Cicada Killer Wasp (Ground Digger Wasp)

Cicada Killer Wasps (Sphecius specious) are solitary wasps and appear during the summer months. The Cicada Killer Wasp appears in all states east of the Rocky Mountains (related species of Sphecius are found west of the Rocky Mountains). Cicada Killers is also known as a digger wasps. These wasps are large and can be intimidating, but are not aggressive like other wasps like yellow jackets in the social wasp category. They pollinate plants and are considered beneficial.

Cicada Killer Species in the Americas

  • Sphecius speciosus (Eastern Cicada Killer)-Found in Ontario, Canada, the U.S.A. Mexico and parts of Central America.
  • Sphecius convallis (Pacific Cicada Killer) -Found in the U.S.A. and Mexico.
  • Sphecius grandis (Western Cicada Killer) - Found in the U.S.A. Mexico and parts of Central America.
  • Sphecius hogardii (Caribbean Cicada Killer)- Found in Florida and Caribbean countries.
  • Sphecius spectabilis -Found in South America.

Cicada Killer Wasp Diet and Habits

The Cicada Killer Wasps will gravitate towards flowers, feeding of flower nectar. These wasps dig holes or burrows, preferably in a soft, sandy, and well-drained soil. They may be found on sloped terrains, flower beds, patio edges or sidewalks, and in the yard. The Cicada Killer Wasp stings Cicada (locusts) to paralyze them and feed them to the larvae. Many of the developing larvae may come out as adults the following year, so the numbers increase year by year. It is important to prevent and stop this cycle by using an insecticide granule.

The adult Cicada killers feed on flower nectar. Cicada Killer Wasps do not defend their nests like yellow jackets, which are social wasps.

Do Cicada Killers Sting ?

The female Cicada Killer Wasp is equipped to sting and eject venom into cicadas to feed them to their larvae. They will only sting if caught in clothing are caught by your bare hands. They are content with simply digging their holes and hunt for cicadas. The male Cicada Killers are smaller and will aggressively defend their territory from other intruding males.

cicada killer with cicadaA few days to a couple of weeks, the female Cicada Killer will drag the paralyzed cicadas, and the larvae will consume the live cicadas. A burrow may have up to 20 cells with 1-2 cicadas and one egg per cell. The egg hatches into larvae to feed on the Cicada. The larvae spin a cocoon afterward and enter a dormancy through the winter(overwinter) and pupate the following spring.
burrowA pile of soil may be found at the entrance As much as 100 cubic inches of soil may be brought to the surface as they make the tunnels/burrows. A female will dig a burrow that can be up to 10 inches deep and extend another 6 inches horizontally. The female Cicada Killlers hunt for cicadas lower limbs of trees and tree trunks. The female will sting it and carry or drag it to the burrow.


cicada killers and hornets

Cicada Killer can be up to 1.5 inches long; males are a little smaller than the females. It has a black abdomen with yellow markings and an orange tint to the wings. Cicada Killer Wasps are often confused as hornets or European wasps. Cicada killers may look like European hornets or Baldfaced hornets, but an overall color pattern, size, and shape differ.

Picture: NC Extension,Elsa Youngsteadt CC BY-NC - 4.0

Cicada Killer Prevention

Mechanical Prevention

Since Cicada Killer Wasps prefer digging in sparse vegetation, keeping a turf thick and well maintained will discourage them.

Recommended Insecticides

  • If you notice new holes or a developing nest, you can try applying Tempo Dust to the holes' entrance. When the holes are new, you still have the potential to kill the larvae and adults.
  • A more permanent and preventative method would be to apply Bifen LP Granules over the whole area and water it. The Bifen LP Granules would not yield immediate results, but stop them from returning the following year.