Cicada killers are much maligned wasps, primarily because of their similarity to Japanese hornets, the so-called “murder hornets” from Asia. In this blog, we look at the differences between the two species.
The Asian Giant hornet, more recently known as the Northern Giant hornet, is a name not many people will be fond of.
In 2019, this wasp was reportedly seen in Washington, United States, and British Colombia and it has created a huge scare in America ever since.
This wasp is also known as the ‘murder hornet’ because of its dangerous nature. More than 50 people have been killed by the sting of this killer wasp.
Unfortunately, people often mistake these hornets as Cicada killers and try to get rid of them instead.
So, what do you need to know about identifying these wasps, and how dangerous can they be? Let us help you find out.
Comparing Murder Hornet vs Cicada Killer
It is common to confuse Cicada Killers and Murder Hornets because of their appearance. Both these species have some similarities if you look at them from a distance.
But they can be recognized by their stripes and color, in some cases, their shape. Here are some things you have to look out for.
Color of their stripes
When you are trying to tell a murder hornet apart from a Cicada killer, look for the stripes on their body. Cicada killers will have uneven yellow stripes, jagged in places.
The Asian giant hornet will have darker stripes that are brown or orange. For these insects, the stripes will be smoother and denser across their abdomen.
Shape of stripes
Stripes of wasps are usually a major indication of what species they are.
In Asian murder hornets, their stripes will be in the form of smooth yellow bands evenly distributed across their body. Moreover, they have orange heads.
The Cicada killers will have yellow stripes that peak across their abdomen in uneven patterns.
Both species of wasps are quite big compared to other cousins of their family. This is one of the biggest reasons why they are confused for each other.
Typically, however, the Asian giant hornet would win the contest if the length was the only parameter. Not for nothing are they called giants because they can grow to be as long as 2 inches.
Cicada killers are also quite big, but usually, they do not exceed 1.5 inches in size.
Habitat & Season
Cicada killers build their nests underground, where there is well-drained soil available. These wasps try to find a place where there are high cicada populations around trees.
Murder hornets, on the other hand, will build nests in abandoned burrows of small animals, mostly near decaying roots of plants and trees.
The murder hornets build their nests and mate at the start of summer in March and April. Cicada killers have their breeding season in the mid-summer months of July to August.
Female cicada killers are solitary insects who are extremely alert about their nests. These species do not have a queen or other worker insects. The males do not have a sting, but they can display aggressive behavior.
Murder hornets are social insects that live in large colonies. Their nests consist of workers, drones, and a queen. Each of them has a role to play in their colonies.
Cicada killers are called so because of their food source, which mainly consists of Cicadas.
They use their sting to paralyze their prey, taking them away from the larvae in the nest. They are not a threat to people or other insects unless someone mishandles them.
Murder hornets, on the other hand, are extremely aggressive and dangerous stinging insects. They are very protective of their nests and are sure to leave a painful sting o anything coming close to them.
They have quarter-inch-long stingers that can penetrate through any kind of protective clothing. These insects have also become infamous for decimating the population of honey bees.
Where They Are Found in the US?
Cicada Killers are usually found in areas that have a large number of cicada populations. This is a native wasp of the United States.
These insects can be found in the eastern states, usually east of the Rocky mountains. A genus of this species in the Western states is also referred to as Western Cicada killers.
Murder hornets were not found in the US till as recently as 2019. Two of these hornets were first discovered in Northwest Washington states, which led to a colony in British Colombia. This was destroyed, given the dangerous nature of the hornets.
No further verified sightings have since been reported.
How To Prevent Attacks?
Cicada hornets are usually not that much of a threat to you. These solitary wasps will only get aggressive with you if you try to harm their nests.
You can prevent the growth of their nests by letting the grass grow out and keeping the soil damp.
Murder hornets have not been officially established as a species in the US. It is recommended to notify the sightings at the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
And if you can identify one, try to run away as far as possible from them.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will cicada killers sting humans?
Cicada killers are often called the ‘gentle giants of the insect world.’ These are just like common species of solitary wasps, which may appear intimidating but do not harm humans in any way. However, female wasps might attack any creature that tries to harm their nests.
Does Japan have cicada killers?
Cicada killers are usually found in parts of North America and British Colombia. Though there is not much known about these insects in Japan.
The murder hornets are called Japanese Giant Hornets because they are common in Asian countries.
Are cicada killers aggressive?
Cicada killers are not aggressive by nature. These insects keep to themselves and are not likely to harm humans or any other insects except cicadas.
These wasps can become aggressive only when they sense a threat to their nests.
What attracts cicada killers to your yard?
Cicada killers look for areas that have sandy areas and scattered lawns that are easy to burrow.
They usually look for creaks on windows and sidewalks where they can settle in to lay eggs. These insects are also attracted to areas that have a high population of cicadas.
Whether they are insects hunting cicadas or huge hornets that do not tolerate interference, the best idea is to get away from them if you come across one.
And if you can recognize a murder hornet, do not think one minute before trying to flee for cover. Thank you for reading!
Despite all the information above, it can be hard to distinguish between these two wasps.
Go through some of the photos and descriptions given by our readers of cicada killers and Japanese hornets to get a better understanding.
Letter 1 – Cicada Killer Breeding Program
here are some identification pics you can add on your site of male cicada killers.I keep them to study thier behaviour and to mate them to ensure a healthy local population of these wonderful wasps
Andrew a davis
Thank you for your wonderful submission. Thankfully you did not include your location, as we fear you might get hate mail from the countless individuals that want to rid the planet of Cicada Killers and many other beneficial species as well. We are curious though, how you breed the Cicada Killers in captivity. Do you release the females after mating? or do you actually raise the young in captivity.
i live in [Location Withheld]. And i keep the largest males i catch in 5 gal terrariums feeding them sugarwater.I introduce the females and if theyre virgins theyll be mated.I rrelaese them after because i can’t really find any cicadas readily either.
Letter 2 – Cicada Killer
Hope you can use these pictures. I noticed something strange with this CK when a butterfly came around it would chase it off. Have you ever heard of this. Thanks,
Cicada Killers can be very territorial and defensive when males are seeking to woo a mate.
Letter 3 – Bug of the Month: July 2007 – Cicada Killer
Our 1st CK
Dear Bug Man,
The Cicada Killer in the attached photo, thanks to your site, will continue to “guard” our back step this summer (in the MD suburbs of DC). It’s a relief to know the family & especially our dog, will be able to frequently pass by him w/o being harmed. We used to have an underground yellow jacket nest in this same area. Do CKs ever move into abanadoned nests? I believe this particular CK is a male b/c he frequently rubs/bounces his tail on the step & door mat. Is this behavior to mark his turf, attract a mate or both? Even if you’re unable to responsd, THANK YOU! Your site provides a wonderful & very interesting service. Jean
According to Eric Eaton, the behavior you describe is of a male Cicada Killer marking his territory and trying to attract a mate. Cicada Killers dig tunnels with cells for individual paralyzed Cicadas and a single young Cicada Killer. Yellow Jackets are social wasps and their abandoned nests will not suit a Cicada Killer. We have decided to make the Cicada Killer the Bug of the Month for July 2007, so your photo will remain at the top of our homepage until August.
Letter 4 – Cicada Killer
WHAT IS THIS INSECT?
HELLO—I’M TRYING TO HELP A FRIEND IDENTIFY THIS INSECT. SHE THINKS THEY BURROW IN THE GROUND AND SHE HAS QUITE A LOT OF THEM IN THE DALLAS, TEXAS AREA.
THANK YOU, ANNETTE
Your friend has a colony of Cicada Killers, Sphecius speciosus. They do dig in the ground. The female stings and paralyzed a cicada and then lays an egg on it for her young to devour. The nest is underground.
Letter 5 – Cicada Killer
Name this bug
Several years ago we had a load of sand brought into our yard. Since then we have had this hornet (or what ever it is) every summer toward the end of June and really bad by the 4th of July. They burrow into the sand and make their nest there. They mate like love bugs. They are about 1 to 1 1/2 inches long. So far they have not been aggressive toward me but just having dozens of them swarming around is enough to frighten me. What are they and how can I get rid of them?
This is a Cicada Killer Wasp, an important predator. Most everything we have learned about them indicates that they are not aggressive and rarely sting people, so we do not recommend their removal. We did just receive a conflicting account of an encounter with Cicada Killers that we will include with this posting.
Report of Cicada Killers Stinging
cicada killer wasps
just read all your q & a’s re these wasps, as well as, a factsheet from univ of ohio. very informative. however, my own experience differed quite a bit from this data. last summer, i was weeding a very overgrown garden bed and apparently disturbed some of these wasps. i was stung three times and chased as i ran away from the site. one sting was on my back, and the other two were on my right breast. i have to tell you that all three were extremely painful — esp the two frontal ones. i had a sore, swollen, deep-purple area from mid-chest across and over the breast to under my arm that lasted for 9 days. i have never been allergic to any stings, nor to any medicines or foods. this was soooo painful for soooo long, that i nearly went to the doctor. the site is in full sun, but not ‘clear of vegetation’ by any means. i get that the males were probably doing the chasing, but if only the females sting —- well, these three packed quite a wallop. now i just steer clear of them altogether and grit my teeth as i watch the weeds flourish. wish i could deter them w/o killing them. any suggestions. thx
Sorry, we have no suggestions on how to deter Cicada Killers.
Letter 6 – Cicada Killer
A Cicada Killer?
Hello, I was Googling “wasp photos” trying to ID this critter and discovered your site. What a great find!! After looking at some of the photos sent into you I think this may be the Cicada Killer, but not sure. He was definitely not aggressive. I only ever saw one and s/he lived in a hole in the ground that was about 3/4 inch in diameter. I am in central Illinois. I hope my link to the photo works. I have also seen the very cool “cow killers” but they are impossible for me to photograph as they take off as soon as I see them. Thanks!
This is such a beautiful Cicada Killer photograph, but we suspect it was probably taken in the summer.
Letter 7 – Cicada Killer Wasps
My name is Andrew Gable. I have a question to ask about the possible identification of an apparent bee or wasp I saw. In October-November of the year (can’t remember the exact time, but approximately 1997 or ’98), while attending Lock Haven University in northern Pennsylvania, I saw a strange insect lying on the ground. I rememebr it was quite late in the year, and I thought it was awfully cool out to be seeing a bug of any sort. The insect appeared to resemble a yellow jacket or wasp, and had the typical yellow-and-black pattern though it was quite large (approximately an inch and a half to two inches in length). Its abdomen and thorax appeared somewhat flattened, though whether this was due to injury or natural appearance I can’t be certain. It didn’t appear injured, however. It was winged (its wings were long, and ‘clear’ like a fly’s). It also appeared to be somewhat glossy. It was, to the best of my judgment, near death. There was a vacant lot nearby, as well as a fairly large garden, so I don’t discount the possibility that it could have been a burrowing insect of some sort (I believe many of the stinging insects live in burrows).
When I returned via the same path fifteen or twenty minutes later, the insect was gone, and I can only assume that it somehow found the strength to fly off. I’ve often tried to determine what this thing may have been to no avail, and would appreciate any help.
Thanks in advance.
Andrew D. Gable
We suspect Andrew saw a Ci cada Killer, and his measurements were closer to the actual size, a thing many of our readers tend to exaggerate.
Letter 8 – Cicada Killer
Sat, Nov 22, 2008 at 3:41 PM
This thing FREAKED my husband out today when he found it on our recycle bin. Being “nature girl” I had to run right over and get a close look! It’s very weak, or at least acts like it. I haven’t seen it fly at all but I’m not sure if it’s because it’s colder than usual here or what. I’ve Googled my little fingers away and I’m thinking it might be a queen European Hornet. The thing is, I live in Lehigh Acres, Florida. I haven’t found any sites that mentioned them being in Southwest Florida. The way I look at it is… They fly! – They can go anywhere! Could you please help me identify it? Also, just how much danger am I in when handling it? Could I just move it somewhere else? I’m really not into killing things!
Curious Nature Girl
Lehigh Acres, Florida
Hi Curious Nature Girl,
This is a Cicada Killer, a large wasp that paralyzed Cicadas to feed to its young. The curious thing for us is that we generally get our Cicada Killer questions in July and August, and occasionally into September, but late November is very late. We have a dedicated portion of our site specifically for Cicada Killers and we have featured the Cicada Killer as a Bug of the Month recently. Now that you know what it is, you should be able to find endless information online. We have received a single report of a sting from a Cicada Killer. They are not aggressive, but males will defend their territory and though they buzz people, male Cicada Killers do not possess stingers.
Letter 9 – Cicada Killer: Harbinger of Summer
What in the world is this???? Flying insect
July 15, 2009
Hi, this flying insect was found in Central Florida in July of 09. It is about 1 1/2 inches long, looks somewhat like a wasp but it burrows into the ground. Apparently it seems to be somewhat aggressive as well. Please help!
Thanks for submitting the first Cicada Killer photo of the summer. The Cicada Killer is a true harbinger of summer in eastern North America. This large solitary wasp often constructs its underground burrows as a colony, near others of its species. Every year we get countless reports from terrified readers requesting this identification. Though they seem defensive, Cicada Killers are not known to attack people. The larger female Cicada Killer could potentially sting a person, but we have never received a substantiated report of such an occurrence. The territorial male Cicada Killers cannot sting. Cicada Killer females hunt and paralyze Cicadas, and then drag and fly them back to the burrows where they lay a single egg per Cicada. The paralyzed Cicada is fresh meat for the developing larva. We have numerous images and accounts of Cicada Killers in our archives. We have also had more than our share of Cicada Killers wind up on our Unnecessary Carnage page due to human intolerance.
Letter 10 – Cicada Killer
July 17, 2009
Hi – my back porch has been taken over by a dozen or so of these large (an inch in length, at least) flying insects since June. They hover a bit, and fly around a single spot, landing occasionally. They seem to fight/try to mate a lot; I’ve found a dead one and a few dead beetles on the patio, so they may be killing each other. They’re most active around noon, and I can’t see if they burrow or go to a nest other times. They haven’t stung anyone, and they seem fairly skittish, but are pretty big and disruptive. They will rest in the same spot frequently, so they’re killable, but I don’t want to kill one with a shovel when there are a dozen more nearby. Only in the last few weeks have more than a few shown up at the same time. They like the tomato and cucumber fl owers. I’ve included a photo on the dead one on the patio and a live one on some grass. Thanks for your help!
You have a colony of Cicada Killer Wasps. Though they are solitary wasps, Cicada Killers sometimes nest in communities. They are basically harmless, and though the females are capable of stinging, we have not gotten any reports of them actually stinging anyone. The males are quite territorial and they will defend an area from other Cicada Killers and also against other intruders, but males are incapable of stinging. Females dig a burrow and provision it with Cicadas that they sting and paralyze and then drag to the burrow. A single egg is laid on each paralyzed Cicada and the hatchling larva will feed on the fresh meat.
Letter 11 – Cicada Killer
Ground Wasps (?)
July 20, 2009
These insects have moved into my patio area, nesting in the ground under and around my ivy. They are about two inches long, and are quite agressive. Can you help identify them?
Allergic & Afraid
Dear Allergic and Afraid,
This is a Cicada Killer Wasp. They are large and they are scary and they are quite territorial. The males defend territory and the females often nest in colonies. In the nearly 9 years we have been writing this column online, we have gotten hundreds of letters about Cicada Killers, but we have never gotten a report of them stinging anyone. Males are incapable of stinging, and females save their venom to paralyze Cicadas so they can provision their burrows to feed the young. We would never say that they would never sting, as a female can sting, but we do stand by our never receiving any reports of anyone being stung.
Letter 12 – Cicada Killer
Cicada Killer Wasp?
August 6, 2009
These wasps like to rest on the walking trail and just fly a few feet away when a walker passes. There are only a few.
East Windsor, CT
You are correct. This is a Cicada Killer
Letter 13 – Cicada Killer
Cicada Killer Wasp
August 9, 2009
Thank you for your very informative website. I recently moved to the country in North Texas and am in awe of the wide variety of insects here. Since I never kill any living thing that is not a threat I have been watching these interesting insects flying around my deck for the past month. However, one of my dogs is a very curious girl and thinks that anything that flies or that she can sniff out and dig up underground is fair game for play and sometimes a meal, I would like to know if these wasps are poisonous? Unfortunately, I can’t always get to her in time to stop her destruction.
Thank you for your inquiry. Male Cicada Killers are quite territorial, but they are all bluff since they do not possess stingers. Female Cicada Killers are not aggressive, but they do have stingers and they might sting, though we have never received a substantiated report of a sting. Female Cicada Killers sting Cicadas, and they cannot be bothered intimidating humans. Can your dog be stung? It is possible, but not likely.
Letter 14 – Cicada Killer
inch-long flying, burrowing insect
August 12, 2009
we came outside to find a huge mound of dirt between my flagstones. I couldnt imagine what made this. Later in the day I saw the insect. It has wings and six orange legs, antenna, yellow stripes around it’s black body in the back. It was burrowing this hole. Digging in the dirt. Going inside and coming back out and digging backwards with its legs as if it was swimming.
Ken and Lisa Weinstein
North Salem, NY
Hi Ken and Lisa,
This is a Cicada Killer, a wasp species that preys upon Cicadas. The female wasp, as evidenced by your photograph, digs a burrow and provisions it with stung and paralyzed Cicadas that form a food source for her brood. Male Cicada Killers often act in an aggressive manner when defending territory, but male Cicada Killers do not possess a stinger and are not a threat. The female Cicada Killer does have a stinger, and might sting a human if provoked, but female Cicada Killers are not aggressive and we have never received a substantiated report of a Cicada Killer stinging a person. The nesting period may last several weeks at which time your visitor will either die or leave the area.
Letter 15 – Cicada Killer
Big waspy stingy looking bug
August 28, 2009
While taking my kids to a nearby beach on Lake Erie, we came across many ground burrows of these “Big waspy stingy looking bugs”, as my 8 year twins called them. I think they may be some type of Scoliid wasps, judging from the pictures on your site. We were wondering if there was any need to fear them, they seemed docile enough. They were about 2-21/2 inches long.Thanks for looking at our letter.
western Erie county, PA
Thanks so much for indicating in your letter that these Cicada Killers Wasps seemed docile. Female Cicada Killers are much more intent on supplying their underground burrows with paralyzed Cicadas than with stinging humans. Though a female Cicada Killer might sting a human, we have never received a substantiated report of them doing so. Male Cicada Killers that cannot sting are often aggressive about defending territory, but they are perfectly harmless. Your photos are wonderful.
Letter 16 – Cicada Killer
Looks like a wasp with striped wings.
July 11, 2010
Would you please help me id this flying insect? Is it friend or foe to my garden. It does fly. It looks like a wasp, has clear wings, 3 yellow bands across its body. I think it likes the color red. For the last 3 mornings I have found it on this red crate.
Knoxville, TN, 37919
This is a Cicada Killer, a large Sand Wasp that preys upon Cicadas to feed its brood. The female Cicada Killer stings and paralyzes Cicadas and buries them in a nest. Adult Cicada Killers feed on nectar. Sometimes people become alarmed because though the Cicada Killer is a solitary wasp, they do tend to nest in colonies. Male Cicada Killers will aggressively defend territory, but males are incapable of stinging. We have never received an authenticated report of a Cicada Killer stinging a person. That said, we would consider it a friend in the garden.
Letter 17 – Cicada Killer
Location: Myrtle Beach SC
August 29, 2010 10:06 pm
My cat spoted this very large hornet thing in our tree. I am farm girl and have never seen anything like this. It was about 3 inches long and the width of my thumb.. Very scary looking. The picture does no justice for its actual size. Please help me!
This is a Cicada Killer, a solitary wasp that preys upon Cicadas to feed its brood. Despite its large size, the Cicada Killer is not an aggressive species and we have not received a verified report of anyone being stung by a Cicada Killer, though it is entirely possible that a female Cicada Killer could sting a person. In previous years, the months of July and August have included numerous requests for Cicada Killer identification, but there were very few submissions this year.
Letter 18 – Cicada Killer In October in Florida!!!!!
Location: Port Saint Lucie, Florida
October 10, 2010 9:20 am
This was like two inches long. I’ve never seen anything like it and I’ve lived in Florida my whole life.
Signature: Thanks, Sean S
Your large wasp is a Cicada Killer, and October is very late in the year for a sighting. Most of our reports come in late July and August, though sightings on BugGuide have been reported as late as September.
Thank you very much. I saw him in my backyard yesterday morning. I saw it and couldn’t believe how big it was. The markings are different also, which makes it neat looking. I ‘m glad you could tell me what it was. Thanks again.
Letter 19 – Cicada Killer
What is it?
Location: Northern NJ
July 17, 2011 10:02 pm
Saw about 25 of these on the farm over the last 2-3 days
Signature: Curious in NJ
WE are relieved to have finally received a new photo of a living Cicada Killer, a species of Sand Wasp. Because of their large size, many people are terrified of Cicada Killers and they frequently become Unnecessary Carnage. Cicada Killers might sting if provoked, however, they are not an aggressive species. Females dig a nest in sandy soil and provision it with paralyzed Cicadas that will feed her brood after she dies.
Thanks very much for the reply. Unfortunately we have a small child that plays in the area where we have recently noticed these Wasps and are concerned for her health. Is there anything we can do to chase them away or can we somehow locate the nest and exterminate if necessary?
That is sad, and we apologize as we do not give extermination advice.
Letter 20 – Cicada Killer
New residents in our lawn.
Location: Cincinnati OH, Hyde Park area
July 20, 2011 8:33 am
there are several of these which have created a nest in our lawn. I’m hesitant to mow for fear of stirring them up. Two of these creatures have been observed capturing a full size cicada and wrestling them along the grass near the nest. I think there are multiple entrences which have a sandy low mound or are hidden under tufts of normal grass but they can be seen disappearing into this area.
Signature: Tom Osborne
In your few brief sentences, you have provided many clues as to the identity of your wasp. This is a Cicada Killer, a species of Sand Wasp, and they form solitary burrows in sandy soil, though multiple females may nest in the same area. The males defend the territory, however, their aggressive behavior is mostly a show as the males are not capable of stinging. The female Cicada Killer does all the work regarding care of the new family. She excavates the burrow and provisions it with living Cicadas that have been stung and paralyzed. She lays an egg on the Cicada, and the “comatose” victim will provide a live meal for the developing wasp larva. We have never been able to confirm a report of a Cicada Killer stinging a person, though there is great fear associated with them, which we believe to be unfounded. Cicada Killers are often exterminated because of a perceived threat, though it seems no one ever comes forward with a verified account of having been stung. Since the female Cicada Killer does possess a stinger, it is entirely feasible that she might sting if provoked, but that does not seem to happen. There will be activity around the burrows for a few weeks, and then once the nest is completed, with usually 2-7 nursery chambers, the female will die. New adults will emerge next summer. Cicada Killers in future generations are likely to return to the same nesting location provided the conditions like sandy soil and an abundant nearby habitat rich in Cicadas are still available.
Letter 21 – Cicada Killer Awareness
Thank you for being here!
July 18, 2011 10:08 pm
Over the past few months since discovering your site, I have spent countless hours with my nose pressed up to the monitor searching for this or that newest discovery. It began with an infamous “Toe-Biter” and continued with a pair of wood grubs that my boyfriend and I raised through the winter which turned out to be a couple of Osmoderma eremicola beetles. Fast forward to today, when I was asked at work to identify an enormous flying wasp which turned out to be a Cicada Killer. By so quickly discovering what had been flying around the office I became a hero, and the life of the wasp was spared as I was able to relay the details of it’s relative harmlessness. Facinating insect! This information came in handy quite unexpectedly and much to my relief a few hours later as in the garden I felt something quite large crawling over the top of my sandled foot. Another cicada killer! We had just experianced a strong thunderstorm with high winds and heavy rain, and I have feeling that
this soggy and sluggish creature was still disoriented by the pummeling it had just taken. Now as much as I love insects, to see something of that size and resembling a hornet as it does, I normally would have reacted with significantly more panic. However, with my recently acquired knowledge, I was able to gently replace her on the ground without fear of harm. A little information goes a long way! Oh yes -after witnessing my collectedness in it’s removal whilst explaining the taxonomy and life cycle of a ‘giant scary bug’, my boyfriend now thinks I’m superwoman. So thanks all around! You do awesome work!
Dear DaleShannon, superwoman,
Thanks so much for your personal account regarding the Cicada Killer. At this time of year we find ourselves working overtime to try to convince people that they do not need to exterminate every wasp they encounter. It seems there is this general perception that the safety of children is compromised if there is a wasp anywhere within 100 feet of a toddler. We try to lobby for the preservation of these necessary creatures in the food chair, though the protective hysteria that seems to accompany parenting often overwhelms common sense and a respect for other living creatures. We have pulled a photo of a Cicada Killer from our archives to accompany this posting.
Letter 22 – Cicada Killer
Location: Westtown Township, PA
July 23, 2011 8:46 am
We have had some excavation work in our back yard and we have seen a lot (6-10) of these lately. Based on your excellent site, we believe these are Cicada killers. Do you agree? We are nervous, but won’t engage in UC. If not a CK, please use your powers. Thanks.
This is most certainly a Cicada Killer. We are pleased to learn you do not plan to exterminate them. Though Cicada Killers are solitary wasps, if conditions for nesting are correct, colonies may form in a small area, and this seems to cause a segment of our readership some concern. We keep stressing that we have not ever received a report of a person being stung by a Cicada Killer, though we acknowledge that the possibility does exist. Learning to respect other creatures, which often just amounts to ignoring them, should prove that you can live in harmony with your small colony of Cicada Killers.
Letter 23 – Cicada Killer
Wasp like insect
Location: Central North Carolina
July 23, 2011 10:35 am
body banded yellow and white. Hundreds of these insects in only a certain area. Flies close to ground mostly and seldom lite. About 1 inch long. Do not attempt to sting when I walk among them. I would guess they are mating but have never seen them mate.
Signature: Don Phillips
As we do every summer, we are fielding numerous identification requests for your insect, the Cicada Killer. We also spend considerable time trying to dissuade folks from exterminating them because they fear getting stung. Cicada Killers are not aggressive wasps, and we would like our readership to pay special attention to what you have written: “Hundreds of these insects in only a certain area. … About 1 inch long. Do not attempt to sting when I walk among them.” Male Cicada Killers tend to try to defend territory, but males do not have stingers, so despite their sometimes aggressive behavior, they are harmless. Females do have stingers, but the purpose of the stinger is to paralyze Cicadas to feed to her brood. Female Cicada Killers are not aggressive and they have no interest in stinging people, though we acknowledge that they are most likely capable of stinging should one be handled or accidentally fly down an unbuttoned shirt or blouse. Thanks so much for your letter. It has given us an opportunity to share with our readership that despite you having hundreds of Cicada Killers nearby, you have not been threatened.
Letter 24 – Cicada Killer in Georgia, in October!!!!! (nope, September)
Location: Savannah, GA and Space Coast, FL
October 9, 2011 9:57 pm
I was camping with my family near Savannah, GA when this giant thing flew into where we set up camp. It began digging a good ways into the ground.
Then after we returned home to FL (east coast), I saw another one flying around as we were walking around a nature trail.
I would really appreciate it if you could tell me what kind of insect it is.
Signature: Amy D.
This is a Cicada Killer, and it is one of our most common summer identification requests, but we have never gotten a report of a sighting in October. Though your inquiry did not specify a time for the sighting, we are guessing that this is not a recent observation. Please clarify when the sighting occurred. Female Cicada Killers dig a subterranean nest that they provision with paralyzed Cicadas to feed the developing brood.
The one pictured was in mid September of this year (Savannah, GA). The second sighting closer to home, the space coast of FL, was just this past week.
We have young children, and were a little worried about how aggressive they might be, and the severity of their sting. Thank you for your help in identifying it so fast!
Hi Again Amy,
Though we imagine that Cicada Killers might sting, we have never received a verified report of a person being stung. Non-stinging males will defend territory, but they are perfectly harmless. It seems females would rather sting Cicadas.
Letter 25 – Cicada Killer
Subject: What is it?
July 5, 2012 1:02 pm
This bug has a deep hum as it hovers in the air mostly on very hot days. It looks like an unusually large bee. I have seen it dart around quickly and then either fly high up toward a tree or burrow into the dirt just under my fence leaving large holes and mounted hills of dirt. I never seen it land on anything till today and took these two photos of it on my fence post. I have no knowledge of this kind of insect. Any information on it will help.
Signature: Thank you,
Cicada Killers attract quite a bit of attention each year at the beginning of summer, and many folks are fearful because of their large size, though all the information we have found indicates that they are not aggressive and we cannot find any reports of people being stung, though we acknowledge that if a Cicada Killer is carelessly handled, it might sting. Cicada Killers have much more to fear from people than we from them and they often become victims of unnecessary carnage.
Letter 26 – Cicada Killer
Subject: What’s that bug?
July 5, 2012 10:15 pm
It sits next a wooden cesspool cover on my patio all day, for the past 2 weeks. It looks like it is protecting something, maybe its eggs under the wooden cover? It never bites but will approach and hover around any intruder in its space.
This is a beautiful photo of a beautiful wasp known as the Cicada Killer. A female Cicada Killer is a solitary Sand Wasp that digs a burrow that she provisions with paralyzed Cicadas for her developing larvae to feed upon. Thank you for bringing up that they are docile since so many are needlessly killed because their large size is intimidating to many folks.
Letter 27 – Cicada Killer
Subject: Giant Wasp?
Location: Andover, NJ, butterfly garden
July 22, 2012 12:24 pm
And another one for you … I found several of these giants flying around in a patch of bee balm. They are a little over an inch in length and seemed to be aggressive with each other, as if defending a territory perhaps? They weren’t in the least interested in me, allowing me to poke my camera within inches before buzzing off.
Signature: Deborah Bifulco
This impressive wasp is a Cicada Killer and they are frequently the victims of Unnecessary Carnage because people are frightened they might sting. Thanks for confirming that they do not act aggressively towards people, even those with cameras.
Thanks for the quick id on this one! Good to know I was right that they weren’t aggressive. J
Letter 28 – Cicada Killer
Subject: Huge wasp-like insect
Location: Smyrna, Ga
August 31, 2012 9:17 am
Hi, I found this guy on a tree in a parking lot in Smyrna, Ga. Any idea what it is?
This is a Cicada Killer and it is late in the season for a sighting. We suspect there is sap oozing from the tree and the Cicada Killer is feeding on the sap.
Letter 29 – Cicada Killer
Subject: Cicada Killers
Location: Pelham, New Hampshire 03076
September 5, 2012 9:26 pm
Hi Bug man,
I just wanted to let you know I have 5 FIVE nests in my yard of Cicada Killers.
I have seen them going into the ground only after one buzzed by my head and out of the corner of my eye my first thought was a small bird.
Then I watched as it landed and went into the ground on the end of a mulch bed.
I was able to get a few pictures but nothing clear enough to send in.
Strange part is all the other people who sent in pictures live in the southern states.
I live in Pelham, New Hampshire.
This lady cicada is about 2 1/2 inches long the biggest of all in the 5 nests scattered around my 1.5 acre lot.
Thank you for having such a fantastic website.
The Cicada Killer is distinct enough to be recognized in your blurry photo, and we have no dearth of sharp images of Cicada Killers on our website. We are pleased to hear you are living in harmony with them in New Hampshire. Though BugGuide does not have any reports of Cicada Killers in New Hampshire, they are reported in nearby New York and Massachusetts.
Letter 30 – Cicada Killer
Subject: Ground nesting hornet
Location: Cherry Hill, NJ
July 28, 2013 11:34 am
My brother has an infestation of these in his yard. They make dirt pile nests in the ground similar to cicada killers, but these are something else. They’re quite large, about 2 1/2 inches long. They appear to be docile as they have not stung anyone. Thanks for your help!
Signature: Jen & Doug
Dear Jen & Doug,
This is a Cicada Killer, a large wasp that preys upon Cicadas to feed its brood. They are solitary wasps and they are not considered aggressive, and as your email indicates, they “appear to be docile.” For years we have said that we have not received a verified report of a Cicada Killer sting, but we recently posted a comment claiming that a person was stung and the sting was quite painful. Male Cicada Killers will defend their territory by chasing much larger creatures, however male wasps are unable to sting since the stinger is a modified ovipositor, an organ for laying eggs.
Letter 31 – Cicada Killer
Location: Massachusetts, USA
October 11, 2015 5:29 pm
Hi, I’ve seen this strange hornet-like bug in my backyard a couple times over the summer when I went to mow my lawn. It makes a buzzing noise like any bee-like creature when it flies, but it doesn’t look particularly like a bee or hornet. The eyes also resemble those of a grasshopper.
This is very late in the year for a Cicada Killer sighting, so we suspect the image was taken this summer. Cicada Killers are not aggressive, but they might sting, but only if carelessly handled. The female Cicada Killer provisions her subterranean nest with paralyzed Cicadas.
Letter 32 – Cicada Killer
Subject: Rather large bee?
Location: Bayville, New Jersey
July 20, 2016 8:28 am
I’d like to know what this is.
This is a Cicada Killer, a large, non-aggressive, solitary wasp that hunts Cicadas.
Letter 33 – Cicada Killer
Subject: Large flying black and yellow insect
Location: Hamilton OH
August 6, 2016 8:38 am
Found this flying around our wood deck mid morning on Aug 6, 2016. My husband knocked it down with a flyswatter and trapped it in a peanut butter jar. Our five grandkids are fascinated and want to know what type of insect it is. My husband wants to know if it will destroy our deck.
Hope you can help!
Signature: T. Spears
Dear T. Spears,
Your deck is safe from this Cicada Killer Wasp, a non-aggressive species that will basically ignore humans, though humans often kill them out of irrational fears. The female Cicada Killer will excavate an underground nest that she provisions with paralyzed Cicadas that provide a living source of fresh meat for her growing brood.
Letter 34 – Cicada Killer
Subject: Strange Flying Insect, Dangerous?
Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
July 29, 2017 8:21 pm
I was visiting Culver’s with my family and my son, we we’re having a nice time dining indoors. I’d gone outside for a smoke break with my mum, when we noticed these large, frightening looking insects flying about. Due to the fact that my father is allergic and there is the possibility that i may be myself (i’ve never been stung), it caused me a significant amount of concern. Though my curiousity seemed to override that as i Had to snap a picture of one. I’ve never seen it before.
Signature: With Great Interest, Kara
This is one of our favorite summer identification requests, the impressive Cicada Killer. Male Cicada Killers act defensive and they are territorial, guarding good nesting areas in the hopes a female will arrive. Male Cicada Killers are perfectly harmless as they do not have stingers. Female Cicada Killers are not aggressive, and though they have the ability to sting, we cannot confirm anyone actually being stung. Female Cicada Killers use the stinger to paralyze Cicadas that are dragged back to the burrow to serve as a live food for the developing brood.
Thank you so much for taking the time to respond. We had not expected it to be harmless what-so-ever, it’s such a large bug (though i suppose it would only make sense as cicadas are larger bug themselves). Thank you again.
Letter 35 – Cicada Killer
Subject: Huge wasp
Geographic location of the bug: Connecticut
Time: 01:59 PM EDT
Hey there – We have some ginormous wasps from time to time in our yard. Almost hummingbird-like. I just found a dead one on our front walk (which is also a little strange, but that’s another story). No nests in sight. Any ideas what kind it is and how to take care of them?
How you want your letter signed: Stinger
This is a Cicada Killer, and there should be no need to “take care of them” because in all the years we have been writing What’s That Bug?, we do not have a single verified account of a person being stung. Female Cicada Killers prey on Cicadas to feed the developing brood.
Letter 36 – Cicada Killer in NYC
Subject: Giant Hornet in NYC?
Geographic location of the bug: Brooklyn, NY
Time: 09:05 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: This bug was on the outside of our window in Brooklyn. It was huge. I held a ruler up to it and it was 2 inches. It looked like some sort of bee, wasp, or hornet….
How you want your letter signed: Tommy
Just because you live in the city does not mean there is no wildlife. This impressive wasp is a Cicada Killer. Cicada Killers are not dangerously aggressive towards humans, though males which lack stingers will defend territory by buzzing any perceived threat. The female Cicada Killer does have a stinger that she uses to sting and paralyze Cicadas to provide food for her brood.
Awesome! Thanks so much for taking the time to identify this for me. Have a great rest of the day.
Letter 37 – Cicada Killer
Geographic location of the bug: Williamsburg, va
Time: 01:03 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Found this on the ground today. Have little children out playing. Where is this most likely to be nesting to keep kids away from the area?
How you want your letter signed: Worried,
While a female Cicada Killer is capable of stinging, this is not an aggressive species and it does not defend its subterranean nest.
Letter 38 – Cicada Killer
Subject: large bee with a head like a dog
Geographic location of the bug: east pa.
Time: 08:24 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: a few years a go I seen what appeared to be a very large yellow jacket with a head like a dog. it was hovering over a hole and checking me out as much as me it. about 2 to 2 1/2 inches long
How you want your letter signed: no
Despite the poor quality of your image, we are very confident this is a Cicada Killer, a large, female wasp that preys upon Cicadas to feed her brood.
Letter 39 – Cicada Killer
Subject: Big identification
Geographic location of the bug: Southeast Texas
Time: 09:13 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: This has been flying around here for a few days now. I have tried to identify it but no pictures are exactly accurate to its markings. It is the last day of July and temperatures are in the 90’s.
How you want your letter signed: Sue
16 minutes later: I believe I found a picture of it. Could it be a Cicada Killer Wasp?
You are correct that this is a Cicada Killer and it looks quite dead. Cicada Killers are not aggressive toward humans, and though they are quite large and possibly scary appearing, they are not interested in stinging humans, but that does not prevent them from falling victim to unnecessary carnage. Female Cicada Killers spend their lives hunting Cicadas to provision a nest. Like other solitary wasps, they do not defend the nest from threats.
Thank you for verifying it’s name. We have tons of Cicadas here so that explains their presence.
Letter 40 – Cicada Killer
Subject: Bee/wasp-like insect
Geographic location of the bug: Kingston, NJ
Time: 04:58 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: In the last week these bees have appeared in an area of our yard that is very dry with browned grass. All of a sudden they have bored holes in the ground with mounds of dirt around them. These bees are larger than most, seem non-aggressive but are wrecking the area around our patio. Today I noticed them attempting to move some dead cicadas towards the openings. Is there a way to rid the area of the bees(don’t want to kill them) and get them to relocate? We have lived here for 40 years and have never seen any bees like these? I would welcome all info.
How you want your letter signed: Beelover, Liz
Dear Beelover Liz,
This is not a bee. The Cicada Killer is a species of solitary Wasp that has a life cycle that lasts a year. Upon emergence in early summer, a female Cicada Killer mates and then spends several weeks hunting Cicadas to provision an underground nest with food for her brood. The larvae feed on the paralyzed, but still living Cicadas, and then pupate, emerging in early summer to begin the cycle again. You will only be “troubled” by their digging for a short time longer. We are having a hard time believing you discovered that trove of Cicadas on your walk. We suspect they might have been excavated, destroying the underground nest along with a future generation of Cicada Killers.
27 thoughts on “Cicada Killer Vs Japanese Hornet: 6 Main Differences”
Sounds a lot like one of my other favorite insects, the Carpenter Bee. I astonished a couple of my college classmates by sneaking up on a patrolling male outside the Union Grove Gallery at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and capturing him in one shot, with my bare hand. “Won’t it sting you?!” they asked, listening to the bee’s consternated buzzing in my curled fist. “Nope, this one’s a male. No stinger. But if you’re another insect flying through his territory, watch out! He’ll nip your head clean off!”
We were camping in north central Illinois overLabor Day weekend, and my son got stung by one of those “docile” cicada killer wasps. His reddness started about the size of a quarter, then grew to the size of his hand. By the time we got to the E.R. the next day, it ran most of his calf. Yes, we gave him Benedryl and anti itch cream. The E.R. doctor said if it ever happens again, to mix Adolf meat tenderizer into a paste and put it on the stung spot and that should pull the venom out. He is on an antibiotic to be safe in case he did have an allergic reaction.
Without a photo, we wouldn’t be certain that a Cicada Killer is the culprit. While it is possible, we would think the equally large and not to dissimilar looking European Hornet might have been the stinger.
Well I can substantiate a Cicada Killer sting for you, I got stung last night by one as I went out my back door, They hang around my porch light and while bothersome I never pay much attention to them, but last night as I walked out my back door, I guess I had the mis-fortune of having one fly right in my left arm sleeve, I felt a burning sensation on my wrist and thought the fire fell off my cigarette, but then I heard that familiar heavy buzzing and I knew I had been stung, I shook the culprit out as I stepped back into my house only not quick enough as I brought the culprit in the house with me and I followed it to kill it and identify it and it was a Cicada Killer Wasp. Fortunately I do not have a history of allergic reaction to bee and wasp stings. I had a small red mark at the sting site on my wrist and within a few minutes followed by a white area around the sting site and intense pain, within 15 minutes I had an area of redness and swelling about 3 inches wide by 6 inches long on my wrist, the pain was intense unlike I have ever experiences before with other stings by Bees , Wasps or Hornets. An ice cube help some immediate pain relief, I took a Benedryl as an added precaution. it has now been almost 24 hours since the sting the redness and puffiness are still present with an itching sensation, aside from that most all the painful discomfort has subsided, I keep reading its uncommon for them to sting humans I guess I had the misfortune to be one of them. I personally am one who normally can disregard a wasp or bee sting and almost forget the incident in an hour or so, but this Cicada Killer Wasp sting whoa! those suckers are painful, I don’t recommend it.
Thanks for your account, though without a photo of the culprit, we might suspect a different species, like the European Hornet. Vespa crabro, which can be viewed on BugGuide. Like the Cicada Killer, this is a large wasp with yellow markings. We have not heard of Cicada Killers being attracted to lights at night, but we have received information that the European Hornet is attracted to lights. It is also worth noting that Cicada Killers are generally active during the summer, from late June to early August. European Hornets are most visible in the autumn when the colonies have reached their greatest number of inhabitants. We would request that you please take a look at the images of the European Hornet and indicate if that might be the insect that stung you. We would hate to have our readership convict the wrong insect in this case. Thanks in advance.
I wanted to comment on this because I just got out of the ER about an hour ago from being stung by one of these guys.
Here’s my story in short…I was stung by one about 3 or 4 weeks ago. It was dark and I laid my hand on the patio table to pick something up and must have put my hand right on a female. The pain was horrible but didn’t last. I ended up with a swollen hand and some itching but that’s about it.
I told a friend of mine about it who is the resident mountain main and critter expert. He said he had heard that being stung by one was equal to being hit in the face with a hammer. I had to agree with his assessment.
Earlier tonight was standing up while outside and one must have landed on my shorts and when my arm crossed it, it stung. The pain was again horrid, but this time I started showing signs of an allergic reaction within minutes. I had weird white bumps on my face, my lips were swelling, my feet were swelling, red splotches all over, even my voice was changed from the air pipes closing I guess.
I’m okay now I guess…minus the fact that I have to carry an epi pen around forever.
While we sympathize with your ordeal, both of your encounters occurred after dark, and we question the accuracy of your eye witness account. You did not indicate where this incident occurred, but over much of the range of the Cicada Killer, an introduced species, the European Hornet has been increasing in numbers. The European Hornet, Vespa crabro, can easily be mistaken for a Cicada Killer (See BugGuide). Both are large wasps with similar coloration and patterns, but the social European Hornet is much more aggressive. European Hornets will fly at night, unlike the Cicada Killer. You can read this University of Tennessee Extension article about European Hornets and it contains a comparison with the Cicada Killer. It is our opinion that you have falsely accused the Cicada Killer of stinging you.
I live in lower Alabama, and have recently had some Cicada Killers move in next to my sidewalk. While out watering my rose bushes, I see these guys flying around the yard collecting who knows what, but they have never actually tried to sting me. I’ve had one land on my shoulder, briefly, but it never tried to harm me. Do they only attack cicadas or will they attack other flying insects as well?
Adult Cicada Killers feed on nectar and pollen from flowers. The Cicada is the larval food. Larvae cannot fend for themselves. The female Cicada Killer provisions her nest with Cicadas. If Cicadas are not available, she will not substitute any other insect. Only the female Cicada Killer can sting.
I have a lot of these Eastern Cicada Killers that have burrowed in my front yard. I had been trying to plant new grass in the front and now have about 2 dozen burrows all around. What can I do to get them to leave without killing them? They do seem docile. I have captured one. It’s definitely a female as it’s trying to sting the Tupperware container. I don’t want eggs all over my yard and these wasps as I am allergic to stings as well as big holes all over when planting grass.
just saw one in my yard draging a large bug made good time accross yard aug 1 2014 brandon fla wanted to look up to make sure it wasent dangerous
Though Cicada Killers do not attempt to sting people, we would urge people not to try to handle a Cicada Killer as that might result in a sting.
I have about 5 nest holes for these Cicada killers in my yard. I live in lower Michigan and started noticing holes about a week ago (August 13). Today I was lucky enough to see one with it’s kill.
I have an over abundance of Cicada Killers in my yard and they are definitely attracted to the lights on my porch at night. I have killed a total of 5 just because they hover around my coach lights in the evening.
And i promise they are cicada killers. I can always send in a picture if you would like.
That’s weird, because I heard cicadas while I was out cycling this afternoon. I don’t ever remember hearing cicadas this late in the year. I’m in Oklahoma. I suppose there could also be cicadas in Massachusetts.
Does it hop??
Very cool, can’t desigree fith the ID, but I saw a sphinx moth in the image.
That makes sense, but I’m still pretty sure it is a Cicada Killer.
I am invaded by this ferocious looking insect. If their are supposed to be solitary, then they didn’t get the message, they decided to establish a colony under my house.
they scare me to no end, especially reading about how much their sting hurts. What kind of nest do they build, a hanging one, one in the ground? Do I need to call Orkin to get rid of them? My little dog is terrified of them.
I am invaded by this ferocious looking insect. If their are supposed to be solitary, then they didn’t get the message, they decided to establish a colony under my house.
they scare me to no end, especially reading about how much their sting hurts. What kind of nest do they build, a hanging one, one in the ground? Do I need to call Orkin to get rid of them? My little dog is terrified of them.
We do not provide extermination advice.
I also was lucky enough to see one with its prey, but it wasn’t a cicada, it’s a bit late in the season for cicada in Tucson. It was disappearing into a hole with a 1/2 inch a flat green bug with long bent legs like a frog. I’ve been seeing these green bugs all over my yard lately. It was really a great experience seeing it fly in, almost hovering like a helicopter, with a green bug in tow, diving into the hole first, dragging the bug right behind until they disappeared. I had no idea what it was, but I knew I had witnessed enough interesting details to get a positive ID.
We suspect you saw a Great Golden Digger Wasp with its preferred prey, a Katydid, and not a Cicada Killer.
How do you get rid of them?
We do not provide extermination advice.
Want to note because the writer mentioned no nest in sight: these build their nest in a little hole in the ground, with only 2 per nest. Love this site 🙂
I located the nest of European Hornets and hooked up a 20 FT PVC plastic pipe to a shop vacuum and vacuumed them out of their hole for a 24 hour period. They were in the eaves of my home. When the vacuum was full I took the vacuum to an open field several miles away and released them. I know they probably died. But they were after everyone at night as we sat on our patio. I called the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and they advised me to have them exterminated. They wanted $300. to come out. I did it for free. Sorry if I offended anyone. But when you see a 4″ bee on your 4 year old Grand Sons face. Game changes.