What Are Cicada Wasps?

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Cicada killer wasps are giant parasitic wasps so named for the choice menu item for their young: cicadas. They capture and use cicadas as hosts for their eggs and as the newborn grub’s first meal. There is only a few species of cicada wasps in the United States, but they are a common insect. They will usually ignore people if they are not disturbed. Cicada wasps provide beneficial services by helping to control the annual cicada population.

Description

Cicada killer wasps are dark brown or black and have yellow markings on many of the segments of their abdomen. They have amber colored wings. These wasps can grow up to 2 inches in length.

Habitat and Range

The range of the cicada killer wasp extends east of the Rocky Mountains. A species of killer cicada wasps in the western United States, called the western cicada killer wasp, is the largest wasp in California. Cicada wasps are often seen hovering around flowers, feeding on the nectar, or burrowing their way through light or sandy soil. Sometimes they choose sports fields, planting beds or well-drained lawn to dig their burrows, but they prefer areas that are sparse with vegetation.

Behavior

Cicada killer wasps ignore humans more often than not. Male cicadas during mating are irritated quicker than females and are more aggressive. These wasps live out their lives alone instead of living in a colony. Every summer, the females will dig out tunnels 24-inches long or more with cells at the end in preparation for their annual cicada hunt. Once a female wasp captures her targeted cicada (usually during mid-flight), she will sting it and carry the paralyzed insect back to her underground burrow. An individual cell is stuffed with the immobile cicada. The wasp deposits a single egg over the cicada (sometimes the wasp will put up to three cicadas in a cell) and will then seal the cell closed and won’t ever come back to it again.

Life Cycle

After a few days, a grub emerges from the egg and begins feeding on the cicada. It will construct a cocoon and spend the winter underground inside the cocoon. During the spring, it pupates and then hatches late in the summer. The cicada killer wasp tunnels its way to freedom, but only lives for about two to six weeks above ground. For 90 percent of their lives, cicada killer wasps are larva living underground. They pattern their life cycle around the life cycle of cicadas.

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