Killer cicada wasp control

Cicada Killer Control: How to Get Rid of Cicada Killers

Cicada Killers are a common pest encountered by homeowners, especially those living in the warmer parts of the country. Cicada Killers can be alarming to see at first glance because they look like an oversized bee flying around in yards or gardens. The presence of Cicada Killers can plague your garden or yard and make for an unpleasant time outdoors.

Cicada Killers are named after their tendency to hunt down and kill Cicadas and Locusts, paralyzing them with their stingers and carrying their bodies down to their underground holes to feast upon. Though not as aggressive as wasps and hornets, Cicada killers will sting as a last resort out of self-defense if disturbed. Combine their large scary size, their ability to sting, and their habit of digging unsightly holes in yards to nest, this pest can be quite troublesome to deal with.

Our DIY Cicada Killer treatment guide will show you exactly how to eliminate a Cicada Killer infestation easily. Follow the steps below carefully and use the recommended products to the side and you will be guaranteed to make drive Cicada Killers out from your yard.

Identification

Encountering a Cicada Killer can be frightening and for good reason–they are huge! Cicada killers can grow to as big as three inches in length. They stand out not only in size but also in their menacing appearance with most Cicada Killers having a black body and a bright yellow stripe around the abdomen, large brownish-orange wings and bulging red eyes. Cicada killers are also known as Ground Digger Wasps because of their tendency to live in holes they make in the ground, where they live and nest.

Use the description and image above to help you in identifying Cicada Killers on your property. If you are having trouble, reach out to us and one of our pest control experts will help you to properly ID the pest as well as offer you product recommendations for control.

Inspection

Where To Inspect

Cicada Killers like to hang around in backyards, flower beds and grassy areas, which is why homeowners frequently run into them. However, the presence of Cicada Killers may not indicate that a nest is in the area. Cicada Killers like to burrow their nests in the ground, especially in sandy soils.

What To Look For

Look for Cicada Killers themselves and observe their flight tendencies. If you find one, follow it closely and they may lead you to where their nest is if it is set up in your yard. Once you have identified their nests you’re ready for treatment.

Treatment

If you are up to the job, it’s best to gear up and have protective clothing and gear on to keep you safe from potential harm. If you know where the Cicada Killers are nesting, treat the hole directly with Sylo Insecticide, then apply a broadcast yard treatment of Sylo Insecticide to address any other Cicada Killers that frequent the yard.

Remember to first read all product labels and follow the application instructions on these labels, and stay safe by wearing personal protective equipment.

Step 1 – Direct Nest Treatment With Sylo Insecticide

Sylo Insecticide is a synthetic pyrethroid insecticide that contains the active ingredient Cypermethrin and serves as a good contact insecticide that will effectively kill Cicada Killers. This chemical is a residual insecticide and should be used if you have located the nest so you can spray directly inside the tunnels. The chemical traces allow the larvae to get killed as well.

You will use a 0.1% emulsion (0.51 fl. oz) of Sylo Insecticide in a sprayer with a gallon of water to spot treat the nests you have located, making sure to apply to all of them in one visit. Apply the product as a pinstream directly into the nest, preferably in the evening time as this is when it is most likely that all the adult Cicada Killers are inside. Proceed with caution and have on protective long-sleeve clothing as there is a chance Cicada Killers may come out and try to sting you.

Step 2 – Broadcast Sylo over your Yard

If you are unable to locate any nests, or they are hard to detect, a broadcast treatment of a Sylo Insecticide will work best to treat Cicada Killers on your property. Sylo also has the benefit of a long residual effect that continues to kill for up to 90 days after application.

Measure the square footage of your lawn to determine how much Sylo you need to cover the entire area. To apply Sylo, simply mix water in a hose-end sprayer then add Sylo at the same 0.1% emulsion rate of (0.51 fl. oz.) at a treatment volume of 2 to 10 gallons per 1,000 sq. ft.

Broadcast the Sylo mixture spraying your entire yard and garden as opposed to spot treating. Use a fan spray setting to get nice uniform coverage.

Prevention

After successfully getting rid of Cicada Killers from your yard, you want to make sure they don’t make a return. Chances are, Cicada Killers may have laid eggs before succumbing to insecticides and soon the eggs will hatch, bringing on a new generation of Cicada Killers creating problems. Also there may be Cicada Killer pheromones left behind that may draw other Cicada Killers to your property.

Preventative broadcast treatments of Sylo over your yard quarterly would be your best bet in keeping Cicada Killers away, not to mention, Reclaim IT also treats 70+ other pests The applications last up to 90 days so you can keep Cicada Killers gone all-season or all year long with routine applications.

Key Takeaways

  • Cicada Killers are a large wasp species that is harmless but can be annoying to have flying around your home and garden.
  • Our top recommendation for treating Cicada Killers is to locate the nest and Sylo Insecticide. Sylo Insecticide should then be broadcast over your yard to address other Cicada Killers not in the nest and help to prevent future Cicada Killer outbreaks on your property.
  • Remember to be properly dressed for treatment with long-sleeve clothing to protect against possible stings.

Cicada Killer Wasps

ENTFACT-004: Cicada Killer Wasps | Download PDF

by Lee Townsend, Extension Entomologist
University of Kentucky College of Agriculture

Mild mannered female cicada killer wasps are active across Kentucky during the summer, intent on their tasks of 1) digging underground burrows and 2) provisioning them with paralyzed cicadas that will be food for their grub-like larvae. The wasps will be very focused on these tasks for several weeks.

Fig 1. A female cicada killer approaches her burrow with a cicada.

Tall grass does not seem to keep them from locating the entrance.

Why are cicada killers so abundant in some areas? These solitary wasps choose sites with specific characteristics: well-drained, light-textured soils in full sunlight that are near trees harboring cicadas. They may dig along sidewalk or patio edges, in flower beds, gardens, or lawns. As much as 100 cubic inches of soil may be brought to the surface as tunnels are formed. This can be unsightly in highly managed turf and the accumulations may smother grass. Sometimes skunks may dig up areas that have been extensively tunneled by the wasps to feed on cicadas and wasp larvae.

Large aggregations of cicada killers can build up over time. An estimated 40% of the developing larvae (a dozen or more per tunnel) may emerge as adults the following year so numbers can increase rapidly.

Cicada Killer Stinger

Are cicada killers dangerous? Females have significant stingers which they plunge into cicadas to inject venom that paralyzes them. Without doubt, their stings are painful. However, they are not aggressive and do not have nest-guarding instinct of honey bees and hornets. You can walk through areas where they are active without attracting attention.

The buzzing noise that the wasps make and the warning colors on their wings and bodies intimidate and discourage predators that see them as a large meal. When attacked, females will use their stinger to protect themselves.

Males lack stingers but are territorial. They will approach anything that enters “their area”, including walkers, people mowing or using weed-eaters, or riding tractors. They may hover and challenge trespassers but are harmless. That can be easy to forget when staring down a big wasp.

Will cicada killers harm pets? Some dogs and cats may catch cicada killers but usually only once. Those that pick females probably will be stung, remember it, and associate the experience with the buzzing sound and warning colors. Some may have a severe reaction to the venom, especially if stung in the mouth. If that is suspected, the animal should be taken to a veterinarian immediately. Wasp flight begins in early morning and can continue until dusk. Wasps remain in their burrows at night so encounters can be avoided by managing the activity of the pet.

Can cicada killers cause damage?

Female cicada killers dig extensive tunnels where their young will be raised, displacing several pounds of soil in the process. Occasionally, it can result in some damage, such destabilizing a brick patio laid on sand. This is an instance when control may be needed.

Fig. 3. Sand excavated by cicada killer wasp

Cicada killers may dig in the loose soil in vegetable gardens or flower beds. A burrow at the base of a plant may disrupt its root system. If only a few plants are affected, drenching the area around their bases with water is probably the best approach. The wasps do not like wet soil so they may abandon the site. Watering the plants thoroughly will settle soil back around the roots giving them a chance to survive. Do not drench soil around plants with an insecticide mix because it may damage the roots and/or result in a residue in the plant.

Cicada killers may begin to dig in sandy areas on playgrounds or in golf course sand traps. If practical, keep these areas wet or regularly churn the sand to discourage wasps from establishing their tunnels.

Fig. 4. Cicada killer wasp burrowing activity recorded during Kingwood, WV study (1989).

Can cicada killer wasps be controlled?
Control may be desirable in situations where physical damage is occurring or the presence of the insects is causing significant distress. The wasps were controlled in a West Virginia study by sprays of the pyrerthroid insecticides (cyfluthrin or cyhalothrin). Applications were made directly into the burrows or only to the entrances where the wasps contacted the insecticides as they entered and left. Broadcast sprays over the area where cicada killers were nesting were not effective in reducing their numbers.

Will cicada killers every go away? These wasps will stay and thrive where their basic needs are met. Even if aggressive control measures kill the inhabitants, the site will remain attractive to new settlers in ensuing years.

Cicada Killer Burrow

What are the tunnels like?

Cicada killer tunnels usually have a distinctive U-shaped collar of loose soil around the opening. Individual tunnels are can range from 30- to 70-inches long and may run 12- to 15-inches below the surface. The first chamber is about a foot or so from the entrance. There are an average of 15 egg-shaped side chambers an a tunnel, each containing 1 to 3 paralyzed cicadas and an egg which hatches in 2 to 3 days. The grub-like wasp larva feeds for about 10 days, leaving only the cicada’s outer shell. During the fall, the larva spins a silken case, shrinks, and prepares to overwinter. Development will be completed when wasps emerge next summer. There is one generation each year.

Cicada Killer Detail

Revised: 7/12

CAUTION! Pesticide recommendations in this publication are registered for use in Kentucky, USA ONLY! The use of some products may not be legal in your state or country. Please check with your local county agent or regulatory official before using any pesticide mentioned in this publication.

Of course, ALWAYS READ AND FOLLOW LABEL DIRECTIONS FOR SAFE USE OF ANY PESTICIDE!

Images: Ric Bessin, University of Kentucky Entomology

Evict burrowing cicada killers from your yard

A lush, healthy lawn is the best way to keep cicada killers from burrowing in your yard.

S phecius speciosus, otherwise known as cicada killers, are 2 1/2 inch long, black-and-yellow burrowing wasps. Despite their formidable appearance, these wasps are basically harmless.

The aggressive males do not have stingers, and the timid females, which fly close to the ground and avoid humans whenever possible, seldom sting, even when provoked. Nonetheless, the burrowing activities of a single female can wreak havoc on a sparse lawn, while the dive-bombing antics of the males can make it uncomfortable to share your yard with them. Getting rid of cicada killers can be a simple process, if they are relatively new to your area.

Step 1: Cicada killers burrow in dry, exposed soils and sands. Growing a lush, healthy lawn is the best defense against them. Before cicada season hits in August, address any bare patches of lawn by seeding or mulching before the wasps have a chance to nest.

Step 2: If cicada killers are present in your yard, follow the low-flying female to her nest. Her burrows are easily identified by the horse shoe mound of dirt surrounding their opening.

Step 3: Once the burrows are located, use a shovel to fill in the holes and hydrate the area heavily with water. It is best to do this during the day while the females are away.

Step 4: Once the burrows have been filled back in and watered down, cover the area with a thick layer of cedar mulch or stone. Cicada killers will seldom burrow into mulched areas and cannot burrow into stone or rock. Keep the area watered for several more days to discourage any further activity.

Step 5: If the burrows are in an area that cannot be covered effectively, sprinkling Sevin Dust around the opening of the hole may help but is typically ineffective, as only one female wasp inhabits each burrow at any given time.

Step 6: The female wasp lays her eggs in each burrow and drags a cicada or two into the burrow for her spawn to feed on over the winter. Filling in the hole will get rid of the current cicada killer, but you will need to watch for early signs of activity the following year to prevent her offspring from nesting in the same general area once they emerge from their winter home.

Eastern Cicada Killer Wasp

Facts, Identification, & Control

Scientific Name

Sphecius speciosus

Appearance

What Do They Look Like?

  • Characteristics: People often mistake European hornets for cicada killers.
  • Body: The abdomen, the portion of the body immediately behind the insect’s “thread-waist,” is black with yellow markings on three segments. Their six legs are pale red to orange and the wings are a shaded brown color.
  • Size: Adults are very large, approximately 2 inches long. Males of this wasp species are two times smaller than females.

How Did I Get Eastern Cicada Killer Wasps?

When searching for nesting spots, eastern cicada killer wasps generally look for areas in full sunlight near trees where cicadas live. They dig tunnels in the ground, causing unsightly damage to flower beds and lawns. Eastern cicada killer wasps breed rapidly, so populations quickly become overwhelming.

How Serious Are Eastern Cicada Killer Wasps?

Will They Sting?

With an average size of one and a half inches long, an eastern cicada killer wasp looks very menacing and scary. However, they are relatively non-aggressive and are not likely to sting unless given no option but to defend themselves. Males are territorial and will dive-bomb if provoked, but they cannot sting. Females have stingers, but don’t defend the nest as aggressively as males. Their stings produce a very mild venom that is far less painful than the sting of many social wasps, like yellow jackets.

Panic Inducing

The perceived danger of the cicada killers, while exaggerated, is a real issue that homeowners and managers of public places must consider. These insects look vicious and dangerous, so people will describe seeing a cicada killer in terms like, “the biggest yellow jacket I’ve ever seen in my life!” Therefore, control is sometimes necessary.

How Do I Get Rid of Eastern Cicada Killer Wasps

What You Can Do

Since these insects are not likely to sting, the homeowner may elect to apply an insecticidal dust in and around the burrow entrance when first noticing cicada killer activity in the soil. When choosing to use insecticides, always read and carefully follow the product’s label directions. If there is a heavy population located in a sensitive public area, the best thing to do is contact your pest management professional for their service.

What Orkin Does

Your local Orkin technician is trained to help manage eastern cicada killer wasps and similar pests. Since every building or home is different, your Orkin technician will design a unique program for your situation.

Orkin can provide the right solution to keep eastern cicada killer wasps in their place…out of your home, or business.

Behavior, Diet, & Habits

What Do They Eat?

Cicada killer larvae feed on cicadas and other insects. Adults will feed on flower nectar, fermented sap from trees, and other large plants in their habitat.

Where Do They Live?

Since cicada killers don’t live in colonies and they build their nests underground, they are considered solitary wasps. The burrow may seem pretty simple on the surface, but there is a lot of construction done below ground. The burrow is dug about a foot deep with cells for the eggs that will become the next generation.

Other than seeing a cicada killer, which is an awesome, somewhat daunting site, the presence of excavated soil in the shape of a “U” at the burrow entrance means a construction project is in progress. Some of the likely burrowing sites are:

  • Edges of concrete slabs
  • Golf course sand traps
  • Lawns
  • Sandy areas around playground equipment
  • Sparsely vegetated slopes

Life Cycle

Larvae

The cicada killer’s life cycle begins as a grub-like larva that has spent the winter in the protection of the burrow dug by the female wasp the previous year. In the spring, the grub changes into the pupal stage, which is then followed by the emergence of adults in the early summer or late spring.

Adults

After adults emerge, the female feeds, mates, and sets out making burrows to house her offspring. Upon completion of the cells, the female begins hunting for cicadas or other insects that become food for the larva in each cell.

Egg Laying

Once she finds the prey, she stings and paralyzes it, flies back to the burrow, and lays one egg on the prey insect. After egg laying, the female pushes the prey into each egg chamber and seals the chamber. In about 2-4 days the egg hatches and the newly hatched larva feeds on the prey for about 1-2 weeks. After feeding is completed, the larva builds a silk cocoon and prepares to overwinter.

Lifespan

There is only one generation of cicada killers each year. After mating, the males die. The females die after completing their work laying eggs and providing food for the eggs that will hatch into larvae.

Cicada Killer Wasp

Eastern cicada killers (Specius speciosus) are large, solitary wasps belonging to the family Sphecidae. This species of wasp occurs in the eastern and midwestern states of North America and southward into Central America. There are several other species occurring throughout the United States, including the Pacific, western and Caribbean cicada killers. As indicated by their name, these wasps hunt annual cicadas. Cicada killers rarely sting humans unless someone tries to handle one. However, homeowners may become alarmed because of their exceptionally large size and activity around nesting sites. Males have especially aggressive territorial behavior, but they are incapable of stinging. Females may sting when handled roughly, but typically, they are mild-mannered and will fly away when disturbed. Cicada killers are generally considered beneficial, and control is rarely needed except when wasps are present in unwanted areas.

Identification

Adult cicada killer male guarding territory.

The cicada killer is one of the largest wasps in North America. Adults are approximately 1⅛ to 1⅝ inches long, very robust, with a black body marked with yellow to white stripes. The head and thorax are dark red, while the wings and legs are brownish. Typically, the male wasps are smaller than the females. Their coloration may resemble that of yellowjackets and other wasps or hornets. Their distinct warning colors and loud buzzing make them intimidating to both predators and humans.

Life Cycle and Habits

Adult wasp emergence generally occurs by the first week in July and may continue throughout the summer months. Adults live approximately 60–75 days and feed on nectar and other plant exudates. The males typically die soon after mating. The female wasps prefer to dig new nesting holes in full sun, where well-drained soils exist and vegetation is sparse. They may burrow near sidewalks or patio edges in home lawns. They are also commonly found on sand-based golf course greens and tees or in sand traps, and in sandy playgrounds or volleyball courts. Cicada killer females can cause unsightly soil mounds, often displacing several pounds of soil while tunneling. Each female digs an individual burrow 6–10 inches deep and one-half inch wide. The soil is dislodged by her mouth, and loose particles are kicked back using her hind legs. The excess soil thrown out of the burrow forms a U-shaped mound at the entrance. Some females may nest around planters and flower beds or under shrubs, ground cover, etc.

Cicada killers may tunnel as much as six inches deep and another six inches horizontally. The female cicada killer paralyzes her prey by stinging the cicada at the base of the foreleg, and then dragging it to the oval-shaped chamber. She then lays one egg on each cicada in each cell. At the end of the burrow are usually three to four cells where one to two cicadas are placed in each cell with an individual egg. If all the cells are filled, secondary tunnels are constructed and provisioned. A single burrow may eventually have 10–20 cells. The burrows remain open while provisioned by the female. Male cicada killers are very territorial and will approach humans, animals and other males, trying to enter the nesting area. While they may appear aggressive, they are harmless. Typically, eggs hatch in about two to three days. Upon hatching, the larvae begin feeding on the paralyzed annual cicada provided to them. The larvae complete their development in 4–14 days. During the fall, the grublike larvae spin a silken cocoon for protection from the ensuing winter. The larvae will pupate and emerge as adults the following summer. Cicada killers have only a single generation per year.

Female cicada killer with captured cicada. U-shaped tunnels created by female wasp during burrowing.

Control Measures

Cicada killers are generally considered beneficial, as they feed on cicadas, which can damage young trees. Usually it is not necessary to control cicada killer wasps unless their presence is a nuisance. Sometimes these wasps can be troublesome in high-traffic home and commercial areas such as around swimming pools and golf course greens, tees and bunkers. Sometimes they may fly erratically near people, causing panic. Males may actually defend their territory by dive-bombing people’s heads and shoulders!

Cicada killers can be hit with a badminton or tennis racket while in flight, or they can be stepped on as they are entering or exiting their burrow. By brushing away the pile of dirt at the entrance of the burrow, the female will become disoriented and won’t be able to find her way back to the nest location. If chemical control is necessary, locate the nests during the daylight hours. Treat after dark or before dawn, when female wasps are in their nests and it is cool, ideally less than 60°F. During darkness, use a flashlight covered with red cellophane for lighting. Protective clothing is strongly recommended.

One can apply an insecticidal dust onto each nest entrance if the infestation is not too widespread. Do not disturb the burrow, as the wasp must physically contact the insecticide for it to be effective. Sprays are rarely effective because the residue is not sufficient to kill the adults as they walk through the treated area. Repeat treatments may be needed for two to three weeks if new wasps move into the area. At close range, adults can be killed with a wasp aerosol spray. A professional, licensed pest control operator should be used, especially if one is sensitive to stings. Before using any insecticide, always read the label directions.

This fact sheet is a revision of HYG-2078A.

Cicada Killer Wasp

Entomology Insect Notes

Biology

Skip to Biology

Cicada killers are solitary, meaning that each female typically builds her own nest and hunts prey to feed her own offspring (unlike yellow jackets, hornets, and paper wasps, which live in social colonies). Even so, cicada killers are often found in groups, since many wasps are attracted to the same suitable nesting areas. These are usually sparsely vegetated, southeast-facing slopes or unmortared retaining walls, with plentiful cicadas in nearby deciduous trees.

Male wasps appear a week or two before females, and spend their time feeding at flowers or sap and establishing territories. They perch on vegetation or stones and make brief, hovering flights to inspect newcomers, including people, pets, and other wasps. Although these inspections may be intimidating, male wasps cannot sting.

When females emerge, they mate once and then begin to prepare nest burrows, which can be up to 40 inches long and include about 16 individual chambers. One female wasp can excavate nearly a half-gallon of soil for a single burrow, and she makes about four burrows in her lifetime. She piles the tailings in a neat, U-shaped mound at the entrance of each burrow, and this soil can damage turf and other plants.

Cicada killers are also beneficial, in that they hunt dog-day cicadas in the genus Tibicen. The cicadas are herbivores of deciduous trees. Adult female cicadas damage tree branches by laying eggs in them, while cicada nymphs develop underground while consuming sap from tree roots.

In her lifetime, one female cicada killer can gather 100 or more cicadas–each of which weighs about twice as much as she does. She paralyzes the cicada with her stinger and hauls it back to her nest. She brings one cicada for each of her male offspring, and two or three for each female. (The wasp knows in advance the sex of the next egg she will lay). Then she lays a cigar-shaped egg, about 1/8 inch long, at the base of the cicada’s middle leg and seals up the nest chamber that contains it.

The eggs hatch in a day or two and the long-necked larvae develop quickly, each one consuming a whole cicada in less than four days. Upon completing its meal, the larva spins a silken cocoon and enters diapause, remaining in a suspended state until the following May or June, when it pupates. One may occasionally unearth a cicada killer cocoon; it is brown, about 1.25 inches long, and ringed with a band of pores around its equator.

Entrance to a cicada killer burrow between stones in a retaining wall.

Elsa Youngsteadt CC BY-NC – 4.0

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Entrance to a cicada killer burrow between stones in a retaining wall.

Elsa Youngsteadt CC BY-NC – 4.0

Male cicada killers perch on stones or vegetation to monitor their territories.

Elsa Youngsteadt CC BY-NC – 4.0

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Male cicada killers perch on stones or vegetation to monitor their territories.

Elsa Youngsteadt CC BY-NC – 4.0

One gardener at the Old Trail Community Garden had to change her garden plot this summer after she tried to pull up weeds and discovered several cicada killer wasps flying around their in-ground nest. Photo: Beverly Thierwechter.

Were you one of the lucky (sic) Crozet residents who was visited this summer by large, fierce-looking striped wasps who build nest mounds in the dirt and dive bomb intruders? Then join the club—they’ve been around for years but seem to have become more plentiful recently. Many local residents reported encounters with these cicada killer wasps in Old Trail, Yancey Mills, Westhall, and Broad Axe to the east. One Old Trail resident had about 60-70 holes pop up in her side yard in a week. And an Old Trail Community Garden user had to change her garden plot after she tried to pull up weeds and encountered several of them flying around their in-ground nest. “This gardener is allergic to bees and promptly asked for another plot,” reported Community Garden coordinator Beverly Thierwechter. “But no harm done, no stings!” These non-aggressive pollinators are actually more of an annoyance than a threat.

The eastern cicada killer wasp sphecius speciosus, also known as the cicada hawk or ground digger wasp, can be from ½ to 2 inches long, which makes it one of the largest wasps in the Eastern U.S. (other related species occur west of the Rockies). It has a red body, black and yellow striped abdomen, and yellowish brown wings, resembling an oversized yellow jacket. Adults emerge in summer (late June or early July) and die off in mid-September. These wasps build large, mounded burrows in the ground, usually in dry, barren soil near trees harboring cicadas. They may dig along sidewalk or patio edges, in flower beds, gardens, or lawns. The females then prey on cicadas to provision their nests with fresh food for their future offspring. Eastern cicada killers are sometimes mistaken for European hornets (Vespa crabro), which build paper-like nests and can deliver a painful sting.

But “cicada killer” is a somewhat misleading name. The adult wasps don’t actually kill the cicadas—they paralyze them so their offspring can later eat them alive! Of course, the cicadas do indeed die eventually. After digging the nest, the female wasp paralyzes a cicada with her venomous sting. Holding it upside down beneath her, she flies to her burrow carrying a load that may be more than twice her weight. She will often drag her prey up the nearest tree or fence post to gain altitude for this flight. After placing one or more incapacitated cicadas in the nest, she deposits an egg on each and closes the cells with dirt. Once the egg hatches a few days later, the white, legless larva begins to eat the cicada, while taking care to keep it alive. In about two weeks, it creates an earth-coated cocoon and overwinters in the nest cell until spring, when it emerges as an adult wasp. This means that if you’ve seen them this summer, they will probably be back next year!

Unlike hornets and yellow jackets, cicada killers are solitary wasps. As ferocious as they may appear, they are not aggressive. The female wasp stings only if grasped roughly or stepped on; it will not go out of its way to harm you. The smaller male has no stinger at all! He is territorial, however, and may dive-bomb other insects or people who get too close to the nest. Various methods have been used to try and eliminate these annoying visitors, including pouring boiling water, ammonia, or boric acid into the nest—or pouring in gasoline and lighting it on fire—then blocking the entrance. This procedure must be done at night when the wasps are in residence, or they will simply build again. However, one resident was told by a pest control representative that the only way to eliminate them is to dig up your yard to the depth of about a foot—and they may return in future years, anyway.

So why bother? I hope you’ll think twice before trying to eradicate these harmless insects. Cicada killer wasps are only here for a short time—maybe two months—each summer. They are beneficial both because they are pollinators that feed on flowers, and because they provide a natural control on cicada populations, which protects the deciduous trees upon which cicadas feed. Perhaps they, like the bears, have had their previous habitats eliminated by the rampant building in and around Crozet. As Temple Grandin pointed out, “Nature is cruel, but we don’t have to be.”

Cicada Killer Wasps Abundant Now

One of the largest insects in Iowa is a “digger wasp” called the cicada killer wasp. Cicada killer wasps may be up to 2 inches long. They are black with yellow markings on the thorax and abdomen and they have rusty-orange colored wings.

The cicada killer wasp is a solitary wasp; that is, each female lives independently rather than in colonies, though many may choose to nest in close proximity. Each female produces offspring and does not depend on other members of a colony to share in the raising of young or the maintaining of a nest.

Cicada killer wasps are active in July and August. The female digs one of more tunnels in soft soil (often flower beds or gardens) usually along an edge such as where the driveway or sidewalk meets the flower bed or lawn or where the flower bed meets the turf. These edges are landmarks that help the female find her way back to the burrow. Tunnels are about the size of a quarter and may extend 24 inches or more into the ground. The female flies to nearby trees to capture an annual cicada that she stings to paralyze and then labors to carry back to the burrow. One or two paralyzed cicadas are placed in each cell at the end of the tunnel and a single egg is deposited before the female closes the cell and flies away, never to return. The eggs hatch into legless larvae that feed on the cicadas and develop into wasps that emerge the following summer.

The cicada killer, like other solitary wasps, has the capability to sting, but won’t unless handled or threatened. Only female wasps have the ability to sting. Stings inflicted by solitary wasps are usually not severe but reaction varies with each individual.

Wasps are generally beneficial and a nest in an out of the way location where it is not likely to be disturbed should be left alone. On the other hand, nests in high-traffic areas may warrant treatment. You can destroy cicada killers and other digger wasps by applying an insecticide dust (e.g., Sevin or permethrin) into the burrow entrance during the night. Cover the nest opening with a shovelful of soil and reapply in two or three days if necessary.

Cicada Killer Wasp

How to Get Rid of Cicada Killer Wasps

When Cicadas begin to become active with their flying around and noisy mating in trees in the spring and summer months, the Cicada Killer Wasp also activates and goes after Cicadas, often mistaken as an oversized bee.

Cicada Killers can be an alarming insect to see because of how large they are and how intimidating they look but fortunately for homeowners, they are not an aggressive pest to humans nor do they sting, focusing all their energies on hunting Cicadas.

Cicada Killers can be a nuisance though if they have selected your yard to make a nest. If you are dealing with an infestation of Cicada Killers, this expert guide can help. Read on to learn more about this pest and how to get rid of them using our treatment process.

Cicada Killers are one of the larger sized wasp species. Female wasps can be 2 inches long or more while males are slightly smaller. Cicada Killers have six legs, antennae and a set of wings that have a brownish-orangish tinge. Their abdomens are black with a pattern of pale yellow stripes.

Cicada Killers are often mistaken to be the European Hornet or the Yellow Jacket but their larger size and slightly different body type sets them apart. Also, the fact that Cicada Killers go after Cicadas by hopping onto their backs and stinging them also can help you to tell the difference.

Before you carry out treatment, you need to first know where the Cicada Killers are located so you can treat the right spots.

Where To Inspect

Cicada Killers often make nests in yards with dry soils and spare areas of grass, digging a hole into the ground about an inch in diameter. This is where they nest and where they drag paralyzed Cicadas that they have stung to feed on and to lay eggs on for larvae to hatch and feed on. These nests can be dug in flowerbeds, gardens, along sidewalks and even on your lawn turf.

What To Look For

Look for active Cicada Killers or their burrowed nests. If you spot a Cicada Killer, observe their flight pattern and try to follow its movements to see if they will lead you to where their nest is located.

If you are successful in eliminating the Cicada Killers and their nests from your property, you will want to enact some preventative measures so they don’t come back. There is a chance that eggs left behind by Cicada Killers will hatch and a new generation may come about. Also, there may be Cicada Killer pheromones left behind that may draw other Cicada Killers to your property.

Preventative broadcast treatments of Sylo over your yard quarterly would be your best bet in keeping Cicada Killers away, not to mention, Reclaim IT also treats 70+ other pests The applications last up to 90 days so you can keep Cicada Killers gone all-season or all year long with routine applications.

  • Cicada Killers are not a harmful insect but they are known to be intimidating and will make nests around homes for shelter and to feed on Cicadas.
  • Treat Cicada Killer nests that you are able to find with direct treatments of Sylo Insecticide and a broadcast yard treatment of Sylo Insecticide when nests are not found or to treat Cicada Killers not killed via nest treatment.
  • A quarterly preventative treatment of Sylo can keep Cicada Killers away permanently during their active season.

Cicada Killing Wasps are Harmless (unless you’re a Cicada)

Q. I have a “Cicada Killer” wasp problem in the summer time. The wasps always emerge from the same general area in the lawn, which happens to be adjacent to my pool, so the situation is quite problematic. (Although I must admit that no one has been stung by them and they aren’t aggressive.) I’m turning to you for help before they emerge this season. Thanks,

    —Will in Jessup, MD

Q. Every summer, annoying, large cicada killer wasps swarm my front lawn, digging holes all over and scaring people. I’ve tried wasp sprays and Sevin powder in the holes, but they won’t be deterred. I’m thinking of calling in a professional pest control company….

    —Amy in Delaware County, PA.

A. Well, of course the first thing I did when I got Amy’s email was to yell at her for turning her front yard into a toxic waste dump to try and destroy a non-stinging wonder of nature. Her reply? “I agree that these chemicals aren’t good for people. Unfortunately, we have kids, pets, neighbors, friends, babysitters and postal workers who are scared of the wasps. They make it impossible to use our front yard for at least 2 months of the summer.”

I realize that I’m more stridently against garden chemicals than most, but emails like Amy’s make my heart sink. She’ll let her kids and pets play on a toxic and dangerous lawn rather than try and educate people that although, yes, they do look kind of fearsome, these wondrous wasps are 100% harmless and even a little beneficial.

Rather than move the risk of future cancers up a notch for everyone in the area, I suggest installing nice big signs that say something like: “These wasps do not sting.” Although I’d prefer something more along the lines of “Just leave them alone”; or “Hey! They live here too!”

I’m no orthodox Buddhist; if you click on our previous questions of the week about yellow jackets, fleas, ticks and mosquitoes, you will be presented with control options that are deadly to the dangerous creature named (just not deadly to humans, pets and the environment). Pests that spread disease or sting aggressively should not be tolerated, and I have no touchy-feely attitudes towards them. But—like the ground nesting native bees that many of you are frightened of right now—these big wasps are harmless. The males have no stingers. Females do, but don’t want to waste a sting on you—those paralyzing punches are reserved for unlucky cicadas.

The female wasp is a real wonder of nature; one of the hardest working women in the show business of the natural world. She will find a cicada in a tree and sting it into paralysis. If she is lucky, the cicada will stay put. If she is not and the cicada drops to the ground, she flies down, takes a hold of it and drags it back up the tree. (This is HARD work; the females are one of the largest wasps in North America, but cicadas are much bigger.)
She makes this arduous climb because she needs height to be able to clumsily fly her heavy prey to a previously prepared (and highly intricate) burrow she has dug out of the soil, drop the cicada in and deposit an egg or three on the unlucky creature. The wasp babies hatch and consume the cicada; then spin cocoons and pass the fall, winter and Spring underground, emerging the next summer, so that the females can once again do all the heavy lifting while the smaller males eat pollen and have sex with the females. (Not the worst species for a guy to be.)

They are beneficial insects: the females protect young fruit trees by keeping the cicada population down and the males pollinate flowers. And a review of ten years’ worth of frightened emails about them from listeners and every research article I could find says the same thing: Everybody gets scared, but nobody ever gets stung (except cicadas).

Oh, there’s one other common thread in those emails: whether it’s a homeowner or a pest control company applying the poisons, when poisons are applied, the wasps are unaffected. (Told you those burrows were intricately designed!)

To try and get them to nest elsewhere, allow this season’s brood to emerge and then put a heavy mulch over the area if it’s bare ground, or spray a garlic oil-based insect repellant heavily on the turf if they’re in a lawn. (Sold for protection of crops and as non-toxic backyard mosquito foggers, these garlic sprays are felt to be the most effective overall insect repellant.)

And if they are nesting in your lawn, build up the lawn! Female wasps look for bare ground, bare spots, or really thin and ratty lawns—like female Japanese beetles, they don’t want to have to dig through three inches of tough turf.

If you have a cool-season grass (bluegrass, rye or fescue), that means never cutting it below three inches, never cutting it during a dry summer heat wave and never ever feeding it in the summer. (But DO feed it with corn gluten meal in the Spring; and feed it again in the Fall with compost, corn gluten or a bagged organic lawn fertilizer.) If the lawn needs reseeding or over-seeding, wait for the ‘magic window’ of August 15th to September 15th, give it a big compost feeding, spread the new seed into the compost and water gently every day until the grass comes up, which will be fast in late summer, the only sensible time of year to sow cool season seed.

As with weeds, the best cure for bugs burrowing in a lawn is indirect. Build up the lawn, mulch any bare soil, and these hard working wonders of nature will simply dig elsewhere.

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Cicada Wasps In The Garden: Tips For Controlling Cicada Killer Wasps

Their sinister buzzing and ¼-inch long stingers are enough to make most gardeners turn and run from the 1 ½ to 2-inch long cicada wasp hunters, commonly known as the cicada killer wasp (Sphecius speciosus). Although they may give you a scare, cicada killer wasps are actually beneficial garden insects, only inflicting painful stings as a last resort. So exactly what are cicada killers wasps? Keep reading to learn more.

What are Cicada Killer Wasps?

Cicada killer wasps are a group of solitary wasps that feed on flower nectar while paralyzing live cicadas for their offspring. In a garden plagued by cicadas, these large wasps are both a blessing and a curse. This yellow-banded wasp rarely bothers gardeners, but they can cause considerable damage to lawns and gardens while excavating the dens where they will lay their eggs.

Females do the digging, preferring sandy or loose soils for her ½-inch wide tunnels. The entire egg-laying complex created by an individual cicada killer wasp is usually no more than 15 inches below the surface, but tunnels may reach up to 70 inches in length. Each tunnel can have up to 15 egg chambers that the female must stock with cicadas for her offspring to feed upon when they hatch.

Because of these extensive tunnels, cicada wasps in the garden can spell disaster for transplants or plants with delicate root systems. Lawns are may be damaged by their digging, especially when tunnels are extensive and many pounds of soil are dumped above ground. Fortunately, there is only one generation of cicada wasp hunters each year, limiting the damage these insects can inflict.

Controlling Cicada Killer Wasps

Control is rarely warranted for these enormous wasps because of their docile and solitary nature, but if you live in an area where cicada populations are high, your cicada killer wasp family may be willing to tolerate neighbors. Even so, many cicada killer wasps in an unused corner of the yard may not necessitate control. If they are causing severe damage, such as smothering grass or destabilizing patios, knowing how to control cicada killer wasp is useful.

Tunnels can be blocked with garden geotextiles and covered in mulch if they are running through flower or perennial beds, but drenching the garden thoroughly with water when the burrows first appear is often enough to deter cicada killer wasps. Careful watering and fertilizing of turfgrass will produce lush growth that prevents the wasps from digging in the lawn.

When all other efforts fail, applying a tablespoon of carbaryl dust just inside each visible tunnel opening will kill individuals quickly; cyfluthrin or cyhalothrin can be used in areas where carbaryl is no longer available. After destroying the wasps, correct the conditions that made your garden or lawn an attractive place for these wasps or more will arrive next season to take their place.

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