzed by a sting and used for food to rear their young. After stinging a large cicada, the female cicada
wasp drags it up a tree, straddles it and takes off toward the burrow, partly gliding. When trees are not available, the cicada
(prey) is dragged to the burrow on the ground. Cicadas are very large insects, sometimes called "locusts." They sing loudly
(noisily) in trees during late summer.
Overwintering occurs as a mature larva within a leathery, brown cocoon in an earthen cell. Pupation occurs in the spring
lasting 25 to 30 days. Adult wasps emerge about the first week in July in Ohio. Emergence continues throughout the summer
months. Adults live about 60 to 75 days (mid-July to mid-September) while they dig new nesting holes (burrows) in full sun
where vegetation is sparse in light, well-drained soils. Eggs are deposited in late July through August. Eggs hatch in one
to two days and larvae complete their development in 4 to 14 days. There is only one generation per year.
Burrows & Nests
There may be many individuals flying over a lawn, but each female cicada killer wasp digs her own burrow six to ten
inches deep and one-half inch wide. (They do not nest together.) The soil is dislodged by her mouth and loose particles are
kicked back as a dog would dig. The excess soil thrown out of the burrow forms a U-shaped mound at the entrance, causing unsightly
mounds of earth on the turf.
This ground-burrowing cicada killer wasp may be found in sandy soils to loose clay in bare or grass covered banks, berms,
hills as well as raised sidewalks, driveways and patio slabs. Some may nest in planters, window boxes, flower beds, under
shrubs, ground cover, etc. Nests usually are made in the full sun where vegetation is sparse, especially in well-drained soils.
Occasionally they establish in golf course sand traps. (A very gravelly or bare area is preferred.)
A Cicada Killer Wasp may tunnel as much as six inches deep and another six inches horizontally. At the end of the burrow
are usually three to four cells where one to two cicadas are placed in each cell with one egg. If all the cells are filled,
secondary tunnels are constructed and provisioned. A single burrow may eventually have 10 to 20 cells.
Occasionally, homeowners, especially in southern and southwestern Ohio become flustered in attempting to eliminate nuisance,
massive populations from lawns. Cicada Killer Wasps normally arrive the last week in July and are gone by the second week
of August. Cicada killer Wasps may become unbearable causing homeowners not to use their backyard during the day due to these
wasps flying (skimming) around the lawn, shrubs and trees searching for cicadas.
One woman mentioned that she and her husband had killed over 50 cicada killer wasps with tennis rackets, used five pounds
of carbaryl (Sevin) dust in the nest entrances, and employed a pest control operator several times with little noticeable
decrease in outdoor populations. They mow their grass in the evening (after 8:00 PM), and keep their children indoors much
of the time until the Cicada Killer Wasp season is over.
The professional, licensed pest control operator should be used especially if one is sensitive to possible stings.