Neighborhood Nature

Our Family's Nature Blog

Cicada Killer Wasps Are Back! August 16, 2009

On this morning’s walk through south Oak Park, I got my first close look at a Cicada Killer Wasp for 2009:

This Cicada Killer Wasp kept perching on a plant overlooking a rather barren garden. That made me suspect it might be a male, guarding a space where he hoped females might dig their burrows.

This Cicada Killer Wasp kept perching on a plant overlooking a rather barren garden. That made me suspect it might be a male, guarding a space where he hoped females might dig their burrows. (The wasp must have been about an inch-and-a-half long, but it looked much larger in person!)

Most of the Cicada Killer Wasps I’ve seen have been near burrows in bare soil, like in a construction site or at the edge of a playground sandpit. In fact, just yesterday I was scanning the Columbus Park golf course, looking for birds, when I spotted a Cicada Killer Wasp at the edge of a sand trap. Then I saw another — and another — and another — until I counted 25 Cicada Killers flying just above that sand trap. Then I looked at the next sand trap west and saw at least 25 more. (Now there’s a hazard that might scare even Tiger Woods!)

This wasp was behaving differently. It kept perching on the top of an 18-inch-tall plant, flying off when I tried to take its photo, then landing again as I pulled back. Once it hovered right in front of my face, looking me in the eye, before returning to its perch. This made me wonder — was this a male Cicada Killer guarding some sort of territory? If so, I’d never seen one of those before — but how could I tell for sure? I decided to check my photos for a stinger — I expected a female would have one, but a male would not. This is what I found:

The tip of the Cicada Killer Wasp had what looked like a small stinger -- not as big as I expected.

The tip of the Cicada Killer Wasp's butt had what looked like a small stinger -- not as big as I expected.

I’ve seen really long stingers on dead Cicada Killers, but this one looked really short. What was going on?

I searched the web for answers and found some useful photos and a surprising fact (here). Female Cicada Killers can retract their long stingers inside their bodies, so you don’t always see stingers on live female wasps. However, male Cicada Killers have a pseudostinger — a fake stinger, one that doesn’t work — that you can see when they are alive.

So, it seems I really did see a male Cicada Killer in that south Oak Park garden. Next time I walk past there, I’ll look for females and burrows.


Here are some websites about Cicada Killer Wasps:

Five-year-old Ethan holding dead Cicada Killer Wasps

Five-year-old Ethan holding dead Cicada Killer Wasps


23 Responses to “Cicada Killer Wasps Are Back!”

  1. Veryl Williams Says:

    Is there a bird like the purple martin that will attack and eat the Cicada Killer Wasp (CKW)? The CKW is putting numerous nests in the west side of my lawn. I Was thinking about purting a few PM homes on my property to have them eliminate/reduce the CKW in July – August in Morton Pa.

    • Here’s what says:
      “Predators of Cicada Killers are the same as those of other wasps, including birds, shrews, and mantids.”
      Maybe you should get a bunch of mantid egg cases!
      Just a thought,

    • wpr Says:

      Even though all I’ve read,they so no bird seeks them out…..but I have witnessed catbirds dive bombing their area right outside our back window..between the high vegetation and catbirds finally no C.K.’s this season…….Awesome

  2. Deecin Says:

    I found this site as part of a Google search on Cicada Killers. I had just witnessed a terrible angry buzzing fight to the death between a cicada and a Cicada Killer.

    Anyway I love your sight. What a great project to do with your family. I have bookmarked it for future enjoyment.

    Deecin from Maryland

  3. BV Says:

    I have seen these scary insects now for two years. They made their homes in my retaining wall in front of my house. I took it in to our local shops and no could tell me what it was. Thank you so much!

  4. mike Says:

    Cumberland and Lawrence Jewel has 3 females burrowing now….they’re some big suckers

  5. Pete Says:

    I forun a Cicada Killer in Dunedin FL. Never have seen one.

  6. john phillips Says:

    What can be used to kill them, I have a lot of them that are under my stoop and concrete walkway. Regular wasp spray does not seem to bother them for very long.

    • Joe Says:

      Some wasp spray does, some does not. The foaming ones usually do not. Try a different brand (like Spectracide, or Kill Mate) and see if you get better results. I use Spectracide, and the CKW is dead within 30 seconds every time.

      Last night I found one digging in my lawn and I happened to have just run out of spray – so I grabbed a bottle of Clorox and sprayed the bugger (I had to get much closer because Clorox bottles spray only a foot or two). Killing results were just as good. I recommend Clorox if you’re not afraid to get close.

      Be sure to water the area you spray afterwards to dilute the poison, or your grass will be dead by morning.

      • Damon Says:

        Why would you want to kill this creature? They don’t cause any harm to humans and they are quite interesting to watch. Your lawn isn’t going to be effected that much by their burrowing, consider it aerating. I just think its ignorant to kill insects like this for which you know nothing about. There such a nuisance got to kill them, in no way can I live with nature in my back yard!

  7. Ryan Says:

    for all those looking to get rid of the cicada killer they leave around mid septmeberm the females are the only harmful ones but only if there agitated, which is very rare

  8. Sharon Says:

    I had a cicada killer wasp fly thru my driver’s side window right into my car while driving . First thought was a bee on steriods.. times three or a small hummingbird. I can not believe the size of the wasp. What an experience..

    • devon harper Says:

      I don’t mean to laugh but your post cracked me up!! I would have totally lost it if one of those flew in my car while driving! I was just looking them up because i have been seeing this BIG bee in my front yard for the last couple of days and I was scared for my kids to play out there. I feel better after reading about them but i still DO NOT want them hanging around! I am not a fan of any kind of bee especially one the size of a humming bird!

  9. Allison Says:

    We have probably 100 of them near our house in Springfield, VA. They’re huge – close to 2″ long. Was able to get a photo today of a female paralysing a cicada.

  10. Nora Says:

    We live in South Oak Park (Home and Harvard) and saw a Cicada Killer flying with a Cicada this morning. It looked to be about 2 inches long and was struggling to fly and dropped the Cicada into our kiddie pool. Then it kept diving back into the area to try and find the Cicada it dropped. It disappeared for about an hour and then came back to the spot, looking for it’s lost kill. We decided to go back inside because the wasp was really weaving in and around the kids and I didn’t want to take any chances. I would say they are the size of a large dragonfly or small hummingbird. This is the 5th type of wasp we have seen in our yard. I’m VERY creeped out right now (even though I do appreciate the biodiversity present in Oak Park). 🙂

  11. Charles Says:

    The sting was not thrust out when photo was taken. The sting is long and formidable like that of a tarantula hawk, a species of similar size. You’re looking at a retracted stinger, like the antenna of a car when retracted into its housing.

  12. Casey Says:

    I have had Cicada Killers in my Midwest backyard now for 3 years. They apparently love disturbed soil which makes sense since we just built the house and graded the landscape 3 years ago. They are impressive creatures and the posts are correct, they do not sting. I have done nothing but aggravate them for the past three years trying to get them to leave and haven’t ever had one even attempt to land on me. They have a lot of bark but no bite. They will dive bomb you if you get close to their burrows but don’t worry, that is the limit of their attack. Even though they are fairly harmless, these creatures will turn a backyard into a scary place for children. How can you enjoy the outdoors when wasps are constantly swarming in your face? For that reason I’ve been attempting to get them to leave.

    This is no easy feat by the way. They are persistent little buggers but I have gotten their populations much more under control. The one major successful tool I’ve discovered is liquid dish soap. I fill a garden hose dispenser up, put the setting at the lowest number available that still produces suds and get to work. I wait until dusk when they are tired from the days activities and are less active. I watch for them to land close by then squirt them. They die nearly instantly. Apparently the soap gums up their thorax and suffocates them to death. In fact, soap will kill nearly all flying insects. Be careful around plants though because the soap will harm them if it is not cleaned off.

    This is the third year and I’d say the numbers are cut to 30% from year one and it is all due to an organic method!

  13. gmosesx Says:

    Saw one fly up from her hole in the ground this morning. Wow. Nature does astonishing things. Nice to read about these creatures from people who live and let live.

  14. Bud B. Says:

    I have several nests (more every day) appearing in my yard in Johnsburg, IL.

    I don’t really want to kill them, especially if they are generally harmless, but I also don’t want a hundred of them buzzing around my yard either. I have two small dogs and will have to keep them away from that part of the yard. This is the first time I have encountered them after living here for 18 years.

  15. Chik Says:

    I have them for three years. They are digging under my driveway and stairs. Got so bad I had to by bee hat. Mail was flying in to my face giving me panic atacs. These year I have decided I am not going to lose my expensive landscape to these bugs. My hobby told me I schoud of bought a stock in bugsprays thouse sit all over my garage. After killing 7 of then in 30 min I rolled landscape fabric all over my hill. And then screen for windows on top of that stapled it to the ground tucked it in under pacers. Ten sitting in my lawn chair I watch how disappointed bugs had to fly away in the search of new grounds. “Sorry naboirs” they are coming your way,not mine. This fall I will plant bushes and trees may be install statue as center piece then I redo my screen for windows covering every inch between plants and mulch very havy. Try to chew on that.

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