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Cicada Killers

Class: Insect
Other names: Sand hornets (although they are not hornets)
Color: Reddish and black mid-body, black to reddish brown with yellow stripes on rear, brownish wings.
Distinctive Features: Hairy bodies
Size: ½ to 2 inches long.
Diet: Larvae eat dead cicadas; adults eat flower nectar and plant sap
Predators: Velvet ant wasp (cow killers wasp) will lay its eggs in the cicada killers’ nest cell, and their larvae will eat the cicada killer’s pupae
Interesting Fact: The cicada killers are powerful insects. The females carry cicadas that are two or three times their weight back to the nest. When digging nests, they can excavate soil weighing several hundred times their body weight in just a few hour.

Large Cicada Killer Wasps Not Usually a Big Problem

The size of the cicada killer wasps can be intimidating; at ½ inch to 2 inches long, they are one of the biggest wasp varieties in the U.S. But these wasps are generally peaceful and will not sting unless roughly handled.

You can recognize a cicada wasp by looking for:

  • Hairy, reddish and black areas on the mid part of the body
  • Black to reddish brown color and yellowish stripes on its rear segments
  • Brownish wings
  • Very large jaws

The coloration of cicada killer wasps makes them easy to confuse with yellow jackets or hornets.

Living underground

The female cicada killer wasp creates nesting space in the ground, preferring well-drained sandy soils and loose clay. But you may also find nests in planters, window boxes and flower beds, especially when they are located in sunny areas. Several females may share a burrow, with each creating its own nesting area off the main tunnel.  Using their jaws to dislodge the dirt and their hind feet to push it out, the females can dig burrows 10 to 20 inches deep.

Cicadas serve as food for the larvae. The female:

  • Stings the cicada to paralyze it
  • Carries the cicada back to the nest by dragging, gliding or flying
  • Lays its eggs on cicada carcass

When the larvae hatch, they feed off the dead cicada.

Males cannot sting, but spend most of their time defending their territory before mating with the females. No adult cicada killers live through the winter. The young wasps remain in larval form during the winter, then pupate and emerge in the spring.

Not a threat

The cicada killers are not usually threatening to humans; if you leave them alone, they will leave you alone. But if they have created a nest in an area where it cannot remain, you can remove them with insecticides.  If that’s a chore you’d rather not handle on your own, give Brody Brothers a call at 443-379-8857 and we’ll clear the wasps out safely.

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