Looking for ways to rid your home and garden of cicada killers without using pesticides? Here is a complete guide for you!
Watching a bunch of black, giant wasps in your garden fluttering around and sitting on your flowers can be terrifying.
Cicada killers are quite infamous, partly because of their looks. These wasps are usually docile, but they do have a stinger, and therefore they can be a risk to you and your family.
Moreover, even though they are solitary wasps, these bugs have a habit of making their nests in the same place so that you might see several of them in your garden.
That said, using pesticides on your plants and yard is never a good idea because these chemicals can be toxic to your family and also kill off other beneficial insects.
In this article, we look at some natural remedies that will help you get your yard get rid of cicada killers.
What Are Cicada Killers?
Cicada killers are mild-mannered wasps. We know that seems something of an oxymoron, but these gentle creatures are much maligned due to the misplaced fears of people.
Born in the Sphecidae family and otherwise known as digger wasps, Cicada killers usually focus on only two tasks in their short life as adults – digging burrows and filling them up with cicadas.
These bugs are usually black with yellow stripes on their abdomen and amber-colored wings.
In the United States, cicada killers are present in the eastern states, beyond the rocky mountains.
They mostly appear during the summer months (June or July) and, despite having a menacing stinger, keep their distance from humans.
Moreover, they don’t make those typical hanging nests that most people imagine when thinking of wasps and bees – these critters dig burrows in the soil, and that’s where they live most of their lives, albeit as larvae.
In fact, the male of the species is somewhat aggressive, but the poor chaps don’t have anything to threaten with – nature hasn’t given them a stinger.
The females, who do have heavy weaponry, are fairly docile.
Besides, they have better things to do, such as laying eggs and providing food for the babies. They use their impressive stingers to stun and paralyze cicadas and take them back to their nests.
What Does a Cicada Killer Nest Look Like?
Their nests are uniquely identifiable from that of other creatures by the U-shape around the opening of the hole. Most other bugs and small animals make round holes.
The opening of the cave is hardly 1 to 2 inches in diameter, but that’s just a facade.
When you go down the rabbit hole, you realize that it can be as deep as 12 inches in the ground, with tunnels running as big as 70 inches! That’s almost the height of a grown man.
These tunnels have a purpose – the female wasp builds chambers in these tunnels, one for each of her eggs. Moreover, she also provisions each of them with two or three cicadas.
When it’s time to hatch, the larvae find a ready meal in the form of paralyzed cicadas sitting around, just waiting to be devoured.
And the larvae do not disappoint – in 10 days’ time, they eat up the insides of the cicadas and then wait for fall to weave a cocoon around themselves.
They pupate during the winters, waiting for the summer sun. And in due course, when summer arrives, these wasps finally decide to come out and repeat the cycle again.
Are They Dangerous?
To be completely honest, these bugs may look menacing, but they are extremely gentle. As we said earlier, females have a lot of responsibilities to fulfill in a short life span (adults live for only a few weeks).
During this time, they have to mate, produce eggs, dig burrows, paralyze cicadas, and provision a king’s meal for their kids.
Who has the time to go around stinging humans? However, the stingers are not just a showpiece – if humans try to mishandle them or anger them somehow, these wasps will not hesitate to use them.
If you have children or pets in the house, the likelihood of a wasp sting increases multifold because, well, kids will be kids.
Controlling Cicada Killer Wasps, Naturally
While we have mentioned that these wasps are not very interested in stinging you, it’s important to also know that they can gather in large numbers.
Even though cicada killers are solitary wasps (they don’t make a nesting colony), they tend to make their nests very close to each other. Given the space, you might find as many as 100 nests on the same piece of land.
Perhaps this is because these bugs are very choosy about their real estate – they want sandy soil with no vegetation around, lots of sun and warmth, and near about a garden (so that they can get their cicadas easily).
Whatever the reasons, these guys congregate and then become a threat. They can block off entire parts of your garden with their constant buzzing and threats of a sting.
Before we begin with the measures to control these wasps, here are some important things to note:
- Attacking a wasp nest during the day is madness. You are at risk of getting stung multiple times, no matter what precautions you take. Always approach it at night.
- Cover your body as well as you can. Wear mufflers, hats, loose flannel shirts, long pants, and maybe even a jacket. Clothing can protect you at least a little bit from a sting.
- Try not to get too close to the nest. Even if you have to pour or sprinkle something around it, keep a safe distance. For pouring liquids, use a spray bottle.
Will Vinegar Kill Cicada Killers?
Not directly, vinegar does not have the same effect on cicada killers as it does on soft-bodied insects like aphids.
However, you can mix water with vinegar and pour it down the wasp’s nest during the night. The liquid will fill up the holes, making the sand muddy.
These wasps do not make their nests in muddy soil, so the vinegar will ultimately force them to find another place to nest.
Does Borax Kill Cicada Killers?
Yes, boric acid impacts cicada killers and might kill them off as well. To use boric acid, go down to the nests at night and pour it down the hole generously.
Make sure to pour it in all the nests (there can be several in the same spot). If you do this for two to three days in a row, the wasp population will reduce significantly.
The remaining few wasps can then be taken care of by other methods, including swatting them.
Does Bleach Kill Cicada Killers?
Yes, bleach is another excellent chemical agent to deal with cicada killers. Just like boric acid, pour bleach down the nest for two to three days in a row.
Keep in mind that both bleach and boric acid will work only on the living wasps. If there are eggs inside the nest, bleach will not work.
After a few days, the eggs might hatch, and you will have the same problem on your hands again.
Will Ammonia Kill Cicada Killers?
Yes, in fact, ammonia is one of the most widely used agents for controlling these wasps. When ammonia comes in contact with water, it creates ammonium hydroxide, which is a corrosive agent.
When you pour ammonia down the cicada killer’s nest, it will kill of the wasps almost immediately. Unfortunately, this method will not work on eggs either.
Will Soapy Water Kill Cicada Killers?
Yes, interestingly, a solution of dish soap and water is an excellent way to kill not only wasps but other flying insects as well.
Dish soap solution suffocates these bugs and quickly kills them off. Like most other chemicals, though, dish soap solution does not have any impact on the eggs either.
Will Diatomaceous Earth Kill Cicada Killers?
Yes, Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is an extremely popular insecticidal dust. It is made from fossilized algae and has chemicals that attack the exoskeletons of bugs.
DE is particularly useful in the case of wasps because it is able to impact even the eggs of the bug. Just dust the area near the nests with DE. Do it every night for as long as a week, and you should see excellent results.
Does Peppermint Oil Spray Kill Cicada Killers?
Peppermint oil spray does not kill wasps. However, the pungent odor is abhorrent to them, so it does act as a repellant.
Most wasps and, in fact, even other insects do not come near a peppermint oil spray because the odor is too much for them.
By spraying this oil in your garden, you can build a ring fence around your plants.
In fact, there are several other essential oils that can also do the job, such as lemon oil and clove oil.
How Can Boiling Water Kill Cicada Killers?
Boiling water is a very simple and effective trick to remove not just the wasps but also their egg and larvae.
During the night, go to the nests with a torch and pour boiling water in each nest. The water will kill off the wasps, and it will also destroy the nest.
Moreover, other wasps will not be able to make more nests in the space because the soil will become muddier.
How To Destroy Cicada Killer Nest?
The best way to completely destroy a cicada killer nest is to use a liquid on it. Boiling water, vinegar or ammonia will all do the trick.
Liquid makes the sand muddy and makes it useless for the wasp. They will not make a burrow in muddy soil, so they end up having to relocate.
How To Kill Cicada Killer Eggs?
As you might have noticed, many of the solutions that we proposed earlier do not work on the eggs.
To remove eggs from a nest, the easiest way is to use boiling water. It will make the nest unusable and also detroy the eggs.
What To Do if There is a Cicada Killer Wasp in House?
Cicada killers do not – we repeat – do not make nests in your house. These are ground digger wasps that love to make their homes only in the garden, that too in spots where there is no vegetation and clear sunshine.
If you have spotted a cicada killer wasp in your house, it most probably strayed in after smelling some yummy fruits or other sugary concoctions on your dinner table.
The best strategy is to try to trap it under a glass and then just let it off in the wild. If that doesn’t work, simply try to swat it with a book or some other big object – it will most probably just find a window and let itself out at the earliest opportunity.
Do not kill the poor wasp – it is a benign creature, and a single wasp can not really hurt you at all. All the methods we described above are best used only if you spot several of these wasps in your garden.
How To Prevent Them From Making Burrows Again?
Once you have gotten rid of cicada killers from your garden, it is important to remain vigilant. Wasps are persistent; when they like a piece of real estate, they love to double down on it.
Here are some ideas on what to do so that they leave your garden alone permanently:
If you have patches of no vegetation or grass in your garden, your first order of business should be to plant some vegetation there. Wasps cannot make tunnels in soil that has grass on it, so they will not come back to your home if you don’t have empty bald spots.
Add a (light) layer of gravel at such spots if you don’t want to plant vegetation. The gravel will work in the same way – it will prevent them from making nests.
Remove cicadas from your garden. Find a good narrow-spectrum insecticide that works only on cicadas, and spray it all over the place. If there’s no food, the wasps will not come back.
Another idea is to plant some shrubs such as eucalyptus, marigold, and clove. These plants naturally repel wasps, so they should be able to give you some protection.
Birds and some rodents love to snack on wasps. Build a birdhouse in your garden and invite them to remove the wasps naturally.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you get rid of cicada killers permanently?
The best way to do so is to remove cicadas from your garden and plant vegetation on any bald patches of soil.
Removing the source of food and shelter in the garden will discourage wasps from ever coming back to your place.
Should you kill a cicada killer?
If it is only a few cicada killers, you should consider just letting them live. These wasps are really short-lived, but for the small time that they are around, they will quickly rid your garden of cicadas, which are pests of the first degree.
How long do cicada killers stay around?
Adult cicada killers only have somewhere between two to six weeks to live, not more than that.
During this time, they have to mate, reproduce, dig burrows, provision for cicadas and lay their eggs on them.
That’s a tall order, and no wonder these little creatures are always so busy!
Where do cicada killers go at night?
Cicada killers retire to their nests at night. These guys are diurnal creatures, they are active during the hottest hours of the day, and as the evening sun comes, they lose their energy and start to go back to their burrows.
Before attacking cicada killers and trying to get rid of them, ask yourself – can you really not coexist with them?
For only a matter of six weeks, these little guys will grace your garden, rid you of your cicada problem and also pollinate many of your flower beds.
All they ask for is some yummy flower nectar, and for you to keep your distance. Perhaps it is not that bad a deal to just live and let live.?
Thank you for reading!
Go through some of the letters from our readers inquiring on what might kill the cicada killers in their gardens, and how to get rid of them.
Letter 1 – Cicada Killers Dead: Cause Unknown
Hi, I have dozens of these guys dead or twitching in my driveway and street in San Antonio, Texas. They are dropping like flies (pardon my pun!) and I was trying to make sure I had correctly identified them, and wondered if you could shed any light on why they might be dying in droves around my home? I’ve lived here 8 years, and never seen them before this year. Also, I was wondering whether or not they are aggressive, and if they are likely to sting people? Thanks for any information,
This is a Cicada Killer, and we suspect it did not die of a natural causes. The twitching you describe sounds like poison is involved. Perhaps one of your neighbors was fearful, though Cicada Killers rarely sting.
Letter 2 – Cicada Killer Drowned
Cicada Killer Wasp?
I found this brightly colored insect (Cicada Killer?) washed up on the beach in North Carolina this summer. I saw it from a distance and went over in hopes that I’d discovered a strange and beautiful shell (imagine my surprise, lol!). Anyway, great website! I’m surprised by how often I inadvertently end up here looking at bugs. Thanks for all your help!
Your photo of a drowned Cicada Killer is quite stunning. It really shows off the stinger nicely and those awesome orange legs.
Letter 3 – More Cicada Killer Carnage
question about types of wasp
I have a question about a type of wasp that lives under ground. I live in Illinois, about 50 miles south of Chicago, and I’ve started finding a extremely large type of wasp. The length of the smallest is about 1 1/2″ and the largest is about 3 inches in length. The roundness of the bodies range from 1/4″ to about 3/8″ and they are very aggressive and territorial. I looked at the wasp and hornets on your sight and sorry to say nothing as big as what I have encountered. I have attached a pic of a small one that I was able to catch, its curled up, but you can see the markings and size. Please let me know if you have any info on this guy, or any questions, I would appreciate it very much. Thank you very much in advance,
Cicada Killer are large and territorial, but they very very rarely sting humans. Only the females sting, and they are much more interested in paralyzing Cicadas and dragging them to underground burrows where they provide food for larval wasps. Males seem more aggressive as they court females, but they cannot sting. Adult wasps feed on nectar. There is really no need to try to eliminate them.
Letter 4 – Cicada Killer Gassed to Death
A Large Wasp or Hornet
This bug took three direct hits of ortho wasp killer before it went down. I’m curious what type of bug this is. The three interrupted bands on it are a yellow color. Thanks,
We were so horrified at the Unnecessary Carnage of this poor Cicada Killer, that we couldn’t bring ourselves to answer your email for several days.
Letter 5 – Cicada Killer Wasp killed unnecessarily and possible Diabetes Diagnosis (read on)
Cicada Killer Wasp
I live in Carrollton Texas , a suburb of Dallas . In June every year I see Cicada Nymph shells everywhere in my yard and attached to my house and the adults singing to find mates are thoroughly annoying and even though Cicada’s are not dangerous no one wants them flying near them making that noise . This Cicada wasp had a borough right next to my house in the edge of the grass and the driveway , too close for compfort . I saw her dragging a Cicada into her burrow and it was pretty creepy looking . These wasps fly way to close to people and with their four wings can hover like a dragonfly . They are scary and I wish the Cicada’s and the Wasps would find another place to live . Periodical Cinada’s are only supposed to come every 13 years but of course we have to have the annual variety so the wasps are here to stay . If they are hunting Cicada’s , why are they flying into my garage and way too close to me ?
Chris from Carrollton
Happy Independence Day Chris,
Sadly, we don’t know why the Cicada Killers are flying into your garage. We feel compelled to preach a bit of tolerance here in light of the unnecessary carnage depicted in your photo. Try to remember both the Cicadas and the Cicada Killer Wasps were in Texas long before either you or your ancestors. Independance is not about global domination, but about peaceful cohabitation.
Oh , and I forgot to tell you I stepped on a Fire Ant Too ! No really I had no idea what the wasp was until I spent a while investigating and ended up on your site . I also have to tell you that all my life wasps and bees have been attracted to me like a magnet and if 10 people were standing in a row the Bumble Bee would fly right at me and leave all the others alone . I once was tormented by four Dragonflies mowing the yard so bad I had to go inside and wait for 20 minutes and they were still waiting for me . Now I’m older and these sort of things don’t happen as often and I try to investigate the bugs and catapillars eating my garden but I’m still leary about anything with a stinger like the Scorpion I found walking across the living room floor under the blanket my dog was napping on . I now understand benificial bugs and what the world would be missing without them but I thought the wasp was a huge Hornet with too much bold curiosity . Now I know what they are and I promise to attempt to tolerate them especially since they kill those noisy irritating Cicadas . And please write back just one more time because you are so well spoken and your witt is so very entertaining.
Hi again Chris,
We should probably clarify that there are limits to our tolerance. We draw the line at invasive species. The Fire Ant is an introduced species, believed to have been “imported” from South America to Mobile Alabama in the 1930s via a cargo ship. Here in Los Angeles, we have our own imported ant, the Argentine Sugar Ant. We will wage war on Argentine Sugar Ants and the only time we ever use pesticides is when armies of Sugar Ants invade the kitchen or bathroom. Once they tried to carry off the turkey after Thanksgiving.
Regarding your being a magnet for stinging insects, and this is not a joke, perhaps it is your brand of antiperspirant or cologne. Stinging insects are often nectar and pollen feeders and might be attracted to certain ingredients in toiletries.
Finally, there may come a time when you are forced to welcome the Cicadas. In the event of a global famine, if humans are to survive, we might be forced to eat unconventional foods. Check out our Edible Insects page to see some possibilities, including Cicadas.
Update (08/23/2006) Grammatical Clarification Required
Chris from Carollton
I would love to know how Chris from Carrollton convinced four dragonflies to mow his lawn! And may I use them when he is finished with them? – “I once was tormented by four Dragonflies mowing the yard…”
I saw your response concerning Cicada Killer wasps:
You people make me sick. So, I am supposed to keep my kids inside all summer or risk them getting stung by the hundreds (yes, hundreds) of these flying around my yard. I think I would rather KILL THEM ALL then sacrifice my 2 yr old to multiple stings. Idiot. We, Humans, are the dominant Species, NOT the wasps.
We are so stunned at this vehemence that we have chosen not to respond directly.
Response to glimmertwin 70 (08/07/2006)
I’m sorry you guys have to deal with people like this, And it shows your character for putting it on your site. I just found your site today, And I feel it is one of the best sites on the web today!! Thanks for the good info
Update (08/23/2006) Another response to the verbal abuse we received!!
Response to glimmertwin70 07-07/2006
Hi, Just read your posting from glimmertwin70. Some people really ought to give their head a shake. Talk about going over the deep end! Where does this person get off about humans being the dominant species. Actually it’s people like this person who is being over dramatic. We might be the dominate species, but I would rather be in the company of nature and the animal species for sure! Lorraine from Toronto, Ontario. Canada.
(08/07/2006) The bee-attractor.
I was reading regarding the person who finds bugs (specifically bees and wasps) are disproportionately attracted to him, and a thought occured to me. For thousands of years, one of the tests physicians used to test for diabetes was to see whether the subject’s urine attracted ants, thus testing for the precense of sugar in the urine. A diabetic with high blood sugar will also have a very sweet breath. Is it possible the person who wrote you is diabetic, and that the scent of sugar in his blood and on his breath is what’s fooling the bugs into thinking he’s a giant flower?
Very interesting, We are intrigued by the folk medicine potential of Cicada Killers.
Additional Insect Support
(08/29/2006) unnecessary carnage
Hopefully the vehement bug-hater’s attitude arises from insecurity, which can be overcome by the information and awareness you provide. I suggest that bug-hater put nontoxic citrus-based repellent on his/her 2-year-old, and keep the child under closer supervision. As a mother, I can say that my sons have benefited far more from learning about bugs than by being “protected” from them. Bugs used to scare me, too, but killing them seemed wrong so I’d just avoid them. That was when I lived in Virginia, where it was much easier to avoid bugs than it is where I live now – Florida, which is made up entirely of bugs! Years in Florida and efforts to be more rational have desensitized me of my fears. I’m not telling bug-hater that I’d choose to snuggle with bugs, but respecting them does make me feel better.
Letter 6 – Cicada Killer Killed!!!
I know these pictures are not the greatest but it’s the best I could do at the time. This is what I know to date: I live in Detroit, MI. I have seen about 5 of these in our area. I have lived in MI my entire life 45 years and in this house location for 10 years and I have never seen one of these bugs or their tunnels in the area. They tunnel in the dirt that is between the sidewalk and the grass. Their tunnels seem to always be on a 45 degree angle through the dirt. They mound the dirt up outside the tunnel, it’s a huge mound about as big as my shoe. Could you please help in identifying this creature? Thanks for your help.
Byron E. Freshwater
I hope this Cicada Killer met a death by natural causes. The Cicada Killer, Sphecius speciosus, is a large solitary wasp. A female digs a burrow and provisions it with cicadas. The cicadas are often larger than the Cicada Killer. She stings the cicada oftne in a tree, and then flies down toward her nest while carrying the large cicada. If she does not reach the burrow, she climbs another tree lugging the cicada and then attemps again to fly to the burrow. The cicada is only paralyzed by the wasp and once the cicada is buried an egg is layed. When the larva hatches, it feeds on the still living cicada, a source of fresh meat. I would guess that an unusually large population of cicadas in your area this year is also responsible for the increased numbers of Cicada Killers.
Letter 7 – Cicada Killers found Dead
Possible Cicada Killers and What’s Happening to Them?
My name is Lacie Blevins and I am from Mulvane, KS, just outside of Wichita, KS. My children and I were outside playing and noticed that we were able to find an usually large number of Cicada shells in our backyard, at least in my opinion considering we’d never seen quite that many in one area before. While looking for more Cicada shells, we noticed three dead insects, which my five-year-old daughter expertly [sarcasm] believed to be a dead bumblebee, and I a hornet, all underneath one of our trees; coincidentally, we found them under the tree with the highest number of cicada shells on and around it. After finding your website, I believe that they are Cicada Killers, but the size being reported didn’t seem to match what I found in my backyard. I have included a picture of one of the insects that I picked up out of my yard. Could you tell me if I have correctly identified the insect and what could be happening to them? I understand from your website that the Cicada Killer wasps are nothing to be afraid of, but can you tell me if there is something bigger and nastier out there that I should be worried about? Thanks,
Late August is about the end of the time of year you will be observing Cicada Killers, so it is possible they have just died of old age. It is also possible they have been attacked by some predator. Though we have never seen a photograph, it is possible they were attacked by one of the larger Robber Flies like a Bee Killer.
Letter 8 – Cicada Killers Mating and Nesting
Cicada Killer Photos
I saw these Cicada Killers and had no idea what they were… Being curious, I got online, found your site, and learned lots of stuff! I would have killed these things for sure had I not found your site and others telling me not to worry, they won’t sting. Anyway, its mating season, and these two seem to be stuck together. I saw the male try to fly off, and he couldn’t! She was holding him down, even though his body was completely airborne! I had a pic of that, but it was too blurry. I don’t know how to take good action shots. Thought you might be able to use these pictures. Some mating, and some of the burrows in my kids’ sandbox. Too bad they can’t play in it for a couple more weeks. Thanks for your site.
Your letter makes us happy for several reasons. First, we like hearing that you took the time to research before acting upon any extermination instincts. Second, your submission is a wonderful counterpoint to the recent Cicada Killer carnage image we posted, and third, we are thrilled to hear we were helpful. We are not certain how successful this second male is going to be with regards to perpetuating his gene line, but we are impressed with his efforts. These Cicada Killers are lucky to have moved to such a tolerant location.
(08/09/2008) To Chad with Cicada Killers in kids sand box…
correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t cicada killer larva pupate in the chambers where they feed? If so, Chad’s kids may be without their sandbox for more than a few weeks. It would be next July before the cicada killer adults hatch out and start looking for cicadas of their own. Could he dig up the pupa and bury them in other loose soil nearby? Just wondering!
Liz Wickard, CHI
City of Aurora/Parks and Open Space
Morrison Nature Center
Your bring up a very good point. Relocating the Cicada Killer pupae would most likely be detrimental to their lives.
Letter 9 – Cicada Killer Carnage X4 and Rebuttal letter
what is THIS bug !?
I’m in Pennsylvania and we’ve never seen one of these before. Thanks
We have a sneaky suspicion that these relatively harmless Cicada Killers did not die of natural causes nor of old age, which is why we will be placing them in the Unnecessary Carnage section. We say relatively harmless because over the years we have gotten two reports of someone being stung by a Cicada Killer. Only the female stings, but she is so busy trying to provision her nest with Cicadas, that she can’t really be bothered trying to sting people. In the very unlikely event that a person is stung by a female Cicada Killer, the sting is reported to be quite painful. The male, who does no hunting, is the more aggressive appearing sex since he is territorial and will try to chase intruders, regardless of their size, from the prospective nest site he has staked out. He wants to mate and he is being protective of his territory, but he cannot sting. Though they are solitary wasps, Cicada Killers do tend to nest in proximity to one another, and when “swarms” appear, they can be quite daunting. We also just received the following letter without a photo, and posting it provides an excellent opportunity to demonstrate how knowledge is power, just as your letter demonstrates the extreme measures that can result from an unrational fear of the unknown.
Update: (08/03/2008) Cicada Killers in Dayton Ohio
No fancy photos from Ohio, but rest assured we have gained great knowledge from your site. After spending the entire day researching these “hornets” in our back yard….I have concluded they are, in fact, Cicada Killers. Imagine my delight when I was able to impress my husband with my new found knowledge when as soon as we stepped into the back yard and I was describing what they were……One flew right past with cicada in tow!!! I am still a little creeped out and won’t go out there much….*wink*…..but I am not terrified and wondering what “Curse of biblical proportion was being thrust upon us”, She said with tongue very much in cheek. Great site…thank you, thank you!!!
Letter 10 – Cicada Killer in a plastic bag
Very large wasp or hornet
Jul 10, 2009
There are two of these, they have burrowed into the ground near our house. One is app. 1 inch long, the other is larger, at least 1.5 inches. Brown wings, black body, three distinct stripes on the lower portion of the body. Large reddish brown eyes, black antennae, yellow-orange legs. They attacked other bugs who tried to land on the bush they were on.
We fear that by the time you have received our reply, the poor Cicada Killer in the plastic bag may no longer be excavating in your yard. Cicada Killers are harmless, and though they are large and threatening looking, we have never received a report of anyone being stung. Males which are aggressive and territorial are incapable of stinging, and larger females would rather sting and paralyze Cicadas to feed her brood.
Letter 11 – Cicada Killer: Dead from Unknown Causes
What’s this bug??
August 10, 2009
I’m wondering what kind of bug this is. My parents have them burrowing in the sand/dirt on between the sections of their cement driveway. This is the first they’ve seen these bugs and we’re all very curious to what it is. The look like a huge wasp. Unfortunately the bug in this picture is dead, we have a family member that is deathly allergic to wasps.
The photo was taken on August 9th. Sorry the second picture is blurred, but its to show size comparison next to a quarter.
Dear Just Curious,
This is a Cicada Killer. The wasp in your photo appears to be a female, and only the females of the species will sting. Males have no stinger but are the more aggressive sex, as they defend territory. We have never received a substantiated report of anyone being stung by a female Cicada Killer as they are not an aggressive wasp. Most solitary wasps are very reluctant to sting. The female Cicada Killer saves her stings for paralyzing Cicadas which she drags to her underground burrow to provide food for her young. We consider this an example of Unnecessary Carnage and we hope our response has educated you as to the nonthreatening nature of Cicada Killers. We hope this will prevent any further Unnecessary Carnage.
Letter 12 – Cicada Killer Carnage
wasp found burrowing in yard
Location: oklahoma city, ok
June 30, 2011 10:42 pm
My wife and I came home yesterday to find a dime sized hole in the dirt just a foot or so from our front door. A pile of dirt was found maybe 6-8 inches from the hole with a very straight path leading to the pile from the hole. Tonight, as we were opening the front door, I mentioned to my wife that I was curious what insect was burrowing but had not yet seen anything exiting or entering. I assumed it was some sort of beetle. Not 10 seconds after I spoke those words, this wasp-looking insect crawls out! We ran inside and grabbed the insect spray, soaked it 🙂 , collected it, and have been attempting to identify for the last 2 hours. Please help!
Signature: ryan davenport
While we understand that fear creates irrational behavior, it is not really necessary to kill things that are unfamiliar to you. This is a (relatively) harmless female Cicada Killer and she was building an underground nest that she would have provisioned with paralyzed Cicadas to feed her brood. The reason we stated that she is relatively harmless is that she is not an aggressive wasp and in all the years we have written this column, we have never received a verified report of a person being stung by a Cicada Killer, though that could always be a possibility. Male Cicada Killers often act aggressively when defending territory, however, though they may dive bomb at you or your pets, they are perfectly harmless as male Cicada Killers lack stingers and they are incapable of doing any damage.
Letter 13 – Cicada Killer Carnage
Location: Rural area of southern Mississippi
July 1, 2011 4:25 am
I’m not sure exactly what this is, although, I think it might be a hornet, but I’m not entirely sure. It flew in from my back porch, and it was about the length of my index finger when it is curled slightly.
This is not a good day for Cicada Killers which we consider to be beneficial predators that occupy a very interesting niche in the food chain. We suspect this Cicada Killer did not die a natural death and we are tagging this as Unnecessary Carnage.
Letter 14 – Cicada Killer Carnage
Location: New Orleans, LA
July 10, 2011 7:06 pm
I found this on my back porch, it is the second one I have found and am curious what it is and if I need to start looking for a nest of some sort? This is the largest wasp I have ever seen (if it is a wasp?)
with a little more digging I found out what type it was online. Found (and killed) in New Orleans, Louisiana. Apparently they’re a local bug, but it’s only the 2nd one I’ve ever seen in 30+ years.
Thought you’d be interested to know if you didn’t know already! Cicada Killer, Sphecius speciosus
This is a Cicada Killer and it is a Sand Wasp in the tribe Bembicini. Whenever we try to lobby in support of Cicada Killers, we get some heat. Cicada Killers are solitary wasps and a female will dig a burrow that she provisions with paralyzed Cicadas that become the food for her developing brood of larvae, so you would not be looking for a traditional Wasp’s Nest. When there is sandy soil that Cicada Killers find attractive for nesting, a colony may develop, but they are not social wasps like hornets. We receive several letters each year from people who have unwanted colonies of Cicada Killers, complaining that the Cicada Killers are aggressive. Males defend territory and will dive bomb anything that enters the territory, but males lack stingers. Larger females do not tend to be aggressive, but they possess stingers and they might sting. We have not received any authenticated reports of anyone actually being stung by a Cicada Killer, though we would not rule out that possibility.
Letter 15 – Cicada Killer Nest
Serious question about (possible) cicada killers.
July 11, 2011 7:38 am
So, I have a serious question. I live in Massachusetts, the southern part. In our lot, we have a civilization of these guys.. I am guessing. They seem to fit the description, with the dirt mounds and such. What’s odd, is that they are sharing their holes with ants!
Anyway, my fiance’s mother noticed them, and plans to eradicate them. The only reason why, is because she has a relative that is deathly allergic to ANY bee sting. Would the sting of a female provoke his reactions? I know you guys probably don’t give out info like this, but I am curious :/. I enjoy watching them, and I don’t want them dead. But now as I tried to get pictures of their homes, most seem covered up, huh!
Not only does your photo appear to document the nest of a Cicada Killer, it also appears that the exuvia visible in the upper left corner is that of a Cicada. It is highly advantageous for the Cicada Killers to construct nests near a source of food for the young. We cannot imagine Cicada Killers sharing a nest with ants. Perhaps the ants have plundered the nest to eat the Cicadas that are stocking the pantry. Once a female Cicada Killer has completed provisioning her nest, she will seal it. We cannot offer any medical advice regarding allergic reactions to stings.
Letter 16 – Western Cicada Killer: Dead in the interest of Knowledge
Location: Central Idaho near Boise.
July 22, 2011 1:47 pm
I was recently driving on a stretch of highway between Boise ID and small town to the East of Boise and was startled by a loud thump and then a giant hornet looking but that bounced onto the spedometer console. I pulled over and moved the unfortunate insect into my water bottle. My main reason for this is that I have seen these insects around but have not been able to take a good enough picture to submit to your site for examination. I have done a bit of research on my own and I think this is a queen hornet since we have no shortage of yellow jacket hornets in this area. My experience with these creatures is that they are not aggressive. This is such a marvelous specimen its too bad it had to meet such an unfortunate end, but maybe it can serve to educate now. It is about 1.5 inches long and has a wingspan of well over 2 inches as you can see in the pictures. It is a beautiful orange and yellow color and has dark orange tinted wings. Could you shed some enlightenme nt on this bug for me please, my whole office is extremely curious.
Signature: Dave from Idaho
At first we were troubled by what we thought we were going to have to tag as Unnecessary Carnage, but upon reflecting upon the totality of your emailed message, we have decided that this killing was justified in the interest of knowlege, especially since your message acknowledges its “unfortunate end”. We are a bit sensitive lately because we have seen so many photos of dead Eastern Cicada Killers, Great Golden Digger Wasps, and Katydid Hunters, and we believe this may be only the second photo we have ever received of the Western Cicada Killer, Sphecius grandis, which we have identified using BugGuide. This magnificent predator surely deserves its species name grandis, and you can see some wonderful photos of living specimens on BugGuide.
I do appreciate your understanding. The death of this beautiful creature was in no way on purpose. It flew into the door frame of my car with my window open and caused its own unintended death before it landed on the speedometer console. I am grateful that is has such a strong carapace so that I was able to retrieve it in whole and not in pieces. Having lived in Idaho my whole life I and never encountering a cicada I did not know that it was possible to have cicada killers in this state, but further investigation reveals that we do indeed have cicadas in Idaho. Thank you so much for your prompt and informative response. I will post your links on our internal website so that everyone can know what this was.
Oh, we actually misunderstood. We thought you put the living Cicada Killer in the water bottle and it died after. Your followup clarifies that it died upon impact. Also, Eric Eaton has provided his insight into this creature’s identity.
Eric Eaton confirms genus, but not species
I can’t conclude whether this is Sphecius grandis or S. convallis from this image….it looks squarely between the two given the markings! I’d need a magnified view of the first two abdominal segments, and even that might not be truly conclusive.
Upon inspection of the images you have on bugguide and my specimen, along with the information provided by Mr. Eaton, I believe this to be S. srandis [ed. note: grandis perhaps] and not S. convallis. Although my pictures do not illustrate it well, this does have curved antennal segments, although the torso segments do make it hard to pick. I’m no expert though, just a curious observer.
Yes, sorry about that J. I have posted the link to the bug guide on our internal webpage so people can go look it up themselves. I am very pleased to learn how many people in the agency have such a keen interest in insects. I have only ran across 2 people that were not wholly intrigued by this specimen, and those 2 are deathly allergic to bees so it is kind of a phobia for them.
Hi again Dave,
So many people claim to be “deathly allergic” to bees. It is our belief that it is probably an imagined allergy in many cases just because a bee sting is unpleasant. A bee sting or a wasp sting generally swells, but nearly dying from a sting would seem to be more of a rarity than the norm.
Upon inspection of the images you have on bugguide and my specimen, along with the information provided by Mr. Eaton, I believe this to be S. srandis [ed. note: grandis perhaps] and not S. convallis. Although my pictures do not illustrate it well, this does have curved antennal segments, although the torso segments do make it hard to pick. I’m no expert though, just a curious observer.
Letter 17 – Cicada Killer: Dead of Natural Causes in North Carolina!!!
August 17, 2011 6:13 pm
This was stuck on my screen door. It was dead when I found it. It’s huge and the stinger looks deadly! Thanks for your help in identifying this monster.
Signature: Sue in NC
Thank you so much for identifying my Cicada Killer. Your website gave me lots of information on this marvelous creature. I would never kill one. The one that I found got stuck between some screen wire and died. The old saying “she wouldn’t hurt a fly”…definitely applies to me! I’d open a door or window to let a fly escape before I’d harm it.
Sue in NC
Oh my goodness Sue,
We had to resurrect your letter from the trash and it made us sad that we cannot also resurrect this Cicada Killer. Photos of dead Cicada Killers break our collective heart because we receive so many letters of Unnecessary Carnage and Cicada Killers are high on the list of frequent species-discrimination fear, rage and hate crimes. We consider your testament to reading about the Cicada Killer, educating yourself and making an informed decision about how you would react upon encountering a Cicada Killer a worthy reason to be named to the Bug Humanitarian Award. We could never claim that a Cicada Killer would never sting a person, and we would also concede that should a sting occur, it would most likely hurt, but we firmly believe that Cicada Killers would much rather use their gift of inducing paralysis on Cicadas than on people.
Letter 18 – As Predicted: Cicada Killer Carnage
Subject: Big Hornet or Wasp?
Location: midsouth region US
June 19, 2012 3:34 pm
I found this flying around in our screenroom. Very big, very impressive. Yea, I killed it. It does have a stinger. I saw it after it was dead. Sorry, just not a fan of stinging wasps or the like (especially in my living space). Thought you might know what it is. Thanks
Signature: Robber Fly Fan
Dear Robber Fly Fan,
We just posted our first Cicada Killer photo of the year and we lamented that we will also start receiving Cicada Killer Carnage photos. As chance would have it, your photo arrived first, but we started with most recent mail this evening. To the best of our knowledge, though they are large and frightening, Cicada Killers are not aggressive and we do not get reports of stings despite the vast number of letters we receive each June and July. We would urge you to try to be more tolerant should you encounter any other Cicada Killers this summer. They really are magnificent wasps and it is amazing to see them fly with a much larger paralyzed Cicada.
Letter 19 – Cicada Killer Carnage
Subject: Huge Wasp?
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
June 23, 2012 12:38 pm
I had an infestation of what I call Mahogany wasps don’t know the actual name. I killed them over the course of two weeks a few a days since they were eating all my monarch caterpillars but then this other type of wasp showed up and I have never seen this type before
Signature: Thank You, Paul
When we posted the First Cicada Killer Photo of 2012 a few days ago, we predicted that the Cicada Killer Carnage photos would soon begin to arrive. Cicada Killers are not aggressive wasps but their size makes them intimidating and many folks would rather kill first before learning anything about them. They will not harm your Monarch Caterpillars and we would encourage more tolerance in the future. We would encourage you to read more about this remarkable wasp on our site as well as on BugGuide.
Letter 20 – Cicada Killer drowned in pool
Subject: Giant Wasp?
Location: Oak Lawn IL
August 18, 2013 2:14 pm
I am trying to figure out what this hige wasp looking bug is, all of a sudden they are in my yard around my pool and this one pictured ended up drowning so I was able to snap some photos. Help please they are terrifying the family from going outside.
Signature: Dean P
This is a drowned Cicada Killer Wasp. Cicada Killers are solitary wasps and they are not considered to be aggressive. Female Cicada Killers, once they have mated, will dig a burrow and provision it with paralyzed Cicadas that they drag back to feed their larvae. The female Cicada Killer stings the Cicada to paralyze it so that the meat will stay fresh and the developing larva eats its still living meal. Male Cicada Killers will aggressively defend territory, however, they lack stingers and are perfectly harmless. Occasionally we receive a report that someone has been stung by a Cicada Killer, but those reports are quite rare.
Letter 21 – What Killed the Cicada Killer???
Subject: What is this bug
Location: Lake Kiowa, TX
July 4, 2015 4:20 pm
My kids & I are visiting north Texas and we came across this extremely large flying bug. I’m including 2 pics, one for scale.
Signature: Curious Traveller
Dear Curious Traveller [sic],
This magnificent Cicada Killer looks quite dead and we can’t help but to wonder what happened during your encounter to take it from being an “extremely large flying bug” to one that will fly no more. Cicada Killers are not aggressive and we have never received an authenticated account of a person being stung by a Cicada Killer.
Thanks for the response. My youngest daughter was in my parents’ backyard playing frisbee with her cousins when the cicada killer was spotted. She ran in to get me (terrified), and by the time I got out there, one of her cousins had killed it.
Thank you for your help identifying it. We are better informed now!
Letter 22 – Cicada Killer Carnage
Subject: Is this a cicada killer?
Location: Sioux Falls, South Dakota
July 2, 2016 1:02 pm
Started off with one in the wall by my driveway and now there are dozens flying around. It is a duck wall with dirt. They dig into the wall and hang out around the wall during the day”fighting” eachother. What are they? Yellow jackets, hornets, some other singing bug?
Thanks, want to get rid of them if they attack since have small kids who miss riding their bikes in the driveway.
Though male Cicada Killer wasps are quite territorial, they are incapable of stinging. They are very specific about preying upon Cicadas. Female Cicada Killer wasps are not aggressive, and we have yet to receive a report from someone being stung by a Cicada Killer. In our opinion, they do not pose a threat to your children. This is our first reported Cicada Killer sighting of the year and we are saddened that it is a dead individual. We would urge you to educate your children about the natural world around them so that they can appreciate and respect the lower beasts.
Thank you for your quick reply. Now we can watch these awesome creatures, have about 15 now, without the fear of multiple settings. It is a relief to hear that these are not aggressive stinging wasps or hornets and will not be creating a nest of thousands so close to our entry into the house and where we play. The kids love and respect all creatures big and small. We strive to live in peace with creatures. Thank you again for the reply.
Thanks for getting back to us Jenngi. As further clarification, only social wasps like hornets, yellow jackets and paper wasps will defend a nest by stinging. Solitary wasps like Cicada Killers do not defend the nest. Though they sometimes nest in colonies where soil conditions and hunting prospects are ideal, Cicada Killers are solitary wasps. Again, male Cicada Killers will defend territory, especially against other male Cicada Killers, but only females have a stinger which is used to paralyze Cicadas to act as food for the developing young. Cicada Killers appear in the summer and the larvae that are developing in the subterranean nest will not emerge until the subsequent summer. Cicada Killers females are capable of stinging, but we believe this will only occur if they are handled.
Subject: Cicada Killer life
July 2, 2016 6:44 pm
How long are cicada killers active? First one appeared about a week ago and now there are about 15-20 in the wall right by my driveway. Are they out all summer? Also do they kill bumblebees too?
Cicada Killers do NOT prey on Bumble Bees. You should expect activity for about four to six weeks, during which time females will hunt Cicadas to provision the nest for the developing young.
Letter 23 – Western Cicada Killer Carnage
Subject: Large Wasp ID
Location: Southeastern Washington State
July 9, 2016 12:32 pm
First time these 2″ monsters in South Eastern Washington State. Attracted to all bushes and trees, with or without fruit or flowers. attracted to water also
Signature: Tracey- Washington State
No insect winds up on our Unnecessary Carnage page more than the Eastern Cicada Killer, because these solitary wasps are large and frightening looking, however they are not aggressive, and though a female is capable of stinging, they do not seem at all interested in stinging people. You have submitted an image of the Eastern Cicada Killer’s western cousin, the Western Cicada Killer, and we don’t generally get Unnecessary Carnage images of the Western Cicada Killer because we just get far fewer images of them. Like the eastern cousin, the Western Cicada Killer is a solitary wasp and it is not aggressive. It was likely searching your trees and bushes for Cicadas because female Cicada Killers sting and paralyze Cicadas, and then drag them back to the nest they have constructed underground. The female lays an egg on the paralyzed Cicada which then acts as food for the developing larva.
Letter 24 – Cicada Killer dead of natural causes, sort of
Subject: Hornet / Wasp
Location: Grapevine Texas
August 30, 2016 4:13 pm
Found these 3 on my back patio and haven’t luck figuring out what they are. I have found similar looking ones but the sizes are always listed quite a bit smaller than these bad boys.
Signature: – Tegan
Looking at your image of three dead Cicada Killers saddens us. Cicada Killers are large and scary looking, but they are solitary wasps that are not aggressive towards people. Cicada Killers prey upon Cicadas. The female Cicada Killer stings and paralyzes her prey, which she then drags back to her subterranean nest to provide food for her brood. We hope you will learn to tolerate Cicada Killers in the future.
Thank you for the info Daniel! If it makes you feel better I did not kill them. I came home from a trip and they had gotten through a hole in my screened in patio and were unable to escape. Thanks again for taking the time to look at this!!!
Thanks for letting us know that this was NOT Unnecessary Carnage.
I won’t lie, they freaked me out a bit when I found them as I have never encountered wasps that big. Glad to know I am not their prey 🙂 Hole in the screen is patched so hopefully it won’t happen again! Thanks again for taking the time!!
Letter 25 – Cicada Killer Carnage
Subject: Giant bee?
Location: East coast Virginia, USA
August 15, 2017 7:10 pm
This monster was waiting for me as I went out to clean my pool one morning, luckily I caught it by surprise and was able to capture it under the filter basket before it had a chance to attack me. After a few shots of hornet spray, I changed my underwear and took a few pictures. Is this a spawn from hell, a just a really big bee? (Pictured next to a quarter for scale)
This is not “spawn from hell” nor is it a “Giant bee”. This is a wasp known as a Cicada Killer. Because they are big and scary, Cicada Killers frequently wind up dead when they encounter humans. They are not aggressive and though female Cicada Killers are capable of stinging, they do not attack humans, so there was no need to spray it to death. We hope your next encounter does not end in Unnecessary Carnage.
Letter 26 – Cicada Killer found Dead
Subject: Large wasp or hornet
Geographic location of the bug: Denver Colorado
Time: 10:39 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: I work for the school district in Denver and this morning I found this girl dead in my parking lot. I’ve never seen one this big. I have more pictures but it won’t let me upload.
How you want your letter signed: Clifford Leonard
This impressive wasp is a Cicada Killer, a non-aggressive species that preys on Cicadas.
Letter 27 – Cicada Killer Carnage at School
Subject: Large Flying insect
Geographic location of the bug: Fairview Park Ohio
Time: 02:44 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Help—what is this big flew into our school?
How you want your letter signed: Bugman
You are Bugman???
We really need to get on our soapbox about this identification request. You indicate this happened at a school, but you did not indicate what kind of school. Generally a school has students, and students are there to learn, and in our opinion, teaching the students that it is OK to kill creatures that they do not recognize is not really best practices. Schools often teach science, and we hope this unfortunate situation with the Unnecessary Carnage of this Cicada Killer can be incorporated into your curriculum. Cicada Killers are not aggressive wasps, and though they might sting if they are carelessly handled, we have never received a verified report with an image as proof, in the 16 years we have been responding to internet identification requests, of a Cicada Killer stinging a human, but we have received numerous examples of Cicada Killer carnage here and here and here and here and here and here and on and on, just because they are scary looking. Cicada Killers are amazing creatures. A female Cicada Killer stings a Cicada and paralyzes it and they drags it back to her underground nest to provide food for her brood. For more detailed information, please refer to Cicada Mania where it states: “I know what you are thinking: are these terrifyingly large wasps a threat to human beings? The short answer is NO. They are so focused on cicadas or other Cicada Killer Wasps, that they could care less about you. Sure, if you step on one, squeeze one in your hand, or otherwise harass the insect, it might sting you. Unlike other wasps, it will not go out of its way to harm you.”
Thanks for your explanation. We imagine your administrative duties and your concern for the children and staff are a tremendous responsibility. It just makes us so sad to see so many images of these magnificent creatures that have been killed unnecessarily just because they look scary. Please accept our apology if we were too harsh. Asbestos and other construction related hazards are far scarier than any Cicada Killer.
Daniel, You have a great website and perform an important service.
I am grateful for your concern for “all creatures great and small”–and even and especially those some people find scary.
Thank you again for being a wonderful steward of our Earth.
Our manifesto has always been to educate the web browsing public about the interconnectivity of all life on our fragile planet.
Letter 28 – Dead Cicada Killer
Subject: Sooooo BIG
Geographic location of the bug: Titusville, NJ (Central NJ)
Time: 07:40 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Hi Bugman,
My husband caught this massive hornet-type thing around 2:30 pm. It was sunny, hot/humid, and right before a storm. It flew into our sunporch. What is it? Does it sting?
How you want your letter signed: Worried Mama
Dear Worried Mama,
This is a Cicada Killer, a solitary wasp that is not considered aggressive. Social Wasps will often sting to protect the nest, but female Cicada Killers use the stinger to paralyze Cicadas to provide food for her brood. Since your inquiry includes the information that your “husband caught” this Cicada Killer, and since it looks quite dead in your image, we are surmising that it was killed in the capture process. Cicada Killers are not aggressive, and though they are large and scary, they do not tend to bother people and stings would be a very rare occurrence that would probably only happen if a living Cicada Killer was carelessly handled. We have countless incidents on our site of Cicada Killers succumbing to Unnecessary Carnage.
Thank you for your quick reply! It was actually alive when he caught it, but I have begun collecting and mounting specimens that I find (it was dead in the photo – I froze it to kill it quickly and keep it intact for display). When I encountered it, it seemed aggressive, but since it was in a 15×10 room perhaps it was only looking for an exit..? Now that I know what it is, if I encounter another again I will not be quick with a kill.
Could you tell from the photo if it was male or female? I like to include as much information as possible with my specimens. …
Thank you again!!!
Amber Wilno (worried mama)
We are untagging the Unnecessary Carnage designation we originally attached to this posting. A large Wasp trapped in a small room likely appears quite intimidating when it is buzzing and striking against the glass window panes. We apologize, but we do not feel confident sexing your individual. We did try to research how to distinguish the sexes, and though we did not locate an easy reference, we do like this information we found on the University of Kentucky Entomology page: “Are cicada killers dangerous? Females have significant stingers which they plunge into cicadas to inject venom that paralyzes them. Without doubt, their stings are painful. However, they are not aggressive and do not have nest-guarding instinct of honey bees and hornets. You can walk through areas where they are active without attracting attention.
The buzzing noise that the wasps make and the warning colors on their wings and bodies intimidate and discourage predators that see them as a large meal. When attacked, females will use their stinger to protect themselves.
Males lack stingers but are territorial. They will approach anything that enters “their area”, including walkers, people mowing or using weed-eaters, or riding tractors. They may hover and challenge trespassers but are harmless. That can be easy to forget when staring down a big wasp.”