Cicada killer wasps emerge

While fierce looking, they are no harm

We are starting to see the most impressive wasp found in Ohio.

Eastern cicada killers (Specius speciosus) are large, solitary wasps. The cicada killer is one of the largest wasps in North America. Adults are approximately 1 and 1/8 to 1 and 5/8 inches long, very robust, with a black body marked with yellow to white stripes. The head and thorax are dark red, while the wings and legs are brownish. Typically, the male wasps are smaller than the females.

They overwinter as larvae in the soil, and the adults emerge in mid-June to early July. This emergence usually corresponds to the emergence of the dog-day cicada, our annual cicada that you hear making loud noises in the evenings during the hottest days of summer.

Adult wasps live approximately 60 to 75 days and feed on nectar, while the immature stages feed on annual cicadas provided to them by the female wasp. Males have especially aggressive territorial behavior, but they are incapable of stinging and die soon after mating.

Females feed, mate and dig burrows for several weeks before hunting for cicadas on nearby 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 burrow includes several cells where larvae are raised. Each cell is furnished with at least one cicada (sometimes two or three) and a single egg before being sealed off. Female eggs are provisioned with two or three cicadas while males only get one. As a result, male cicada killers are much smaller than the females. I guess that’s one way to take charge.

Males establish territories near nesting females and aggressively defend their territory from other intruding males. The eggs hatch in two to three days. Depending on the number of cicadas in its cell, the larva feeds for four to 10 days until only the cicada’s outer shell remains. Meal complete. During the fall, the larva spins a silken case, shrinks, and prepares to overwinter. Cicada killers have only a single generation per year.

Like other solitary wasps with no large colony to defend cicada killers usually ignore people as they go about their business of digging holes and hunting for cicadas. A mound of fine soil surrounds the burrow of each female cicada killer.

Since colonies of burrows are common, infested lawns usually contain several mounds that can smother the grass. However, they prefer to nest in areas of sparse vegetation, and rarely infest thick, vigorous turf. Cultural practices can prevent or eliminate the establishment of cicada killer colonies. Adequate lime and fertilizer applications accompanied by frequent watering to promote a thick growth of turf can usually eliminate a cicada killer nest in one or two seasons.

While cicada killers are large and rather fierce in appearance, they are considered beneficial, and control is rarely needed.

To learn more about their prey and lots of pictures of them, go to http://go.osu.edu/cicadakillers

To learn more about their life cycle and more details, go to: http://go.osu.edu/cicadakiller.

Scudier is an Ohio State University Extension Master Gardener volunteer.


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