Bug Blog

Do Cicada Killer Wasps Really Kill Cicadas?

Do Cicada Killer Wasps Really Kill Cicadas?

When most people think of a wasp sting they think “pain”. During the summer months its seems as though we humans are the primary targets for malicious wasp stings. Of course, this is not the case, as wasps are more interested in defending themselves against prey only when necessary. Since humans are so much larger than wasps, humans do not pose a realistic threat. Some of you may have seen a flying insect attacking another insect, which is certainly not an uncommon site. According to Professor Chuck Holliday, people often report witnessing a large bee attacking a cicada. Dr. Holliday is always quick to point out that such sightings are not of bees, but wasps; the cicada killer wasp, to be more precise.

These cicada killer wasps lay their eggs with the assistance of cicadas. However, the term “assistance” would be putting the scenario mildly. The process begins when a wasps spots a cicada. Soon afterward the cicada becomes paralyzed as a result of the wasp’s venomous sting. The wasp places the immobile cicada into a burrow, where the wasp will lay eggs beneath one leg of the cicada. As usual, once the eggs hatch, the cicada corpse becomes food for the wasp larvae. After the larvae are properly gorged, the larvae will spin a cocoon where they remain for a short time before emerging into adulthood. It goes without saying that cicadas serve as the primary prey and larval food source for these particular wasps.

When people do encounter cicada killer wasps (CKWs), the wasps are often seen carrying their cicada prey. People often confuse CKWs with bees since these wasps are black and yellow in appearance. There are five different species of cicada killer wasps, and they all reside in America and elsewhere. For example, the Sphecius convallis species is also known as the Pacifica cicada killer, and its type dwells in Mexico and the US. The Sphecius grandis can be found in the US, Mexico and Central America. Sphecius hogardii is found in Florida and the nearby Caribbean islands. Sphecius speciosus is found everywhere from Central America reaching up into Canada. And the Sphecius spectabilis is the most abundant of all, as these CKWs have been found dwelling from South America up into Canada. So the next time you see what looks like a bee with another insect it its mouth, just know that you are likely seeing the cicada killer wasp in action.

Have you ever spotted what you believe was a cicada killer wasp? If you have, did you think it was a bee initially?