Fear Factor

There is an element of fear in people’s voices and a wide eyed look when they describe their first encounter with a Cicada Killer. Cicada Killers are big wasps that show up this time of year just like James Bond with a license to kill….Cicadas in this case.

Cicada Killer

Their intimidating look can frighten children, small animals and even adultswho describe these amazing insects as the “biggest baddest most mutant bee on steroids I have ever seen!”

The larval stages of this amazing insect (largest wasp in Michigan) feed on cicadas that are provided to them by the female wasp burrowing into the soil preferably sandy soil areas. You will see a mound of soil surrounding their burrow.  Cicada killers ignore people as they go about their business of digging holes and hunting for cicadas. Most people panic and want to “nuke them” with some kind of spray. This fear factor is unfounded and controls are unnecessary in my opinion. If they are nesting in your lawn it’s more of an indication that you need to improve your turf maintenance practices (feeding, irrigation, raising the deck on your mower, etc) instead of a shotgun “nuke” spray and kill anything that moves revenge approach. These insects are an amazing creation and are better entertainment than summer re-runs on TV.

Cicada killers overwinter as larvae in the soil. Pupation occurs in the spring and the adults emerge in summer. Females feed, mate and dig burrows for several weeks before hunting for cicadas in nearby trees.

Cicada Killer Closeup. Photo credit: David Cappaert, Michigan State University, Forestryimages.org

Here’s the cool part……the wasp stings its prey, turns the victim on its back, straddles it, and drags it or glides with it to the burrow. Sometimes killer Cicadas are dive bombed by hungry birds looking for an easy and free lunch causing them to drop their paralyzed victim. Each burrow includes several cells where larvae are raised. Each cell is furnished with at least one cicada (sometimes two or three) and a single egg before being sealed off.  Males establish territories near nesting females and aggressively defend their territory from other intruding males.

The killer’s eggs hatch in two to three days. Depending on the number of cicadas in its cell, the larva feeds for 4 to 10 days until only the cicada’s outer shell remains. During the fall, the larva spins a silken case, shrinks, and prepares to overwinter until they emerge the following summer with a license to kill.

Yes they’re big and yes they have an impressive stinger, but cicada killers rarely sting a human and are more focused at the task at hand. Kind of like Uncle Charlie in the all you can eat buffet line…..step out of the way, let them work and nobody gets hurt. Watch them work with respect and admire this amazing insect.

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