Cicada Killer, Sphecius speciosusHost: Cicada killers do not feed on plants. The larvae feed primarily on paralyzed cicadas. The adult wasps feed on flower nectar.
Symptoms: In spite of its formidable size and burrowing habit, this wasp is unusually docile and harmless. Although capable of inflicting a painful sting, the female cicada killer wasp is usually difficult to provoke. Mating males are aggressive and more easily disturbed, but cannot sting. An unsightly mound of soil surrounds the burrow of each cicada killer. Since colonies of burrows are common, infested lawns usually contain several mounds that can smother the grass. However, since cicada killers prefer to nest in areas of sparse vegetation, it is likely that infested turf was already unthrifty when the wasps arrived. They rarely burrow in thick, vigorous turf. Burrows are most commonly found in ornamental beds or under trees or tall foliage plants where there are areas of bare soil.
Life Cycle: The cicada killer wasp overwinters as a larva within a cocoon in a burrow in the soil. Pupation occurs in the spring. Adults begin emerging in June and emergence continues throughout the summer. The adult female feeds, mates, and digs burrows for several weeks before preying on cicadas. A vertical or slightly angled burrow 6 to 10 inches deep and about 1/2 inch in diameter with broadly oval cells perpendicular to the main tunnel is excavated. The excess soil thrown out of the burrow forms a regular, U-shaped mound at the entrance.
Once cells have been constructed, the search for cicadas begins. Canvassing tree trunks and lower limbs, the wasp stings its prey, turns the victim on its back, straddles it, and drags it or glides with it to the burrow. Each cell is furnished with at least one cicada (sometimes two or three) and a single egg before being sealed off. The egg hatches two or three days later and the larva feeds four to ten days, until only the cicada's outer shell remains. During the fall, the larva spins a silken case and prepares to overwinter. Only one generation occurs each year.
Description: This large wasp has a rusty red head and thorax, russet colored wings, and a black and yellow striped abdomen. A length of 11/2 inches is not uncommon. The larvae are legless, white grubs and are found in burrows in the soil.
Control: Please contact your local county extension office for current information.
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