Test Your Knowledge - August

A cicada killer wasp
A cicada killer wasp
Nancy Hinkle, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org

Yes! This is a cicada killer wasp.

In July and August people start to see these insects buzzing around above the lawn. Their large size and similarity to European hornets often intimidate people. The cicada killer wasp is large, measuring 1 to 1 5/8” long with a 3-inch wing span. The black body with yellow markings on the first three abdominal (rear) segments distinguishes it from other wasps. Fortunately, the cicada killer wasp is a harmless, beneficial insect that helps control the cicada population.

Comparison of abdominal segment colors of cicada killer wasp and European hornet.
A cicada killer wasp A European hornet.
Cicada killer wasp
Kenneth R. Law, USDA Aphis PPQ, Bugwood.org
European hornet
Louis-Michel Nageleisen, Départment de la Santé des Forêts, Bugwood.org

Note the yellow markings on first three abdominal segments of the cicada killer wasp compared to the yellow stripes on all abdominal segments of the European hornet.

Cicada killer wasps are solitary, meaning that they do not live in colonies or nests. Since these wasps are solitary, the females do not use their stingers to defend the nest but instead to capture and paralyze cicada insects. The females are not aggressive, but they can sting if handled or stepped on. The males are very territorial and will buzz to frighten people away but do not have a stinger.

Cicada killer wasps can become a nuisance in areas with bare ground and shortly mowed grass.  These areas are preferred by the female for creating individual burrows measuring about ½” in diameter and up to 10” deep. Often several ½” diameter holes with fan shaped mounds of dirt can be found in the same area. The female cicada killer wasp uses the burrow to store paralyzed cicada insects. She deposits an egg on the cicada which is food for the developing wasp larva.

A cicada killer wasp dragging a cicada.
Cicada killer wasp with its prey
Kenneth R. Law, USDA APHIS PPQ, Bugwood.org

In general, control is not necessary unless the cicada killer wasps are present in a high-traffic area where someone is likely to be stung. More information on the cicada killer wasp is available at: http://www.clemson.edu/cafls/departments/esps/factsheets/turforn/to15_cicada_killer_wasp.html.

Millie Davenport
HGIC Extension Agent

Page maintained by: Home & Garden Information Center

This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.