Eastern Cicada Killer, (Sphecius speciosus)
The appearance of Eastern cicada killer, Sphecius speciosus, indicates that we are in the throes of summer. Although menacing-looking due to their size and noisy buzzing, cicada killer wasps are beneficial native predators in our mid-late summer landscapes.
The head and thorax are rust-colored; black bodies are marked with white and yellow bands. But it’s the almost one and one half inch body length with a nearly three-inch wingspan that makes Eastern cicada killer one of the largest and most easily recognizable wasps in North America.
Cicada killers are solitary wasps meaning that each female has her own burrow, but they are also gregarious in that there may be several wasps nesting in an area. Females are defensive of their burrows. Males aggressively patrol and defend their approximately one square meter territory near their emergence holes. While females are armed with a powerful sting, they rarely sting humans. Males have a “pseudo-stinger” that may poke but lack venom. Although defensive of territory, cicada killer wasps are considered benign while they are focused on hunting.
Cicada killer wasps carry out a helpful service in our landscapes: free, natural pest management of one of the larger insects found in our summer landscapes, cicadas. Adult wasps feed on nectar from flowers, but cicada killer wasp larvae feed on cicadas. Adult wasps hunt cicadas to provision their burrows for wasp larvae to feed on during their development. Because cicada killers destroy plant-feeding cicadas, the wasps are considered beneficial insects. As such, we do not recommend management unless the wasps pose a threat to vulnerable people or pets. For recommendations on discouraging the presence of cicada killer wasps in the landscape, contact your local Extension office.
See Clemson’s Department of Entomology’s fact sheet on Cicada Killer Wasp for more information.