Cicada Killer Wasps (June 26, 2013)

The insect of the week is the Cicada Killer wasp, also known as a sand hornet. The scientific name is Sphecius speciosus

Guest post by Sydney Glass, Integrated Pest Management Intern.


            Adults are usually between 1/2 an inch to 2 inches long. These wasps are large, and can be hairy on the thorax (middle) and the color is usually a red-black. The wings are transparent brown-orange color. The abdomen is black with yellow stripes, very similar to yellow jacket and hornet markings.  Females are larger than males.


            The adults usually emerge in summer around late June and die in October. The female cicada killer burrows in lawns and next to driveways creating a nest for her offspring. Her preferred location is well-drained sand or grass covered banks and hills. A full sun location with little vegetation is also preferred. There is only one generation per year and the adults do not overwinter. Cicada killers target cicadas, which they will capture and sting. Once stung, the wasp will drag the paralyzed cicada to its den where it will bury it with one egg. The wasp larvae can grow very large, so usually two cicadas are buried with one egg.


Only female cicada killers sting. Males will travel in groups, and are very curious and will go check out anything that moves or flies near them. Males are also very territorial and will chase humans and pets, but will not land on their target. Normally, the wasps are non-aggressive towards humans and will fly away when swatted at instead of attacking. Females will sting if aggressively handled, stepped of with a bare foot, or if caught in clothing. Both male and female can bite, but do not appear to grab human skin and bite.

If you would like to read more, here is a web page on the cicada killer courtesy of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.  

Cicada killer wasp. Photo Credit: Bart Drees, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension