Cicada Killer Wasp

Picture taken by Nicholas Bonawitz, August 2008, Purdue University campus, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA.

Last week I introduced the somewhat misunderstood cicada; this week I am offering equal time to its mortal enemy: the aptly-named Cicada Killer Wasp (Sphecius speciosus).

Cicada Killers are a type of solitary wasp. Solitary wasps behave quite differently than the Bald-Faced Hornets I wrote about several weeks ago, which are social wasps. You may see the large female Cicada Killer Wasps (up to 2” long) circling low over a lawn or bare patch of dirt, constantly moving, seeking a good place to dig a burrow. Their size and bright yellow and dark brown stripes make them seem intimidating, but they are not interested in humans. The smaller males have no stinger, while females use theirs to paralyze their prey.

After the female digs a nesting chamber in the ground, piling the excavated dirt around the entrance, she takes off in search of a cicada. It is quite a chore to fly the paralyzed cicada back to the burrow, as it can weigh twice as much as the Cicada Killer. She drags the cicada into the nesting chamber where she lays an egg on it and closes the chamber up with dirt. Male eggs get one cicada, while female eggs may get 2-3. (I wonder how the mother knows the sex of her eggs before she lays them.) The poor cicada will furnish the newly hatched Cicada Killer with its first hearty meal.

(Thanks to Anthony Ianniello of the Bedford Audubon Society for suggesting this subject. Do you wonder about something you saw at Angle Fly Preserve? Tell me about it in an email to

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