A few weeks ago, I noticed a huge wasp flying near my front doorstep while I was out on a walk with my dog. This wasp had bright yellow and black stripes down it's body (like a bumblebee), and it was roughly the size of a small hummingbird. Upon spotting this winged visitor, I quickly urged my dog to get a move on and vacate the area. Now, I wouldn't say that I was "scared"; but, I do typically avoid wasps and bees as the thought of getting stung is not tops on my list of things to do for fun.
Credit: Picture taken by Nicholas Bonawitz, August 2008, Purdue University campus, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA.Credit: Picture taken by Nicholas Bonawitz, August 2008, Purdue University campus, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA.
After the coast had cleared, my dog an I made our way back into the house, and I jumped online to find out more about the large insect I had encountered.
Research Reveals the Truth Behind Unknown Wasp
Researching the wasp was actually much easier that I thought it would be. I pulled up Google, typed in "huge wasp", and at the top of the results page were several pictures of the wasp I had seen plus pages with titles like What are Those Huge Wasps in My Yard? I quickly opened up several of the links to learn more.
Apparently, these large wasps are called Cicada Killers (Sphecius speciosus) and are definitely members of the wasp family - in particular it is a digger type of wasp. They are called Cicada Killers because that's exactly what they feed upon - cicadas (or some people refer to them as locusts).
The female Cicada Killer digs holes into the ground where she lays one egg along with a cicada body (or 2 or 3) that she has caught and then drug underground to serve as food for her babies when they hatch. The eggs of a Cicada Killer only take about 1 to 2 days to hatch, they consume the harvested cicadas, and then the larvae spend the next year or so in a cocoon underground.
The adult Cicada Killers emerge from the ground around the time you see the cicadas skins appearing on trees, street posts, and scattered along the ground. And, then the whole process starts over again.Credit: Bill Buchanan, U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceCredit: Bill Buchanan, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
What to Do When You Find a Cicada Killer
It turns out that the Cicada Killer is one of the largest wasps found in Northern America, but not actually the largest. Google "Tarantula Hawk Wasp" if you are curious about one that is even bigger!
You should expect to see Cicada Killers in any region that has cicadas, and there are approximately 21 species worldwide. So, your chances of actually seeing one flying around is quite high. If you do see one, do not panic. The Cicada Killers are not aggressive wasps. In fact, the males do not even have stingers, and the females rarely use them. Researchers claim that you would need to do more than just shoo one away to provoke a stinging. But, if you grab one or step on it, then you may indeed get stung. From the sounds of it, a sting from the Cicada Killer would not be nearly as painful as one might assume considering its size.
If for some reason you do need to get rid of the Cicada Killer, Brian Pugh, from OSU suggests creating a soap spray to mist the adults with. Basically you mix a few tablespoons of liquid soap with about 1 gallon of water and then spray or pour it over the wasp body. The soapy water covers their body and suffocates them quickly.
So, whether you view these large insects as intriguing wonders or consider them to be neighborhood pests, do not fear the Cicada Killer!