Watch Out Cicadas!
For the past month or so you may have noticed a rather large and ominous insect buzzing about your home landscape. What you have probably encountered is the cicada killer wasp. Now, in most circumstances, you would be alarmed at the mention of wasps around your home. However, this should not be one of those times. Cicada killers are referred to as gentle giants for their length approaching 1.5 inches (about the size of your thumb) and because they are not a threat to humans. They have bands of white and yellow stripes that encircle their black bodies with wings that are tinged a yellow color.
A telltale sign that one of these wasps are present is the mound-like structures that protrude from the ground. These earthen hills are often mistaken for a nest of fire ants. Cicada killer wasps are solitary meaning that each female has her own burrow. They prefer sandy and well-drained sites. You may have noticed them on playgrounds and golf courses. The male wasps are the ones you see flying around in a sort of stupor. People become terrified by these wasps because they hover frantically around their mounds seemingly trying to attack passersby. The males are extremely territorial and will fight with other male cicada killer wasps in an attempt to attract a female. Males do not have stingers. However, females do have the ability to sting, but will not harm you unless you accidently step on her or begin disturbing her burrow. As the name implies they eat cicadas. The female grabs a cicada in flight and uses her stinger to paralyze it. Once the cicada is motionless she will drag the cicada to an elevated point and then attempt to fly, however cumbersome, back to her burrow. She then drags it down into her earthly dungeon where she lays an egg under the cicada’s wing. Once the egg hatches the larvae begins to eat the cicada for nourishment.
Keep in mind this all takes place while the cicada is still alive! The wasp larvae feed on the cicada for two weeks and then form a cocoon. They overwinter in the underground lair of their mother until pupating the following spring.
Control of these wasps is usually not warranted. However, if the mounds are in an area with high foot traffic then homeowners can use a powder or dust form of an insecticide for control. As the wasp enters or leaves the hole the dust will adhere to her body. As she attempts to clean her body the insecticide will be picked up and in turn kill the wasp.