Cicada Killer

Sphecius speciosus

Purdue University

The Cicada Killer is one of our largest wasps. It grows over one and a half inches long. Its head and thorax (front two body sections) are a rust color. The large abdomen (back section) is black and yellow, much like a yellow jacket. The Cicada Killer's legs are yellowish and its wings are clear with an orangish-red tint.

This wasp lives at the edges of forests, in gardens, and in waste places. Adult Cicada Killers eat very little, getting their energy from flower nectar. Larvae eat cicadas.

Copyright, Clemson University Arthropod Collection

Copyright, Dr. James Baker, North Carolina State University

Cicada Killers are seen in early Summer. After mating, the female wasp digs a burrow about six inches deep in the soil. Inside the burrow, she will make several cells, or small oval-shaped chambers. You can usually tell a Cicada Killer's burrow by the U-shaped dirt around the hole.

Next, the female wasp hunts cicadas. Cicadas, such as the Dogday Harvestfly, are very important as a food source for young wasps. Once she finds one, she will sting it and paralyze the insect. Then the wasp will carry the cicada, which may weigh three times her own weight, back to the burrow. She will put the cicada in one of the cells and lay an egg on it. The female wasp will continue hunting cicadas until she has filled the cells of her burrow. Each cicada body gets its own egg.

Copyright, Chuck Holliday

In two or three days, a wasp larva will hatch from the egg. The larva immediately begins eating the cicada. When the larva finishes the cicada, leaving only the outer shell (about two weeks), it will then spin a coccoon and hibernate until the following Spring.

In the Spring, the larva will leave its coccoon and become a pupa (resting stage). From the pupa, an adult Cicada Killer will hatch. It will dig its way out of the ground and look for a mate.

Male wasps die shortly after mating. Females die after laying all of their eggs.

Predators of Cicada Killers are the same as those of other wasps, including birds, shrews, and mantids.

Additional Media

Description
Type
Credit
Cicada Killer Larva Eating Cicada
Video
Chuck Holliday
Cicada Killer's Head Under a Microscope #1
Link to Image
Uglybug.org
Cicada Killer's Head Under a Microscope #2
Link to Image
Uglybug.org
Download Quicktime if you are unable to play video.

Relationships in Nature:

PREY/FOOD
PREDATORS
SHELTER
OTHER

Dogday Harvestfly

Chinese Mantid

Smooth Crabgrass

Dogday Harvestfly H

Common Milkweed

Least Shrew

Switchgrass

Bull Thistle

Great Crested Flycatcher

Red Clover

American Robin

Common Dandelion

Blue Jay

Big Brown Bat

Bullfrog

Eastern Mole

Northern Mockingbird

Relationship to Humans:

Cicada Killers are helpful to people since they eat cicadas. Cicadas can be pests when they eat trees and plants. Sometimes, these wasps can be annoying since they may dig burrows in lawns or gardens. Cicada Kilers rarely sting humans. Only the females have the ability to sting, and they only sting in defense if handled.

SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION

KINGDOM
Animal
PHYLUM
Arthropod
CLASS
Insect
ORDER
Hymenoptera
FAMILY
Sphecidae
GENUS
Sphecius
SPECIES
Sphecius speciosus

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