Do Cicada Killer Wasps Sting? Truth Revealed

Cicada killers are often confused for yellow jackets, and the infamous murder hornets. However, do cicada killer wasps sting? Let’s find out.

The cicada killer wasps are one of the largest wasps in the world. These amazing creatures are known to be predators of cicadas, who are food for their larvae.

Despite their large size, these wasps are gentle and rarely attack humans. Fascinating right? Let us read this article to learn more about these gentle giants of the wasp species.

Do Cicada Killer Wasps Sting? Truth Revealed

What Are Cicada Killers?

As the name suggests, these wasps are known to be prime hunters of cicadas. The female wasp of these species often searches for cicadas in trees to hunt and feed them to the larvae.

Cicada Killer wasps are larger in size compared to other species of wasps. They show a spectacular growth of around two inches in length.

This is nearly equivalent to Asian Giant Hornets, which is why people often confuse the two. However, the similarity is only in size and appearance, but not in their aggression.

These wasps have yellow markings on their abdomens, though the rest of the body is mostly dark brown or blackish in color. Their wings are amber colored.

Where Do They Build Their Nests?

Cicada killer wasps fall in the category of solitary wasps and are known to nest alone. These insects are usually found in gardens or yards that are filled with cicadas.

After mating, the female cicada killer wasp selects a suitable nesting site and starts digging a hole. They mostly select sandy areas like roadsides, embankments, and sidewalks to build their nest.

In highly populated areas, they choose to build nests in lawns as well. They use their powerful front legs to loosen the soil first, and then they dig up the hole using the middle legs.

Sometimes a female enters a pre-existing burrow of another wasp and uses her head to push out the dirt. They dig deep into the soil for about 10 inches.

Do Cicada Killer Wasps Sting? Truth Revealed

Are Cicada Killer Wasps Dangerous?

Like most solitary wasps, the cicada killers are less aggressive and won’t make much effort to defend their solitary nests.

These wasps are not at all like yellow jackets (which they are often confused with); they are very unlikely to attack humans.

The males don’t have a stinger and are harmless, the females can sting, but they rarely do so. Instead, they preserve it for stinging insects to feed the wasp larvae.

Do Cicada Killer Wasps Sting Humans?

Despite their enormous size, the cicada killer wasps usually don’t engage with humans.

Also, as mentioned above, only females are capable of stinging. They use venom for hunting and paralyzing cicadas. However, if they feel highly threatened, they will attack and sting.

Do Cicada Killer Wasps Sting? Truth Revealed

Cicada Killer Sting Pain Index?

The cicada killer wasps do not deliver excruciating stings. According to the inventor of the Schmidt pain index, Justin Schmidt, cicada killers are the “gentle giants of the wasp world.”

Their sting feels much like a pinprick, and usually does not cause even soreness or swelling.

Can Cicada Killers Sting a Dog?

Cicada killers don’t usually attack pets, but the wasp will attack if a dog tries to step on it and chase it.

If your dog gets attacked by a cicada killer wasp, it will experience a hearing echo of buzzing sounds.

Some dogs might be allergic to the sting and suffer from swelling, especially when stung in the mouth or face.

Do Cicada Killer Wasps Sting? Truth Revealed

What To Do For The Wound of Cicada Killer Wasp Sting?

If a cicada killer wasp stings you, there won’t be much pain or swelling; however, to avoid redness or itching, here are a few steps that you can take:

Clean the area of the wasp sting with a mixture of clean water and soap. If you experience swelling or redness, you can apply a cold compress or an ice pack.

If you are allergic to wasps stings, immediately visit the hospital.

Are Cicada Killers Beneficial?

It is a problem to deal with a bunch of noisy cicadas near your house or yard. Therefore having these wasps around you will be a great way to eliminate them.

These cicada killers will help you eliminate pests by hunting and killing them quickly. Thus, cicada killers are beneficial insects and are pest controllers.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if you get stung by a cicada killer?

If you get stung by a cicada killer wasp, you will likely experience mild pain with a bit of swelling and redness.
These wasps generally don’t attack humans and deliver less painful stings compared to other wasps, like yellow jackets. If the sting triggers an allergic reaction, immediately seek medical attention.

What attracts cicada killer wasps?

As the name suggests, cicada killer wasps are highly attracted to areas that have a high cicada population.
Therefore, if you have a yard full of noisy cicadas, these cicada killers will most likely visit the yard to build their nests. They are also attracted to sandy areas and extensive lawns.

How long do cicada killers stay around?

Cicada killer larvae hatch from the eggs quickly. After hatching, they feed on the paralyzed cicadas that are placed by the mother wasp in their underground nest.
They stay in the pupa stage throughout the winter to survive the cold. Once the surface shows liveable conditions, they emerge as adults and live for 2-5 weeks.

Are cicada killers good to have around?

Despite the giant size, the cicada killer wasps are beneficial insects. Being one of the top predators of cicadas, they can act as excellent pest eliminators.
If you have a yard or lawn full of cicadas, these wasps are the ideal solution to get rid of them naturally.

Wrap Up

Cicada killers are often misunderstood to be highly aggressive because of their giant size, but these creatures are incredibly gentle. We hope this article was able to clear that misconception.

However, even though these creatures are not aggressive, make sure not to disturb them as they flutter around the garden, cleaning out your wasp problem.

Thank you for reading the piece.

Reader Emails

Cicada killers are usually harmless, but in some cases, they might aggressively want to nest in your homes.

However, the fact remains that the males don’t have a stinger, whereas the females are usually non-aggressive.

Read through some of our reader emails to understand the dilemma and why you don’t need to be afraid of them.

Letter 1 – Cicada Killer Stings

On CK wasp stings…………..
Hi Fellows;
I live in Central Florida in a small town called Mims. As long as I have lived here, the CKs have been around every summer. Scared the devil out of me until I learned what they are. Some time ago, I found a web site run by a lady who studies CKs for a living. In one of her discussions, she described how she actually induced a female CK to sting her! She showed a picture of the sting site afterwards, and according to her description, it did essentially nothing to her. Her assertion is that CK venom is so specific to cicadas that it does not cause pain in animals such as humans. Has anyone ever heard of this?
Dave Mohr
Mims, Florida

Hi Dave,
We wish you had provided us with a link to the website.

Daniel,
Try this…………… http://ww2.lafayette.edu/ ~hollidac/CKcontrol2.html
Dave Mohr

Letter 2 – Cicada Killer Sting

Cicada Killer Sting
The cicada killer in my area are non aggressive toward me and we tolerate their presence on our patio area. I have never felt intimidated by their presence and I do wonder if anyone has reported as actually being stung by a cicada killer. I have been stung by honey bees, bumblebees, paper wasps, yellow jackets, and sweat bees. Cicada killers are the least of my worries.
Larry

Hi Larry,
Thanks for your testamony.

Stingless Cicada Killers
(07/29/2006) cicada wasps Just a comment-when my son was two years old and toddling around our patio, I witnessed him stepping on the hugest wasp I had ever seen. I later did some research and found the name of this huge “beast”: it was the cicada KILLER wasp. The ironic thing was it proved harmless to my son. Could easily have stung his tender little foot but did not. We have seen the same wasps in our yard for the last 15 years and have never felt threatened by them. They do their thing, we do ours, and we live side by side peacefully. I sill always have a soft spot for this species since the day that one wasp “chose” to not hurt my baby. Kelly

Letter 3 – European Hornet stings Cicada

Cicada killer!!!
August 19, 2009
Thought you guys would like these cool pictures of a cicada killer (I think) attacking a cicada!!! I heard a weird buzz and saw them fighting so I ran and got my camera…enjoy!!!
Brian M
Baltimore, MD

Cicada Killer stings Cicada
European Hornet stings Cicada

Hi Brian,
Wow.  What a fantastic action photo of a female Cicada Killer stinging a Cicada to feed her brood.

Correction
August 29, 2009
Hi, Daniel:
“Cicada killer stinging cicada” is actually a European hornet, Vespa crabro.  They are large, pretty fearless predators on a variety of other insects.  They will also raid bee hives for the honey, crushing worker bees in their massive jaws along the way.
Eric

Letter 4 – Cicada Killer Dilemma

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!
D.A.
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,
D.A.

Letter 5 – Cicada Killer is not aggressive

Large flying insect
Location: N.W. Ohio
July 23, 2011 9:20 am
I live in N.W. Ohio in Defiance County and recently have seen several of these rather large flying things, and wondered what they are. They are brownish in color with stripes on their back half that sort of resemble a bee, but not exactly. They are an inch and a half or maybe slightly larger, swept back wings, and are on the move constantly. I managed to catch this one stopping for just a second on the patio. They hang around my flowers but don’t seem to feed on them and I have had them buzz by me but don’t seem aggressive to humans. Any help? Thank You.
Signature: John Geiser

Cicada Killer

Hi John,
We have posted several letters recently in an effort to inform folks that Cicada Killers, like the one in your photograph, do not need to be exterminated as they are not aggressive wasps.  We want to draw our readers’ attention to your email which indicates:  “
I have had them buzz by me but don’t seem aggressive to humans.”  We hope your letter will help save the lives of Cicada Killers that have nested near peoples’ homes.

Thank you so much, Daniel. Once I figured out how to search your site I did come up with the pictures and descriptions already posted. That was shortly after sending my question to you. Good work and keep it up!! I promise not to kill any of them, but that won’t hold true for the mole that’s tearing up my flower garden!! Thanks again. John Geiser

Letter 6 – Cicada Killer scares, but doesn’t sting, a child

Subject: cicada killer
Location: aviston il.
July 25, 2012 10:10 am
my daughter (10) came in screaming and crying that a giant wasp had landed on her, and keeps trying to get her. So I went out side and wow that thing is huge! After some research I think it may be a cicada killer so i went back out and was able to get some in flight photos but I couldn’t get it to land. Its about 1 1/2-2 inches long orange head and thorax with a black with yellow stripes on the abdomen.
Signature: thank you. you guys rock

Cicada Killer

We are posting your submission because it reaffirms that though Cicada Killers might seem scary, they do not tend to sting people.

Letter 7 – First Cicada Killer posting of 2015

Subject: Wasp bumblebee hybrid
Location: Louisiana
June 28, 2015 7:39 pm
I saw a half wasp half bumblebee bodied flying insect today. What is this thing called and what is its potency when stinging.
Signature: Glf1sse

Cicada Killer
Cicada Killer

Dear Glf1sse,
Though your image is very blurry, we are quite certain that this is a Cicada Killer, a large wasp that preys on Cicadas.  This is our first posting of a Cicada Killer this year, though we still have two weeks of identification requests to attempt to answer, and there may be an image of a Cicada Killer there.
  We have no confirmed reports of anyone being stung by a Cicada Killer, a non-aggressive species.

Letter 8 – First Cicada Killer posting of the season

Subject: Flying bee- or hornet-like insect
Location: Pennsylvania (Philadelphia suburbs)
July 21, 2017 6:48 am
These bugs (2-3) fly around my front lawn during the day. They don’t seem aggressive; I just typically walk trough them if they’re flying in my path. They are rather large and bigger (and probably less segmented) than a bee or hornet would be.
Signature: Ken

Cicada Killer

Dear Ken,
This large wasp is a Cicada Killer, and your submission is our first report of the season.  People fear Cicada Killers because of their size and behavior.  Male Cicada Killers are harmless as they cannot sting, but they will patrol an area favorable for nesting and chase other creatures away.  Female Cicada Killers sting and paralyze Cicadas to feed the larva that develop in underground burrows.  Though they are capable of stinging, the female Cicada Killer is not aggressive and she does not defend her nest. 

Letter 9 – First Cicada Killer posting of the season

Subject:  Is this a Bee or other?
Geographic location of the bug:  Stratford, NJ
Date: 07/08/2018
Time: 10:47 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  I have a “large bee” type of insect, two actually that are in the same place everyday! One is burrowing in the dirt and the other sits on a tire or leaves just a few feet away? Should I be worried about this animal? Is it harmful to my children who play in the same area?
How you want your letter signed:  Robert Hammond

Cicada Killer

Dear Robert,
This is our first Cicada Killer posting of the season.  Cicada Killers are large, solitary wasps that prey on Cicadas.  The female stings and paralyzes a Cicada and then drags it to an underground nest where she lays an egg on it.  When the waspling hatches, it feeds upon the still living, paralyzed Cicada.  Cicada Killers are not aggressive toward humans.  Male Cicada Killers will defend territory, but they cannot sting, so they are perfectly harmless.  In our opinion, the Cicada Killers in your yard pose no threat to human nor pets, only to Cicadas.  People with a morbid and irrational fear of insects often subject Cicada Killers to Unnecessary Carnage.

Letter 10 – First Cicada Killer posting of the year

Subject:  Unidentified bug
Geographic location of the bug:  Bryn Mawr, PA
Date: 07/21/2021
Time: 11:04 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  We couldn’t figure out what this is? It is always coming to the same spot and stay on the same leaf of our pepper plant almost all day long.
Thank you:  How you want your letter signed:  Gozde Ayaz

Cicada Killer

Dear Gozde,
This magnificent solitary Wasp is a Cicada Killer.  Because of their large size, Cicada Killers often fall victim to Unnecessary Carnage at the hands of folks that kill things that they fear.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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3 thoughts on “Do Cicada Killer Wasps Sting? Truth Revealed”

  1. The cicada killers in my backyard have holes all over the ground. There are about 9 of them flying all over the place. We finally got our yard looking nice and now it is full of brown mounds. If these are there nesting holes, we will be overwhelmed with these critters next season. Any suggestion on how to get rid of them?
    Margaret of Quakertown

    Reply
  2. The cicada killers in my backyard have holes all over the ground. There are about 9 of them flying all over the place. We finally got our yard looking nice and now it is full of brown mounds. If these are there nesting holes, we will be overwhelmed with these critters next season. Any suggestion on how to get rid of them?
    Margaret of Quakertown

    Reply

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