Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Cicada Killer Wasp

I recently had an entertaining encounter with a Cicada Killer, Sphecius speciosus, our largest native wasp.  The females of this species construct burrows in the soil into which they place a cicada to act as a food source for their developing larvae.  I typically begin to see signs of burrowing activity around the first of August.

This individual provided me with some fine photo opportunities.  Using both corn leaves and the ground as perches, a watchful male spent the morning in the garden on the lookout for female Cicada Killers.  Several chases ensued, with one resulting in a pair of wasps in a love embrace spiraling into the sky.

The video shows the wasp constantly scanning its surroundings.  Body twitches and wing fluttering show its readiness to instantly take off after any passing female.

The Cicada Killer presents a fearsome image, but it is actually not at all aggressive.  Males are incapable of stinging, so this guy is completely harmless.  Females, which are capable of stinging, save that sting for their preferred prey.  A person would have to work hard to make one of these wasps sting, and that sting would be classified as justifiable self defense.

Female Cicada Killers build their burrows in areas of exposed soil.  Around here, they seem to prefer my shallow soiled, south facing front lawn, which typically shows bare ground in August as the lawn grasses enter summer dormancy. 

This is my favorite wasp species.  Many people have asked me how to get rid of these wasps.  I usually respond that the wasps are not a problem, so people should enjoy them.  When people say the wasp burrows are ruining their lawns, I reply that it must have been a poor lawn to begin with, otherwise the wasps would never have been attracted there.  When they accuse the wasps of attacking, I point out that a close fly-by does not constitute an attack.  I’ve never had to respond to any comments beyond that, because by that point, people have given up hope of getting any really practical advice from me.

In this video, the wasp has just had a close encounter with a passing Cicada Killer.  His body movements seem to display a heightened level of excitement.


  1. Great stuff as always, Steve. The cicada killers are a Hymenopteran spectacle, that's for sure. Also, interesting birds on the soundtrack of your video: blue grosbeak, and Henslow's sparrow!

    1. Thanks, Jim. The blue grosbeak moves around and is not always heard near my vegetable garden. There are Henslow's sparrows defending territories on three sides of the garden and they are rarely all quiet at the same time.