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- updated 11/07/2008 -

Cicada Killer Wasp
or
Giant Cicada Killer or Sand Hornet


The Cicada Killer Wasp Sphecius speciosus, is 1.5 to 2.0 inches long (Females are twice the size of males), and is brownish black with yellow markings on the abdomen and face. Their wings are amber.

Cicada Killers Sphecius speciosus are present in the eastern United States, east of the Rocky Mountains. There are a handful of species in the genus Sphecius within the United States, and a species in the western United States, known as Sphecius convallis, is termed the Western Cicada Killer. It is the largest wasp in California. Cicada Killers appear as adults in late June or July, and are mostly seen visiting flowers or digging burrows in sandy or light soil. In Washington, D. C., they are commonly seen in July on the National Mall. Cicada killers are around at the time that coincides with the presence of their cicada prey.


 Picture taken by Cliff Sadow

While their size is intimidating, cicada killers are not aggressive and will sting humans only if pinned against the skin.

The female digs a burrow in the soil. These insects prefer to dig their burrows in sandy, bare, well drained soil exposed to full sunlight. It captures cicadas, paralyzing them by stinging, and places them in the burrow. An egg is deposited on each cicada and that cell is closed off. Cicada killer wasps produce one generation per year, with larvae spending the winter in the nest cell in the soil. Females live only about 30 days. By mid-September they are hard to find.

cicada killer wasp
 photo courtesy of University of Florida Entomology

The only damage these wasps cause are unsightly dirt piles dug out to create nests. They usually disappear with the first rain.

Since cicada killers are so beneficial, control efforts are not recommended.

In spite of their large size, the wasps usually ignore people but they can give a painful sting if bothered. Mating males are aggressive and more easily disturbed. But they have no stinger and so they are harmless!

More information here (Prof. Chuck Holliday's Cicada Killer Page): http://ww2.lafayette.edu/~hollidac/cicadakillerhome.html


 


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