Cicada Killer (Sphecius speciosus)
Every summer, usually around Memorial Day we begin to get calls for “big scary wasps”. While they are a menacing sight Cicada Killer wasps are harmless for the most part unless you decide you want to catch and handle one (which we do not advise). In fact, males don’t even have a stinger, but that doesn’t keep them from buzzing around your head, dive bombing you and acting tough!
Despite all of these wasps gathered in a small area they are not social like Yellow Jackets or Paper wasps. The job of the male is to patrol the nesting area which is usually a soft dirt area in full sunlight and may contain hundreds of burrows in one yard. The females build a burrow with an entrance about 1.5 inches wide and about 10 inches deep. She lays her eggs, up to sixteen, in individual tunnels inside the burrow. Once the tunnel is complete the female flies off in search of a cicada or other large insect to stash inside. This is quite a site when you consider a Cicada is as large if not larger than the Cicada Killer wasp. Once the prey is tucked into the tunnel the female lays an egg in that tunnel and seals it off. When the egg hatches in a few days the larva will feed on the Cicada or other bug. They spend all winter in the burrow emerging the next summer as an adult to begin the process all over.
Other than mounds of soft dirt piled up outside the burrows Cicada Killers do very little damage to lawns and are a great source of free pest control!