Notes from the Land: Cicada Killer Wasp

By Lynette Anderson, Belwin Interpretive Naturalist & Restoration Specialist

The Cicada Killer Wasp: While this sounds like an episode of the Twilight Zone, the cicada killer wasp (Specius speciosus), is actually a native, solitary wasp. True to their name, they hunt and capture cicadas, which they store in their underground burrows.

Cicadas are an insect that creates the loud buzzing sound in late summer. They feed on sap from deciduous trees and lay eggs in the bark. When the larva emerges it drops to the ground and spends many years living in the soil. When it leaves the soil as an adult, it becomes prey for the cicada killer wasp.

The cicada killer wasp, at first glance, is a scary sight to see! They are robust in size (up to 2 inches long), black and yellow in color (similar to yellow jackets and hornets), with reddish wings, and, on the female, a pronounced stinger.

These are fairly docile insects, however. Males have no stinger and females are only interested in stinging and paralyzing cicadas.

Female cicada killer wasps go hunting for cicadas in nearby shrubs and trees. When they find one, they paralyze it with a sting, turn it upside down and begin the arduous journey of lugging it back to the burrow.

Upon arrival, the female wasp drags the cicada down into a nest cell where she will lay an egg on the cicada and close the cell. The eggs will hatch in one or two days, with the cicada serving as tasty food for the new grub.