Cicada Killer Wasp

Actual Size: 1 ½”

Characteristics: Large, black abdomen with yellow markings and amber wings

Legs: 6

Antennae: Yes

Habitat: They prefer areas in full sun, nearby cicada-heavy areas. They tunnel underground, leaving a U-shaped appearance in the soil.

Habits:

  • Cicada killer wasps don’t care for drenched soil and prefer loose sand
  • Despite their menacing appearance, they aren’t very aggressive and not likely to sting
  • If they do sting, their venom is mild and not as painful as more social wasps

Cicada Killer Wasps in Virginia

Cicada killers are very large, about 1 ½ inches in length with amber wings. This makes the cicada killer wasps one of the largest wasp species in North America. Their body is black or brown with bright yellow markings on the abdomen. These wasps dig holes or burrows, preferably in soft, sandy, and well-drained soil. They may be found on sloped terrains, in flower beds, along patio edges or sidewalks, as well as in the yard. Female wasps often attack cicadas in flight, sting them until they become paralyzed and take them back to the nest to feed her larvae. Cicada killers are found throughout the U.S., Mexico, and parts of Central America.

Cicada Killer Wasp Habitat & Life Stages

Cicada killers appear as adults in late June or July and are mostly seen visiting flowers or digging burrows in sandy or light soil. The cicada killer nests in the ground near cicada populations. Frequently, dozens of their burrows are located in lawns and on golf courses. Males appear as adults for a week or two before females, spending their time feeding on flowers and establishing territories. When females emerge from the soil, mating takes place and the female will begin to dig a burrow or nesting site. The female then seeks a cicada in the trees, stinging and paralyzing the insect with her venom. After stinging the cicada, the female wasp carries it back to her burrow, sometimes a hundred yards away.

The female Cicada Killer lays one egg in a cell with one, two, or three cicadas, then seals the chamber. The eggs hatch in two to three days, producing larvae that feed for two weeks, which then spin a cocoon of silk mixed with sand or soil. The cocoons remain in the chamber throughout the winter, emerging as adults the following summer.

Cicada Killer Wasp Behavior & Threats

Unlike many types of wasps, cicada killers are not very aggressive and rarely sting humans or pets, unless they are disturbed. Males are aggressive and territorial but do not possess a stinger. Females are difficult to provoke but may sting if disturbed. A sting from a cicada killer can be painful and their venom may cause an allergic reaction in some people. Cicada killers can be a nuisance if they are found on your property. Female wasps dig fairly large burrows, making quite a large mess near plants and vegetation. The burrowing behavior of this wasp can damage the roots of plants and make some structures, like walkways and pathways, unstable.

If you notice cicada killer wasp activity near your property, it’s important to always contact your local wasp control team.