Every once in a while, we receive a frantic call about a giant wasp or bee in someone’s yard. When we go check it out, we find the amazing – and quite scary – Cicada Killer Wasp. And when we say giant, we mean it. These wasps can grow up to two inches long! These wasps emerge in summer, typically beginning around late June or early July. They die off in September or October as their feeding season on Cicadas ends.
About the Cicada Killer Wasp
Sphecius speciosus, often simply referred to as the cicada killer or the cicada hawk, is a large digger wasp species. Cicada killers are large, solitary wasps in the family Crabronidae. The name may be applied to any species of crabronid which preys on cicadas, though in North America it is typically applied to a single species, Sphecius speciosus. However, since there are multiple species of related wasps, it is more appropriate to call it the eastern cicada killer. Wikipedia
These wasps are hairy with reddish and black areas on the thorax (middle part). Their abdomen (rear part) is black to reddish brown marked with light yellow stripes. The amazing thing about these killers is that they’re quite docile to humans, though! As with any insect, if you irritate it enough, you’re asking to get stung, but these giants are often be handled without any risk… although we don’t recommend it! People often get stung by mistakenly stepping on the wasp’s nesting area.
You may have an infestation of these wasps if you have well-drained clay or sandy areas where you see dirt spots throughout. These spots are often mistaken as ant infestations. Eastern Cicada Killers nest in the ground by burrowing up to 20 inches below the surface. They’re specially built to kick the dirt up behind them as they burrow – the dirt you see at the opening to their nests.
Cicadas emerge and are rampant on 13 and 17-year cycles, but you can find some in virtually any year. According to Cicada Mania, we’re going to start seeing Cicadas emerge in a few years in Indiana… peaking from 2021 to 2027. And when there’s food, there are predators!
Eastern Cicada Killers live and nest alone in the ground. They viciously attack Cicadas mid-air and utilize their massive, strong stingers to penetrate a Cicada’s shell. Once stung, the Cicada is paralyzed, brought back to the nest, and feasted upon by the Cicada’s offspring grub.
Think this wasp is the top of the food chain? Nope… its attacked by another wasp, the parasitic velvet ant wasp. It’s also known as the cow-killer wasp. That wasp lays an egg in the nest cell of the cicada killer, and its larva consumes the cicada killer larva! Nature is amazing.