Cicada Killer and Carnage
July 8, 2011 9:32 am
Sigh. How I love bugs.  I teach my children never to harm them, unless…  I am now in year-3 of a cycle of Cicada Killers attempting to nest in my sandy front lawn.  There seem to be dozens of them this year and, as I have two curious toddlers, they have become a danger -the wasps that is. (I am highly allergic to wasp venom and my toddlers may be as well.) So it is with a heavy heart that I must try to “encourage” them to move some place else.  They “dive bomb” as soon as we walk out the door and I’ve taken to defending myself and family with a tennis racket. However they are wily! They fly at full speed to just out of racket range then swerve.  (Without the racket they come all the way in) If I make the mistake of taking an early swing, they get really angry.  One attacked me from behind as I was standing still.  I heard it, and was lucky to swat it with my racket with a blind swing.
I’ve done my best to leave them alone.  But there are just too many and I can no longer enjoy my yard.  Sprays don’t seem to work (unless I hit each individual) and if I stomp on their tunnels, they just build more.  HOW DO I GET THEM TO TAKE THEIR BUSINESS ELSEWHERE?!  (Again, I do not WANT to kill them) I know you don’t like extermination, but they are in MY territory and I want it back!
Please help!
Signature: David Asterbury

Cicada Killer and Prey (photo taken by dc from our archives)

Hi David,
We want to post your letter immediately and we want some time to ponder the entirety of our response.  Cicada Killers are big, and since they are wasps, they are scary.  We can say that the male Cicada Killers divebomb anything that enters the territory that they are trying to guard, but male Cicada Killers have no stinger.  Female Cicada Killers have a stinger and they might sting a person, however, we have never received a verified report of anyone being stung by a Cicada Killer.  Stinging culprits have turned out to be Hornets in the past.   You did not provide a location.

Additional Information
Thanks for the response!
Location: Northern Virginia.  Newly planted front lawn bed.  (Still just dirt, with “sprouts” of grass)
If I may retort one thing: This is not an issue of “being scared”.  I’m a former Green Beret who’s spent a lifetime outside and had all kinds of bugs crawling through my wide open sleeping mouth at night in the woods, etc.  If I was “scared” of them, I wouldn’t be standing there with my tennis racket.  But your point is well taken.  I think you mean to propose that killing them is not necessary, or the correct response; because they may do no harm at all.  And, my friend, this is why I write – because I hope you are right!
I love all God’s creatures and I only will harm something that poses some kind of a threat or risk to me (or others) in “our own” environment.  (In other words, I think it unconscionable to kill – ANYTHING when I am in that creatures’ domain.  This is why, if they were nesting 100 feet away – I would not care.  (In fact, how DO I get them into my neighbors’ yard? – Kidding.)
However, in this case the issue relates to:
1. Risk of sting (obviously there is some level of risk – I just don’t know what that is, and I have to go by my many years of experience dealing with “critters” of all kinds to gauge that.)
2. Risk of harm from sting:  As mentioned, I am highly allergic to wasp, hornet and bee venom (all in slightly different ways, as the venoms are not the same), I suspect my children may be as well.  In my case, a sting will cause anaphylaxis.  In the case of my 1 year old, a similar response could cause death.
3. Risk from other harms from sting:  Frankly, stings hurt like hell.  I don’t care so much if it is me, but if my child suffers, pain and pychological terror because I was trying to protect the insect, well, that’s just wrong and I won’t let that happen.  After all, a bunch of stings in childhood is a GREAT way to raise an insect-fearing and killing person!
4. Benefit of having the creature: Cicadas are a food source for many creatures (heck, I’ve eaten them myself and they’re not bad).  Burrowing C. Killers help cut down on the numbers of them when they are swarming.  C. Killer burrows help aerate the soil. C. Killers are, like I said a gift from God to us and to the world – part of the planet to enjoy, etc.  They have a right to be here.
Bottom line is:  They don’t have a “right” to be digging across a 50X20 area of my front lawn right by my front door!  I haven’t encroached on “their space” or anything either.  (Not new developed area in the woods somewhere)  We’ve just got a lot of Cicadas over the last decade.  Maybe if you could tell me that, by way of scientific deduction, the phrase “We’ve never had a reported sting” means that there is a “Law of No Sting From C.Killers” then I might feel better about the risk to pain, injury and life.  Otherwise, I am going to pursue some means of dissuasion including death.
Sorry for the lengthy response.  I just wanted to put my perspective on it for clarity.
Last:  I am now pursuing the use of a broad spectrum granulated insecticide (only in the areas where the ground is most enticing.)  My plan is to spread it into the entrance ways of the tunnels during dry weather, then spray/hit with racket any that come out.  Next, I am going to try to grow grass there, then, once I have some grass, I am going to attempt to compact the soil to make it less attractive.  Something tells me this may require a multi-year effort.
PLEASE do offer any other advice that you think might obviate the need for the more drastic approach, because, I don’t own a flame thrower, and I hate using pesticides!  (Kills all kinds of good bugs!)
Thank you so very much for your reply!
P.S. One that dive bombed me, and which I killed a mere 6 inches from my head was a female with a great big ole stinger.  Maybe she was just going to kiss me?

Thanks for the additional information David.  We did not mean to trivialize your dilemma.  Obviously your safety and that of your children needs to outweigh the presence of Cicada Killers.  Compacting the soil and planting the area should make the area less attractive.  We have no authenticated scientific data regarding the frequency of stings.  We apologize for not having any other solution for you.

Thank you again for your response.  I am sure that you get many, so I appreciate you taking the time to respond to mine.
Just to update you with the outcome:  I got up at 4AM, before they were awake, and used a granulated pesticide in and near their holes and around the general area of loose soil.  I then squashed their tubes/holes and walked the area to compact it a bit more.
It seems to have done the trick.  I have seen a few come by now, but they think better of it and fly elsewhere.  In general, I have made the soil less attractive to them and, I hope, without causing too much damage.  Hopefully by next year they will have found another place to nest.
Thanks again and I love your web site!
Take care,

Location: Virginia

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