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Cicada Killer

Summary: Cicada killer wasps are not as dangerous as their name sounds. Unless you're a cicada, that is. Cicada Killers are generally not interested in humans.

Cicada Killers are big, and when insects are big they can be scary. The female Cicada Killer does have a stinger, but it rarely attacks people. Cicada Killers are solitary wasps that don't build elaborate hives or have castes of workers like honey bees. They hunt cicadas so that they can lay eggs on them, which will provide food for Cicada Killer larvae. They hunt cicadas using a long, venomous stinger which totally paralyzes the cicada. The female Cicada Killer flies back to her burrow carrying the cicada with her legs, which is fairly remarkable since the paralyzed cicada weighs twice as much as the Cicada Killer.


Cicada Killer wasps hunt cicadas that appear annually, not typically the kind that appear every thirteen or seventeen years. The life cycle of a Cicada Killer is synchronized to match the life cycle of annual cicadas. The adult Cicada Killer does not eat cicadas, but actually eats flower nectar or plant sap.

The egg of a Cicada Killer takes a day or two to hatch and larvae spend most of the year underground feeding on a storehouse of cicada corpses. Male Cicada Killer larvae are left with one cicada while female Cicada Killers are left with two, three, or occasionally even four cicadas to feed on. For this reason the female Cicada Killers are much larger than the males and in circumstances when a female Cicada Killer only receives one cicada to eat as a larva, the female will be much smaller and closer in size to a male Cicada Killer.

Female Cicada Killers kill about 100 cicadas during their life and produce about sixty or seventy new Cicada Killers. Cicada Killer larvae spend the fall and winter underground feeding on cicadas, growing larger, until they are ready to emerge as adult Cicada Killers in the late spring or early summer. Adult Cicada Killers do not survive the winter.

photo credit: Ronald Billings, Texas Forest Service

Male Cicada Killers do not have stingers and do not hunt cicadas. Their primary goal in life is to mate with female cicadas. Much of a male's life is spent outside of a female Cicada Killer's burrow fighting with other male Cicada Killers for the right to mate with a female Cicada Killer. The larger the male, the more likely it will be successful. The males often fight with each other in mid-air, forming balls of battling Cicada Killers that have no control over their flight direction. This might be frightening to someone who encounters this behavior in the wild, but Cicada Killers will flee from humans when they are swatted at.

Cicada Killers are sometimes called sand hornets, although they are wasps, not hornets. They probably got the name because they build their burrows in dry, sandy soil. The female Cicada Killer wasps have specialized hind legs that are equipped with spines that can push dirt out of the burrow.

Cicada Killers are distributed across the US. If there is a Cicada Killer burrow that is in an obtrusive area you can clog the entrance to the burrow with a stick and the Cicada Killer will continue to bring cicada bodies to it for a while, and then give up to try a different location. Hopefully the new location will be somewhere out of the way.

Treat cicada killer burrows with Tempo 1% dust to gain some control.

Ask Rick A Question


15 Aug 2011, 08:42
I am trying to calm down about my infestation. Rick said there could be 10-20 eggs per hole and I have 10 holes at least in the front. There are no more cicadas in the trees immediately around my property, but 300 feet up the street they are still buzzing. How far can the queen carry one of them? I'm not sure about digging up the nests in September. And I am not seeing that many of either the males or females. Maybe all I have are a lot of empty holes. For sure I will dig up under the steps. And next year, I will be aggressively vigilant from early July on.
16 Aug 2011, 18:49
I have seen the cicadas being carried for at least 100 feet. The females always use their own flight path in bringing them back to the nest every time. The male watches for her and flies the last
10 feet or so with her. You will not see the females very often, they are busy digging. The males hang out on nearby bushes and small trees. Last year in very late September, early October I was out pulling weeds and heard a buzzing. One of the females was still there and on her last legs. She buzzed constantly and then crawled into one of her burrows. I didn't see her after that, so you may want to wait later than September to dig.
22 Aug 2011, 20:43
I don't know if the wasps come out of the same hole dug by the mother. I know that I have had these creatures for about three years and they always make their first nest under my boxwood shrubs and go out from there. They did not dig holes in my lawn until I sprayed each nest under the shrubs with Sevin dust. After that, it seemed they didn't want to go back in there. I assume they first come out very near the burrow where they hatch. Other years, they always stayed in the same area where the shrubs are and dug several holes there.
23 Aug 2011, 10:33
I'm thinking of putting a short stick in each hole, sometime in October, leaving them over the winter. (Need to be able to find them next season) In late spring, pull it out and dust with the Tempo 1%. IF the hatched wasps come out the same hole, dust would rub off on them and kill them. Right?

And for the holes that I can dig up, I was thinking of digging the 10 inches, removing what I find. But using the Tempo dust in the soil as I shovel it back in. I realize the larvae will not survive without something to eat, but it seems like it might help. ??

As to my original "mother' nest, which is under the deck steps, I may go under there in November to see what I am dealing with. Then put 50-100 pounds of stone on it. Seems like the new wasps would have trouble crawling through that. Right ?
Ask the Exterminator
23 Aug 2011, 11:30
The dust will kill emerging wasps. Correct! The heavy stones may or may not work.
Ask the Exterminator
23 Aug 2011, 11:41
Linda: Cicada Killer wasps don't necessarily emerge from the hole that was created by the queen that laid the eggs. They often dig straight upwards from where they "hatch".
15 Oct 2011, 15:03
Hurricane Irene ended my obsession with these wasps. All the holes are now visibly gone. However, I had marked my calendar that today was Cicada Saturday. We tried the one hole I remembered seeing.

We dug down 12 inches in the soil, in a 2ft x 2ft square. Found nothing and probably destroyed the ground cover in the process. So much for my prior theory.

So now I will arm myself with Rick's products (when I have my credit card here at the computer). With 12 holes, next year will be a nightmare of wasps.

03 Jul 2012, 22:31
I wish we could post pictures on this page. Year two of infestation in central Oklahoma. Early summer, this year and...clearly, we have a problem. Terminex called out twice; spray purchased at the store sprayed in the "nests", other concoctions tried to no avail! We've (meaning husband) killed 20+ in the last 3 days. Kids won't swim. We don't dare spend time in the backyard...
Sucks. Isn't there some kind of specific anti-insect (not harmful to mammals) protein that can be targeted to eliminate these "things"? Our family seems okay with a possible surplus of cicadas.
16 Jul 2012, 12:45
A few years ago I planted several willow trees that are now 15 ft tall. While we have no Cicada Killer holes/nests in our lawn our willow trees have hundreds of them feeding off of them.

If I knew where they were nesting I'd deal with them there but as it is I would have to spray all of my trees in an attempt to kill them.

I wouldn't mind if it were just a few of them but my trees are full of them and they are killing my trees from constant feeding/chewing to get sap. Can a wasp trap work for these and what would be the best bait?
16 Aug 2012, 14:42
Last summer I had about 20 holes and tons of these wasps. I thought for sure this summer would be a nightmare, but it hasn't been. I bought Rick's Wasp Freeze and killed three in late June. There has been none of the males and their fighting each other. At the moment, there is only one or two of them floating around. I am trying to catch one bringing a cicada back to the hole, but haven't seen any (and I am watching constantly). Maybe they have moved on to someone elses property or perhaps our very mild winter last year interrupted the egg cycle. Don't know but I'll take it!
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