Preferred Pest Control Cicada Killer Wasps

Cicada Killer Wasps: The Gentle Giants (Infographic)

July 8, 2015

Does the buzzing sound of summer pests typically send you running? In addition to the sunshine and warm weather comes many people's least favorite pest: wasps. Wasps tend to instill fear into us with their buzzing and appeared swarming. Discover why there's one particular wasp that is no more than a gentle giant to humans.

Preferred Pest Control, Cicada Killer Wasps

What are Cicada Killer Wasps?

A cicada killer wasp is one of the largest in the wasps family. Approximately one and a half inches long, the head and thorax are a rusty brown color and the large abdomen is painted black and yellow, similar to a yellow jacket. Additionally, a cicada killer wasp's legs are yellow, and its wings are typically clear with a reddish-orange tint.

The Four Types of Cicada Killer Wasps in America:

  • Sphecius grandis
  • Sphecius convallis
  • Sphecius hogardii
  • Sphecius speciosus

Preferred Pest Control, Cicada Killer Wasp

Cicada Killer Wasp Behavior and Reproduction

Cicada killer wasps typically live in gardens, at the edges of forests, and in waste locations. After mating early to mid-summer, the male cicada wasp will die and the female will burrow below the ground. Within the burrow, she will make several oval shaped chambers and cells. Next, the female wasp will begin to seek out cicadas, a critical food source for young wasps. The process typically works in this order:
  1. The adult female wasp will seek out cicadas around July and August and begin by paralyzing it with its venomous sting. 
  2. Next, the wasp will bring the cicadas to her burrow in the ground where she will place it in a chamber.
  3. It is then that the wasp will lay her eggs on the cicada in the chamber, dying shortly after laying all of her eggs.
  4. Once the egg hatches, the larvae begin to feed on the cicada. 
  5. Lastly, when the larvae finish eating the cicada, it starts to spin a cocoon and hibernate until the following spring. 

Preferred Pest Control, Cicada Killer Wasp

Are Cicada Killer Wasps Dangerous to Humans?

Emerging in the summer months, cicada killer wasps look dangerous however they are essentially 'gentle giants.' The males will buzz around their territory to defend it from other males, yet, they have no stinger and cannot bite. Female cicada killer wasps have a stinger but rarely use it unless they are stepped on or grabbed at with bare hands. Additionally, cicada females do not have the nest-guarding instincts that hornets or honey bees possess. 
Preferred Pest Control, Cicada Killer Wasp

How to Identify Cicada Killer Wasp Mounds

Cicada killer wasp mounds have a distinct U-shape of soil around the opening. You will find that the female cicada killer wasps will be seen digging their burrows in loose, sandy soil such as vegetable gardens or flower beds, displacing pounds of soil in the process. They prefer open patches in sunny areas where trees are nearby and have also been found digging in golf course sand traps and sandy areas on playgrounds.

Fast Facts:
  • Female cicada killer wasps have the ability to predetermine the sex of their larvae. 
  • Cicada bugs are larger than the female wasp carrying them. 
  • Cicada killer wasp tunnels can range from 20 to 70 inches long and possibly 12 to 15 inches below the surface.
  • There is one generation of cicada killer wasps each year. 

Preferred Pest Control, Cicada Killer Wasp

Activity of Cicada Killer Wasps in Iowa

Cicada killer wasps are typically seen mid-summer throughout Iowa and are the largest wasps found in the state, reaching almost 2 inches long.

Preferred Pest Control, Cicada Killer Wasp
Cicada Killer Wasp Removal
Due to female cicada killer wasps digging their burrows, there can be occasional physical damage in which pest control is recommended.