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Cicada Killer Wasp

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Cicada Killer Wasp

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.

Identification

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.

Control Measures

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.

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Question About Cicada Killer Wasps
Help!!
Please suggest some ways to ward off the return of cicada killer wasps to my front lawn...They have been here for two seasons peaking around late July early August...I have two young children and two cats that may one day be harmed if the bees perceive a threat (my cats swat at them).The infestation started with one wasp that I guess was transported to my lawn in a load of "topsoil" that was more sand than anything. I inadvertently spread out the problem with the topsoil as many more holes appeared the following year (about 20). They dig up the lawn and around our front sidewalk. I 'd like to steer clear of toxic treatment as there is one infant and one seven year old in the house and on the lawn. Any suggestions???

Thanks,
Concerned Mom from Upstate New York

SUBJECT RE: Wasps in yard
Hi, Thanks for your question.
I don't know of any way to prevent them from coming. Once you already have them you might be able to kill them by raking non toxic diatomaceous earth in your yard.

Diatomaceous Earth

Boric Acid Will Kill Cicada Killer Wasps
Hi, Just wanted to let you and your readers know about a problem I had with cicada killer wasps and how I got rid of them. I have a play area in my backyard that my kids use everyday. It has a swing set, sand box, and a climbing gym. Last summer my kids could not get near this area of the yard without getting attacked by killer wasps. I think the wasps were attracted to the soft and sandy soil that the play ground had. I was not able to afford to have a professional exterminate them, so my only option was to do it myself. I went to the local drug store and bought a large bottle of boric acid for around ten dollars. That night after dark I went out with my flash light and dumped a little boric into each of the holes they had drilled in the ground. The next day I checked to see what the results were and realized about half of them were gone. After about three days they were completely gone. My children were able to play out there again without the fear of being attacked by these huge wasps.