Cicada Killers


Cicada killers are primarily solitary wasps, but multiple burrows will occur in the same vicinity because a single female has laid multiple eggs.

The “cicada killer” is one of the largest species of wasps. It grows over 1 ½ inches long. Its head and thorax are usually a rust color and the large abdomen is black and yellow, much like a yellow jacket. The cicada killer’s legs are yellowish and its wings are clear with an orangish-red tint. This wasp typically lives at the edges of forests, in gardens, and in areas around waste. Adult cicada killers eat very little, but get their nutrients from flower nectar. Larvae of the cicada killers eat cicadas, thus their namesake.

Cicada killers are seen in early Summer. After mating, the female wasp digs a burrow about six inches deep in the soil. Inside the burrow, she will make several cells, or small oval-shaped chambers. You can usually tell a cicada killer’s burrow by the U-shaped dirt around the hole. Next, the female wasp hunts for cicadas. Cicadas are very important as a food source for young wasps. Once she finds one, she will sting it and paralyze the insect; then will carry the cicada, which may weigh three times her own weight, back to the burrow. She will put the cicada in one of the cells and lay an egg on it. The female wasp will continue hunting cicadas until she has filled the cells of her burrow. Each cicada body gets its own egg.

In two or three days, a wasp larva will hatch from the egg. The larva immediately begins eating the cicada. When the larva finishes the cicada (in about two weeks), it will then spin a cocoon and hibernate until the following Spring. In the Spring, the larva will leave its cocoon and become a pupa; and from the pupa to adult. It will then dig its way out of the ground and look for a mate. Male wasps die shortly after mating. Females die after laying all of their eggs. Predators of cicada killers are the same as those of other wasps, including birds, shrews, and mantids.


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