What Do Cicada Killers Eat? Do They Really Eat Cicadas?

Cicada killers hunt for cicadas, but do they actually eat them? Let’s find out.

Cicada killers are one of the giants among the different species of wasps worldwide. Despite their formidable appearance and size, these wasps do not have highly aggressive behavior like yellow jackets. 

But have you ever wondered what these giant wasps eat in order to become so big?

It is clear by the name that they hunt cicadas, but as adults, this is not what they eat. In fact, cicadas are what they eat at the start of their lives, when they are just freshly hatched larvae. 

So let us take a look at what these wasps really consume. 

What Do Cicada Killers Eat

What Are They?

Sphecius speciosus, also known as cicada killer wasps, is one of the largest species of wasps on earth. These giants can grow to become a whopping 2 inches in length. 

They have a dark brown or black colored body with sets of yellow markings on their abdomen. Also, if you look closely, you will see that these insects have amber-colored wings. 

Being true to their name, cicada killers are one of the major predators of cicadas. The females are experts in hunting the noisy cicadas to feed the wasp larvae. They are solitary wasps and prefer to build underground nests for laying eggs. 

What Do Cicada Killers Eat?

Despite being active cicada hunters, adult cicada killer wasps feed on flower nectar and other plant juices. The cicadas are just for their young.

You must note that the cicada killers do not consume plants directly – they aren’t pests. They feed on nectar and plant fluids obtained from plants, and as such, they are also accidental pollinators in your gardens. 

What Do Cicada Killers Eat

What Do Their Larvae Eat?

Unlike adult cicada killer wasps, wasp larvae highly depend on consuming cicadas to grow and fulfill their dietary needs. 

The female cicada killers are known to hunt cicadas by turning them on the back and straddling them. They then carry it to the burrow, where they sting the prey to paralyze it. 

The burrow contains multiple cells, and each of them is filled with at least one paralyzed cicada. She then seals off the burrow entrance leaving sufficient food for her young. 

Interestingly, female cicada killers know which of the eggs will be females. She provisions extra cicadas for the females because they need more nutrition to bear eggs.

It takes around one or two days for the eggs to hatch; the paralyzed cicadas are the only food source for these larvae. 

After receiving sufficient nutrition, they mature into a cocoon to survive the winter. Once the conditions are suitable for living on the surface, they emerge.

What Do Cicada Killers Eat

What Are Cicada Killers Attracted To?

As the name suggests, cicada killers are majorly known for hunting noisy cicadas. They are usually attracted to areas that have a good population of cicadas. 

Moreover, these wasps are nectarivores, so they are attracted to flowering plants.

These wasps like to dig burrows in sandy areas, sparse lawns, edges of sidewalks, concrete slabs, and more. 

A female cicada killer uses its strong legs to dig underground burrows in these areas to create a nest. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if a cicada killer bites you?

A cicada killer sting will not be as painful as the ones received by a yellow jacket or a red paper wasp. 
If one of these wasps bites you, you will experience a little pain accompanied by some swelling and redness. However, if the sting triggers an allergic reaction, immediately visit the doctor. 

How long does a cicada killer live?

The cicada killer wasp has a short life cycle. An average male cicada killer wasp lives for almost two weeks; they spend their life mostly patrolling and fighting. Once they mate, they die. 
The female cicada killer wasp lives for about four weeks because she has to perform the important duties of digging burrows, hunting for prey, and laying eggs. 

Do cicada killers eat plants?

No, they don’t. Despite their extreme fondness for hunting cicadas, like other wasps, adult cicada wasps depend on drinking nectar and other plant juices. 
They are not pests like aphids or caterpillars who feed directly on plants.
However, the larvae are known to consume cicadas until they are fully mature as adults primarily. 

Where do cicada killers go at night?

Cicada killers usually prefer to stay away from people during the night. Instead of coming out, they tend to remain in their well-constructed underground nests. 
Therefore you are unlikely to come across any cicada killer wasp during the night hours. 

Wrap Up

Cicada killers are fascinating creatures with a giant size and gentle behavior towards humans. These less aggressive wasps are often misunderstood to be active attackers. 

We hope this article clears that misconception and you now know that they don’t eat anything that may harm you or your pet. Thank you for reading! 

Reader Emails

Over the years, many of our readers shared with us pictures of these wasps, asking why they were carrying cicadas and other similar insects in their legs.

The obvious answer is usually for food, but cicada killers offer a twist to the story – and you will love to note how surprised people usually are to hear it.

Letter 1 – Cicada Killer with Cicada

 

wasp?
We saw this with a nest in the ground and eating this other insect. This was taken at a nearby park in Shelby Twp., Michigan. Can you tell me what it is? Thanks,
Kelley

Hi Kelley,
This is a Cicada Killer wasp and a paralyzed Cicada. Most of our letters with images of Cicada Killers arrive in July and August, and we are guessing that this photo was not taken recently in Michigan, but probably during the summer. Cicada Killer wasps feed on pollen and nectar, but larval wasps feed on Cicadas. This female Cicada Killer has paralyzed a Cicada with her sting and is dragging it back to her burrow where she will bury it and lay an egg. The developing wasp larva will then feed on the paralyzed Cicada. Being that the Cicada is paralyzed and still alive, it does not harden and dry out so the larval wasp has living fresh meat.

Letter 2 – Cicada Killer with Prey

 

Cicada Killer with prey
I found this site trying to figure out what this was. I believe it is a Cicada Killer with its prey.
Neal

Hi Neal,
Thanks for sending us your dramatic example of the insect Food Chain. The Cicada Killer is a much maligned insect. We get numerous reports that they are aggressive insects, though reports of stinging are few and far between. The female Cicada Killer digs a burrow that she provisions with Cicadas she has paralyzed with her sting. The Cicadas provide food for the larvae. She lays an egg on each Cicada and positions it in its own underground chamber. These are solitary wasps, though there is occasionally a nesting colony.

Letter 3 – Cicada Killer with prey

 

Cicada Killer
My wife and I enjoy your site. We live in Baton Rouge, LA and our garden has a diverse range of hymenopterans. This past summer we had a large emergence of cicadas and my wife took this photo of a cicada killer on our patio door. The size of these wasps is truly impressive. We also have velvet ants that hang out near one of our pecan trees (photo attached).
Regards – Mark & Malinda

Hi Mark and Malinda,
We are always happy to get good quality images of interesting subjects to add to our website. Yours is the only photo we have ever received of the Cicada Killer with its prey. Thank you so much.
Daniel

Letter 4 – Cicada Killer kills Dogday Harvestfly

 

Awesome shot! I got yelled at for going for it.
Hiya Bugman,
This summer I was visiting my in-laws in South Jersey and I saw an awesome sight at the Philly Zoo. This hornet was about three inches long and I have no idea what it’s got (a grasshopper?). my in-laws were angry when they saw this photo as they didn’t think I should have gotten this close. I figured he (she) was busy with its prey and wouldn’t care about me anyway. Who was right? BTW that area has all kinds of interesting bugs. I really liked to look at the caterpillar nests but never got a pic.
Monika

Hey Monika,
You go girl!!!! You are fearless and our new hero. This is a Cicada Killer wasp and it has paralyzed an Annual Cicada, colorfully known as a Dogday Harvestfly. The Cicada will be food for the young wasp. Cicada Killers are frighteningly large and suffer because of their fiercesome appearance. We have not gotten any reports of anyone being stung, and they are not considered aggressive.

Letter 5 – Cicada Killer and Annual Cicada

 

Cicada Killer
Hello, I happened to capture a photo of a cicada killer wasp that you may be interested in. I was sitting at an outdoor event that I photograph when motion in my peripheral vision attracted my attention. I looked up to see this GIANT wasp killing a cicada. In all the time I have been outdoors I’ve never seen anything like this before. Needless to say I grabbed my gear and went to work trying to capture it. You can see the image. Thanks,
Ron

Hi Ron,
We have been getting 100s of letters and photos of Cicada Killers this summer. Your Food Chain photo is one of the best.

Letter 6 – Cicada Killer with Annual Cicada

 

Cicada Killer Posing
Hey, just wanted to send these images along. I heard a cicada chirp, saw something fall from a tree and there she was. I actually watched close up as she stung the helpless dog-day cicada to make sure it was not moving anymore. I then watched as she dragged her prey throught the grass and proceeded 20 feet up a maple tree before I lost sight of her. She used her wings along with her legs to make it up. It reminded me of watching a leopard dragging an antelope up a tree. One question though, since these wasps live under ground, what do you think she was doing up a tree? I was thinking to get some height to glide to her burrow or get her bearings. Not sure. Love the site.
Alex C.
Rockville, Marlyand

Hi Alex,
You are correct. The Cicada is so heavy, the wasp would not be able to take off. She climbs the tree and than glides/flies toward her burrow. Thanks for the totally awesome image.

Letter 7 – Cicada Killer kills Dogday Harvestfly in Indiana

 

Cicada Killer with prey
I identified this bug (I think) by using your site. I thought at first maybe they were flying around mating, but then it landed on my van, and I could tell that the bottom bug was dead and not even the same species. I noticed you said that you’d only ever received one picture with the cicada killer and its prey, so I’m sending you the ones I took. Sorry they aren’t too good, I was too nervous to go any closer…lol. It was huge! When we got back to our van 30 minutes later, it was still flying around with the dead cicada.
Tina-Northwest Indiana

Hi Tina,
Thank you for sending documentation of one of the most exciting predator/prey scenarios we know about. This is a Cicada Killer and your photos are quite wonderful.

Letter 8 – Cicada Killer and Prey

 

Cicada and Unknown
I saw a cidada (I think) fall out of a tree in my backyard (St. Louis, MO, USA) and down came an iteresting insect that grabbed the cidcada and started climbing up the tree. Thought I would share.
Kyle Marsden

Hi Kyle,
This is a female Cicada Killer wasp. She will climb the tree and glide to her burrow with the stung and paralyzed Cicada. She will lay an egg and bury the Cicada which will remain alive and be a food source for the hatchling larval wasp. Our Cicada Killer reports are occurring much later in the season this year than usually.

Letter 9 – Cicada Killer with Dog Day Harvestfly

 


After going to your website after my first experience with the Cicada Killer( at the time, I had no idea what it was), I thought I would share a pic with you. Thanks for having your website and solving my “mystery”. Many thanks,
Mike and Kathy
Oxford Florida

Hi Mike and Kathy,
We just recently removed the Cicada Killer from our homepage since identification requests, which peaked in July, had dwindled. Looks like your robust female Cicada Killer has nabbed a Dog Day Harvestfly for her brood’s meal.

Letter 10 – Cicada Killer with Prey

 

my photogenic friend
Isn’t he cute!
Josh Paxton
Paducah, KY
PS I also included a picture of what I now know to be a Cicada Killer with his prey. I hope that’s okay.

Hi Josh,
Your Cicada Killer with its Cicada is a wonderful image and we are thrilled to post it.

Letter 11 – Cicada Killer and Prey

 

Big hornet on a cicadia
Hi,
I just witnesses this crazy bug in the hornet family???? On top of his lunch traveling all over the patio. Want to know what that bug is? He eventually gave up and flew off and left the dead cicada. Thanks for helping.
Holli at Swain’s swimming patio.

Cicada Killer
Ed. Note: For many letters that we do not plan to post, we give a very brief answer in email only, which was the case here. This prompted the following confused response.

Huh???? Did I send this to the correct email???

We don’t understand this latest question. you sent a photo to our website and requested an identification. Your insect is a Cicada Killer. That is the common name, but if you prefer the Linnean binomial, it is Sphecius speciosus.
Ed. note: We hope our response cleared up the confusion, though a lack of a location on this letter should have prompted us to just hit delete. Perhaps the confused reader considers Swain’s swimming patio to be a location that would mean something to us. At any rate, the utter disregard for grammatical conventions in these communications created an uncontrollable urge on our part to share them with our loyal public.

Letter 12 – Cicada Killer and Prey

 

wasps
I just came across your website (thanks to Google) because I was trying to identify a wasp that we had never seen before. We live in southeastern Massachusetts and have just recently seen this wasp and, until today, had only seen one, but today we saw two. So I went to your website to try to identify it, but I couldn’t be absolutely sure of the markings, so I went outside to take some pictures of it. Boy, did I get a bonus!!! One of the wasps came home with a huge bug which I assume is some sort of cicada. Can you tell I’m not into insects?!? I was lucky enough to get a couple of pictures of the wasp with its prey as well as its nest. Hope you can use them on your site. If you can give me any information on these wasps, I would appreciate it. Thanks and keep up the good work on your website.
Susan Augustus
South Dartmouth, MA

Hi Susan,
Your Cicada Killer Wasp is living up to its name. The larval wasps feed entirely on Cicadas that have been paralyzed by the female wasp. Male Cicada Killers, which do not sting, often act aggressively when defending their territory.

Letter 13 – Cicada Killer with Prey

 

Spiders, Cicada Killers, Oh My!
First, thank you so much for your site. It’s helped me several times and is a great reference for my bug enthusiast 7-year-old. I’ve got four pictures for you. First two are of a spider that was on my gutter above the garage and had spun silk across the driveway to a tree branch 10 feet away. I accidentally walked through the silk and disturbed her. I can’t identify her. She was in shade and kept balling herself up so these were hard shots to get. Hopefully they can be of use to identify. When her legs were open I’d say she could straddle a quarter and we live just outside Atlanta, GA. The second two shots were of a cicada killer wasp we saw this evening. Thanks to your site we were able to identify these beauties earlier in the summer and knew not to be afraid. We were even able to educate our neighbors on them this evening and capture two shots of the female carrying the cicada down her burrow. Thought you might find the shots of interest. Thanks for your time and even if you don’t have time to identify our spider; I hope you enjoy the images. We really appreciate your site. Keep up the good work!
Resa in Duluth, GA

Hi Resa,
We are nearly certain your spider is one of the Araneus Orbweavers, though several other genera are similar. What we are really excited about is your photo of a female Cicada Killer disappearing headfirst into her burrow with a Cicada for her progeny.

Letter 14 – Cicada Killer feeding on oozing sap

 

A Question About a Wasp
Hi,
I am enclosing a photo of a very LARGE Wasp. It seems to be depositing eggs in the splits in the bark of a maple. The material being deposited by the wasp seems to be white “fluffy” and soft looking. The wasp is the largest one I’ve ever seen, probably over an inch or more in length with a very heavy body. Can you help me and identify it? Thanks
Walt Jankowski
Hilton Head SC

Hi Walt,
This is a Cicada Killer and it is not laying eggs. We believe it is feeding on the oozing sap running from the tree. Female Cicada Killers hunt and paralyze Cicadas. They then bury them and lay a single egg. The larval wasp then feeds on the paralyzed, still living Cicada, which is a fresh food supply. A dead Cicada would be dry and inedible for the wasp.

Letter 15 – Cicada Killer Orgy

 

mating Cicada Killers
here is a pic for your bug love page… several male cicada killers trying to get lucky.
Vince

Hi Vince,
Goodness, gracious, however does she manage to choose. Looks like Cicada Killers have rought and tumble sex.

Letter 16 – Cicada Killer and Cicada

 

what’s eating this cicada? (besides the fact that it’s dead)
Hi Bugman!
Love your website, and apologies if this was already covered in a chapter. There are just SO many photos on your site I don’t know where to begin! Anyhow, I was outside when I heard a small battle being waged on my lawn, looked over, and saw this ?? (hover fly? wasp???) attacking this cicada. Next thing I knew the cicada ceased to be (it was now an ex-cicada) and the fly/wasp had dragged the cicada over to the nearest tree and started flying/climbing up the trunk. Below is my Kodak moment of this adventure. What is the fly/wasp creature, and what on earth was it doing? Thanks for your help!
Curiously Yours, Sandy in Evanston, IL

Hi Sandy,
This wasp is a Cicada Killer, and the Cicada isn’t dead, yet. The female Cicada Killer digs a burrow that is her nest and then hunts Cicadas. She stings them to paralyze them and then gets them back to her burrow. Since the Cicada is so heavy, the wasp will climb a tree to gain altitude. The paralyzed Cicada then becomes the larval food source. She will lay a single egg and the paralysis keeps the meat fresh until the egg hatches. The larva then eats the Cicada alive.

Letter 17 – A Dramatic Recreation!!! – Cicada Killer and Prey

 

Cicada Killers
Bugman:
I like your web sight. I thought these pictures would be of interest to you. Hope you can open them up. My gut feeling is that these insects have no compassion for anything. I find this disturbing. But they sure look cool. Talk about aliens (they certainly are among us!) These Cicada killers are real territorial. I’ve seen them chase away moths and Birds in a figure 8 pattern. Can’t seem to stop them. Can we expect more next Summer? Is the venom in these wasps strong enough to really send a person to the hospital? Kindest regards,
-JT

WOW JT,
Thanks for sending in probably the best photo of the year. It looks like it was shot in a studio. However did you get them to pose? Regarding compassion, I’m not entirely sure any insects have it, but the Cicada Killer is showing maternal devotion. She is protecting her nest. That might be akin to compassion. I’m sure the sting is painful, and might send a sensitive person, or surely one with allergic reactions, to the hospital. Again, thanks for the great letter and awesome photo.

Thanks Daniel. The Cicada in that picture was actually still moving very slowly. The Wasp had long gone met it’s maker. I can’t say insects and me have been on good terms, though I respect their right to exist on this planet as much as the next creature.

Letter 18 – Cicada Killer with prey and Velvet Ant

 

Cicada Killer and Velvet Ant
My wife and I enjoy your site. We live in Baton Rouge, LA and our garden has a diverse range of hymenopterans. This past summer we had a large emergence of cicadas and my wife took this photo of a cicada killer on our patio door. The size of these wasps is truly impressive. We also have velvet ants that hang out near one of our pecan trees (photo attached).
Regards – Mark & Malinda

Hi Mark and Malinda,
We are always happy to get good quality images of interesting subjects to add to our website. Yours is the only photo we have ever received of the Cicada Killer with its prey. Thank you so much.
Daniel

Letter 19 – Cicada Killer and Prey

 

Cicada Killer Having Snack in WV
Sat, Oct 11, 2008 at 6:30 PM
These killers surrounded us this summer in Springfield, West Virginia. They like to burrow (?) in the ground – they make little holes like moles and they seemed to have made their home about 50 yards from the river, in a field, with fruit & nut trees. They like to fly at us, but then swerve real quick. We’ve seen them close to 3 inches in length! This little bugger brought down the cicada right in front of me. LOVE THE SITE! I’ve learned sooooooo much!
Julie & Steve
Wild, Wonderful, West Virginia

Cicada Killer and Prey
Cicada Killer and Prey

Hi Julie and Steve,
Thanks for your contribution to our archive of a Cicada Killer and its prey. We should clarify though that that adult Cicada Killers feed on nectar and that the Cicada is not food for the adult. The female Cicada Killer provisions her nest with a paralyzed Cicadas and then lays a single egg on each. The Cicada is a meal for the developing larva. The life cycle is expained on BugGuide in the following manner: “In two or three days after egg laying, a wasp larva will hatch from the egg. The larva immediately begins eating the cicada. When the larva finishes the cicada, leaving only the outer shell (about two weeks), it will then spin a coccoon and hibernate until the following Spring. In the Spring, the larva will leave its coccoon and become a pupa (resting stage). From the pupa, an adult Cicada Killer will hatch. It will dig its way out of the ground and look for a mate. Male wasps die shortly after mating. Females die after laying all of their eggs. “

Letter 20 – Cicada Killer and Prey

 

Cicada Killer
August 5, 2009
Hello 🙂
I recently found this interesting wasp looking bug hanging from my balcony holding a cicada. Normally, I would not have known what the heck was going on here (some kind of inter-species fling??) But just that morning, I had read an article in the local newsletter about these interesting bugs, and decided to take a few pics. The article was lettiong members of the community know to not kill them or try to exterminate them, that they are a “good bug” (as most are, but still we have to squish or swat them out of fear)
After perusing your site for the identification of a house centipede (a very scary million-legged beast that was crawling around with our son on the floor. Unfortunately, after reading about it, I would have tried to put it outside to battle our spider problem…) I thought about the pictures I had taken of the cool Cicada Killer in action. I thought that they would be a great addition to your site and some good education for paeple that may not know about them. Sadly, the Cicada Killer could not keep holding on to the balcony with one leg, and dropped his prey, so I got a pic of that too (quite a pretty cicada actually).
Enjoy and keep doin what youre doin, and thanks for my newfound interest in bugs 🙂
Cool Bug Lover
Washington, DC

Cicada Killer and Annual Cicada
Cicada Killer and Annual Cicada

Dear Cool Bug Lover,
Thanks for sending us your great food chain images of a Cicada Killer and an Annual Cicada.  Female Cicada Killers are used to struggling with their large ungainly prey and we suspect she eventually arrived at her burrow with her catch.  The Cicada Killer takes advantage of gravity by climbing trees and other tall structures and gliding toward the nest with the prey in tow.  We are also gladdened to hear your local newsletter is promoting tolerance of Cicada Killers which terrify many of our readers.

Cicada Killer and Annual Cicada Prey
Cicada Killer and Annual Cicada Prey

Letter 21 – Cicada Killer and Prey

 

Yet another cicada killer
August 12, 2009
My technique for getting interesting photos is to NEVER leave the house without a camera slung around my neck. I don’t always get excellent results, but at least I do get a lot of shots.
This cicada killer was buzzing around the neighborhood and I was able to follow it to a garage with a ladder conveniently close by that let me follow it into the gutter….
Pat
southwest lower michigan

Cicada Killer with prey
Cicada Killer with prey

Hi Pat,
Because the Cicada prey weighs so much more than the Cicada Killer predator, the Cicada Killer often cannot take off from the ground to fly back to her burrow, so she climbs to a high spot and glides in the direction of her burrow.  We suspect that is the reason you captured this photo in the gutter.  Your documentation of a Cicada Killer and her prey is quite a score.  Thanks for sending it to our site.  We would much rather post photos of living insects than dead ones.

Letter 22 – Cicada Killer preys upon Annual Cicada

 

Cicada Killer
Location: St. Louis, MO
June 23, 2011 10:52 am
Love the site! Found it several years ago while trying to figure out what ”those crazy centipede millipede silverfish things” were. (House centipedes FTW!) While it hasn’t solved ALL of my irrational fears (crickets!), it has certainly helped.
Anyway, I was going through some old photos and ran across this cicada killer with her dinner. Thought you might enjoy the photo. I found her on the tire of my car in July of 2007 and had never seen one before. I figured out what she was with the help of your site.
Enjoy and thanks for all the hard work on this site!
Signature: Tracie

Cicada Killer preys upon Annual Cicada

Hi Tracie,
Your photo is just a bit early to coincide with the annual appearance of Cicada Killers, but we are very excited that you have sent it to us.  Some years we can get as many as three or five identification requests for Cicada Killers in a day, and they generally arrive in our mailbox during July and August.  We have just posted our first image of a molting Annual Cicada in the genus
Tibicen for the year, and as the food source for the developing Cicada Killer broods are beginning to appear, the predators should soon follow.  We are going to feature your posting and we hope that informing our readers about this amazing Sand Wasp will help to curtail their slaughter.  Often people are unnerved because thought Cicada Killers are solitary wasps, they tend to form nursery nests in colonies.  Male Cicada Killers are perfectly harmless as they cannot sting, are nonetheless quite aggressive about defending territory.  Female Cicada Killers are capable of stinging, be we have never in more than 13 years of writing What’s That Bug? been able to document a verified incident of a person being stung by a Cicada Killer.  The few claims we have received are better explained by blaming other more aggressive wasps like Paper Wasps.

So glad you could use the photo!  I certainly could see how people would be intimidated by such a large wasp.  I was just so impressed by her I had to get some photos, but I certainly kept my distance!  🙂  She was actually dragging the cicada up the tire of my car (looks like the photo on the site got rotated) and I ended up walking the couple of blocks home for lunch so I wouldn’t disturb her by driving off.
I do hope this will help people understand and be less afraid of these creatures.  Hey, if I can learn why house centipedes shouldn’t be automatically smushed regardless of how alien they look I believe ANYONE can.  Shoot, I was actually GLAD to see these guys in my new house.  The cave crickets, on the other hand, are not welcome.  I’ll send photos of those along if I ever muster up the courage to not immediately run from the basement when I see one.
Cheers!

Hi again Tracie,
Yes the image was rotated to maximize its size on the website.  Cicada Killers will climb up trees and walls while dragging a Cicada.  They can then glide some distance back to the excavated nest.

Letter 23 – Cicada Killer and Prey

 

Cicada killer with it’s prey
Location: 20 miles north of Dallas, Texas
July 8, 2011 9:41 am
This cicada killer has been busy! The cicadas are in full swing in north Texas and there are plenty to go around, as this guy is showing. He’s working on getting him down the hole…
Signature: Living in an episode of Wild Kingdom

Cicada Killer and Prey

Dear LiaeoWK,
Thanks so much for sending us a positive letter regarding the Cicada Killer.  We just posted another from a person with concerns because of young children.  For the record, he is a she in your photo.  Only the female Cicada Killer can sting, and the Cicada must by stung and paralyzed so that it provides fresh meat for the larval Cicada Killer.  Adult Cicada Killers, like so many other wasps, feed on nectar.

 

Letter 24 – Cicada Killer Sipping Lilac Sap

 

Sap sipping cicada killer?
Location: Evergreen Park, IL
August 11, 2011 6:10 pm
I had two ciacada killers flying around and sipping sap from (woodpecker) holes in the lilac bush. The sap must be very sweet as there were also flies, butterflies, bald face hornets, and another type of wasp (not a single yellow jacket though). For the insect world, they all got along pretty well despite all jockeying for any woodpecker hole that had sap.
Signature: Ozzy

Cicada Killer Sipping Lilac Sap

Hi Ozzy,
WE are positively enthralled with your photo.  We get numerous images of dead Cicada Killers, Cicada Killers digging, and Cicada Killers preying upon Cicadas to feed their broods.  We have even received photos of mating Cicada Killers, but we almost never receive photos of Cicada Killers eating.  Typically, Cicada Killers will feed upon nectar, but your photo demonstrates another possibility, but since sap is high in sugar, this makes perfect sense.  Thanks so much for supplying us with this marvelous image.

Letter 25 – Cicada Killer preys upon Dogday Harvestfly in MANHATTAN!!!

 

Cicada Killer…Killing a cicada!
Location: Morningside Park, Manhattan, New York
August 14, 2011 4:56 pm
I guess this wasp must be one of those Cicada Killers, judging by the fact that it is clearly killing this cicada! I saw this thing flying at me across a busy intersection near Morningside Park. The two bugs together made quite a large mass of buzzing insect, and at first I couldn’t figure out what it was, and just stepped back in fear of getting stung. Then I realized it was this wasp carrying its prey through the air. It landed on a nearby lamppost and I was able to snap a few shots, of which one came out decently. I hope you like it!
Signature: Jenny Jo

Cicada Killer preys upon Cicada

Hi Jenny Jo,
Though we have no shortage of Cicada Killers preying upon Cicadas on our site, what makes your letter so intriguing to us is your concise eye witness account as well as your location.  It is wonderful to know that both Cicada Killers and Cicadas can be found in Manhattan.  Your description of the Cicada Killer and its freight flying through the air and landing on a lamp post is critical to understanding the Cicada Killers instincts.  It is highly likely that the load weighs more than the carrier, and getting airborne from the ground is probably very difficult if not highly unlikely.  We have read that Cicada Killers climb up a tree or pole so that they do not have to take off from the ground, adding needed altitude to the flight.  It expends considerably less energy that way.  The fact that the Cicada Killer that you witnessed chose a lamp post as a landing field ensured that it would not have to search for a structure to climb while on the ground on a busy street in Manhattan, ensuring its survival until it reaches the site of its underground nest.  Thanks so much for submitting a photo to our site that did not require an identification.  As an aside, Annual Cicadas in the genus
Tibicen, especially the northern species Tibicen canicularis, is frequently called the Dogday Harvestfly.  See BugGuide for verification.

Thanks for the note!  The wasp landed near the base of the lamp post
an did, indeed, climb upward after landing.  I didn’t have time to
stick around until she took off, though.  I love how she is able to
hang onto the texture of the paint with only one foot.

Letter 26 – Cicada Killer Eating

 

Large Wasp/Hornet – Demise of elm
August 29, 2011  3:44 PM
Dear What’s That Bug,
(I have tried to use the online submission page but was not working very well.  I have a new ID request.)
I have (had, I should say) a “Liberty” Elm tree planted in the yard of the office. In the past two weeks, the tree has folded and has almost given up the ghost.  Since it has a few green leaves left, I will wait till it is finished before I do the autopsy. The insects are having a field day on the tree literately sucking the life out of the tree.  The ants were first to the party but now it has broken out into a  veritable sugar stick attracting all of the resident insect populations.  The giant wasp/hornet was in the 2in+ category and not very aggressive.  I am thinking European Hornet. What does the “What’s that Bug” crew have to say?  Did the hornets cause the holes?  And for bonus points, can someone tell me what is the most likely cause of death of the poor elm?
Thank you,
Jim Kirkland
University of Illinois
Illinois Forest Resource Center
R.R. 1, Box 255
Simpson, IL  62985

Cicada Killer drinks sap from a compromised Elm Tree

Hi Jim,
This has to be one of the most cheerful photos we have ever received of a Cicada Killer.  Even the photos of Cicada Killers with Cicadas are about the Cicada Killer providing for her brood, or in a sense, doing housework.  Here she is just taking a break and enjoying a sweet and nutritious drink.  With enough sugar in her, she will be able to hunt Cicadas for a long time.  We don’t know what is wrong with your elm tree, but we suspect it involves boring larvae, either Pigeon Horntails or Buprestidswe imagine.  Because we don’t know what is eating the trees, we will tag this as a mystery.   Your declining Elm tree is a marvelous study of the web of life that will surround it as it dies.  If you send us future updates, please continue to use the title Demise of Elm.

What's Eating the Elm Tree

Dear Daniel,  Thank you for the reminder, I am sure that at one time I knew that info.  Yes, the scavangers are doing their work, making sure that nothing goes to waste.  The ants were the first, now the party is very interracial and everyone is enjoying the sweet wine at the elm table.  Skippers, ants, wasps and bees, they are all enjoying the sweet smell of demise.  I especially enjoyed your description of a “cheerful” cicada Killer”! Every cicada killer is partying hard this year (especially since this is the year of majicicada emergence). They have  been drunk since the beginning of May when the singing began! This is their party your of good fortune!
Thanks, Jim Kirkland

Hi again Jim,
Since the
Magicicada species emerge periodically in prodigious numbers, they contribute a great deal to the food chain, however, they also emerge in late May and early June, significantly earlier than Cicada Killers, so we don’t believe Cicada Killers benefit from the various broods of 13 Year and 17 Year Cicadas.  That bounty benefits predators that are not species specific in their preferences.

 

Letter 27 – Cicada Killers: Catching Prey and Defending Territory

 

Subject: Cicada killers
Location: Warren County, New York
July 26, 2012 6:31 pm
Dear Bugman,
I thought your audience might enjoy these two cicada killer photos taken on July 18th, 2012, a very warm day in northern New York. It was over 90 degrees. One lucky shot is of a female with a cicada beneath her, just seconds before she rapidly dragged it down her burrow, which can be seen behind her, beneath her left wing. An extensive patch of sandy soil had several cicada killers patrolling it, including the male, also seen here, perched on a twig, less than an inch above the ground, by the entrance to another burrow. He flew off of the perch, a few yards or so, numerous times, only to return to the exact spot, apparently guarding his territory. The insect’s behavior was very much like that of a breeding male songbird, and I found it to be fascinating. It took me awhile to get within close enough distance to photograph him with a macro lens, but patience paid off.
Your truly,
Gerry Lemmo
Queensbury, NY
Signature: www.Gerry Lemmo.com

Cicada Killer with Prey

Hi Gerry,
Thank you for sending us your photos and also much thanks for the detailed description of the events.  We are pleased to post your photos that show Cicada Killers under favorable conditions since we receive so many examples of Unnecessary Carnage of this magnificent wasp.

Male Cicada Killer

 

Letter 28 – Cicada Killer eats sap from Lilac bush

 

Subject: Large wasp
Location: Gaithersburg MD
August 5, 2012 1:42 pm
I live in MD and have a lilac bush that is now covered with what appear to be giant wasps. There is ”saw” dust at the base of the tree, there is a sweet odor, and there seems to be several dead limbs now on my bush. The wasps seem to be eating into the tree and are about 2 inches long. They are congregated at the base and several limb joints.
Signature: Vandy

Cicada Killer

Hi Vandy,
These are Cicada Killers and though they are feeding on the sap produced by the lilac bush, we do not believe they are responsible for the poor health of the plant.  The sawdust and dead limbs are most likely due to some other cause.  Perhaps some other insect is compromising the health of the lilac shrub, and the result is the sweet smelling sap that the Cicada Killers are feeding upon.  Cicada Killer females prey on Cicadas to feed their broods which are found in subterranean nests.  Cicada Killers are solitary wasps, and despite their large size, and their habit of defending territory, Cicada Killers are not prone to stinging humans.

Letter 29 – Cicada Killer paralyzes Annual Cicada

 

Subject: Food chain: cicada killer in action
Location: Takoma Park MD
August 24, 2012 4:41 pm
Hello WTB,
This cicada killer startled me somewhat as I was out weeding the garden. I initially thought it had deposited a bit of trash. When I realized the ”trash” was an annual cicada, I dashed in to fetch the camera and thought you’d like to see the outcome.
Signature: Takoma Park animal lover

Cicada Killer with Annual Cicada

Dear Takoma Park animal lover,
Wow, what a marvelous series of photos. 

Cicada Killer with food for her brood.

The female Cicada Killer is really a powerfully built wasp to drag and glide back to her burrow with a paralyzed Cicada for each egg she lays.

Female Cicada Killer provides for her offspring

 

Letter 30 – Cicada Killer with Prey

 

Subject: Cicada killer with prey
Location: Roe, Monroe County, Arkansas
September 10, 2013 8:33 am
Thought I’d share this lucky shot with my cell phone camera! Taken 10:15 AM 9/10/2013 in Monroe County, AR. I was sitting on my porch enjoying the sunshine, and saw something fall from the tree. I was thrilled to watch this cicada killer drag her prey up the tree, where she paused above my hammock rope long enough for me to take a picture.
Signature: Sherry Young

Cicada Killer and Prey
Cicada Killer and Prey

Hi Sherry,
We believe this is the only photo of a Cicada Killer and her prey we have received this year.  Cicada Killers often drag paralyzed Cicadas up a tree or other high spot because they can then glide and fly toward the underground nest.  It is very difficult to gain altitude from the ground with such a heavy load.

Letter 31 – Cicada Killer with Prey

 

Subject: Nice Cicada-killer wasp with prey
Location: Charlottesville, Virginia, US
August 11, 2016 3:38 pm
I actually have two of these in front of my door — one burrow is beneath a corner of my front walk, the other is apparently under a nearby holly tree. Here’s a pic I got of the former carrying a cicada
Signature: Dave H,

Cicada Killer with Prey
Cicada Killer with Prey

Dear Dave,
You don’t know how refreshing it is for us to receive an image of a Cicada Killer with its prey that we can tag with Food Chain as opposed to tagging it with Unnecessary Carnage since we receive so many images of dead Cicada Killers.  So many people have irrational fears about Cicada Killers, and we concur that they are large and quite formidable looking, but as the host to two underground broods, we would love to have you write back so we can verify to our readership that Cicada Killers are not aggressive toward humans.

A Facebook Comment from Wanda
In all my years of weeding and tending my Rain Garden, I have never – repeat never – been approached or threatened by a Cicada Killer Wasp, even those who were larger than my thumb! I can safely say the same for the other wasps in my garden: Northern Paper, Great Black, Great Golden Digger, Potter and others. They are all more interested in the nectar from the plants, especially the milkweed. I walk past them, they fly past me as I work, they don’t even land on me. I welcome them for the pollinating work they do.

Dave H. confirms Cicada Killer Docility
Subject: Re:  Indeed, Cicada-killers are quite mellow
August 12, 2016 11:42 am
I’ve watched them often as I stood outside smoking,  and they’ve never even made a warning swoop toward me.   Surely one of the biggest wasps most folks will encounter, but also one of the least dangerous.
While I’m at it, I just wanted to compliment that picture of a molting cicada — that one is truly spectacular, and the little girl in the background just underlines the wonder of the moment.
Signature: Dave Harmon

We agree that it is a wonderful image Dave.

Letter 32 – Cicada Killer with Annual Cicada Prey

 

Subject:  I sect I’d help #1
Geographic location of the bug:  Greenport Suffolk county NY
Date: 08/12/2018
Time: 04:32 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hi rhere,
My friend took a picture of this near her job. I tried so hard to identify this but I cant. I think it’s on a sycamore tree, looking at the bark.  The best I had was cicada killer but I don’t thi k that’s it. Its driving me crazy, please help me.
Thank you so much,
Ann
How you want your letter signed:  Ann in Long Beach

Cicada Killer and Annual Cicada

Dear Ann,
Despite the very poor quality of your friend’s image, this is definitely a Cicada Killer and prey, and due to the dearth of nice images of Cicada Killers we have received this year (and half of them were dead), we are thrilled to post your friend’s image of a live Cicada Killer doing what earned it its common name.  Annual Cicadas are often much larger than the Cicada Killer and that makes it quite difficult for the Cicada Killer to take off from the ground with such a heavy payload, so the Cicada Killer has adapted to climb trees and other vertical features so it can take off from a good height and glide back toward the nest.

Hi daniel,
I asked her to email the origi al to me. I’m s
Waiting. You have made me so excited!I’ll share this with my scie ce class too in the fall.
Thanks,
Ann
Glad we could help Ann.
P.S.  We don’t correct grammar, misspellings or other errors on identification requests.  Typing quickly on portable devices often leads to all three.
Hi Daniel,
This is the original Cicada killer image at 2.4MB its much larger.  Her name is Margaret Lanza.  Exact location Bohemia,NY near Islip airport
Please let me know that you received this.
Best Regards,
Ann Smith

Cicada Killer with Annual Cicada

Hi Ann,
Thanks for providing the higher resolution image, but alas, there is some camera shake so the image is not critically sharp, but it is still much better than the original file you submitted.  At least now both the Cicada Killer and the Annual Cicada are plainly recognizable.

Letter 33 – Cicada Killer with Prey

 

Subject:  Hornet/ wasp
Geographic location of the bug:  Pearland TX
Date: 07/06/2019
Time: 04:06 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  This hornet attacked a locust and was dragging it around in the grass in the backyard just yesterday July 5 2019
How you want your letter signed:  KMB

Cicada Killer with Cicada prey

Dear KMB,
This Wasp is a Cicada Killer and its prey is a Cicada, not a Locust which is actually a Grasshopper.  Cicada Killers are not aggressive.  The female Cicada Killer stings and paralyzes a Cicada and then drags it to her burrow to serve as food for her brood.

Cicada Killer

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.

    View all posts

12 thoughts on “What Do Cicada Killers Eat? Do They Really Eat Cicadas?”

  1. This is the first time I have ever managed to catch one in action, so glad I had my phone with me and was able to get close enough to get a decent picture! I stood and observed her for a few minutes, it was very cool to watch her laying her eggs. After about 3 minutes, she dropped her prey and flew off. I was careful to keep my daughter and the cats away so she could have the time to come back and retrieve her incubator and drag it to the nest!

    My youngest daughter has Autism, and is as fascinated by bugs as her momma. Since we home school, WTB is a frequently visited site where we can look for insects we see in our yard, find other people who have seen them as well, and help her learn her states by finding on a map where the last person saw the same bug 🙂

    Reply
  2. This is the first time I have ever managed to catch one in action, so glad I had my phone with me and was able to get close enough to get a decent picture! I stood and observed her for a few minutes, it was very cool to watch her laying her eggs. After about 3 minutes, she dropped her prey and flew off. I was careful to keep my daughter and the cats away so she could have the time to come back and retrieve her incubator and drag it to the nest!

    My youngest daughter has Autism, and is as fascinated by bugs as her momma. Since we home school, WTB is a frequently visited site where we can look for insects we see in our yard, find other people who have seen them as well, and help her learn her states by finding on a map where the last person saw the same bug 🙂

    Reply
    • Hi again Sherry,
      This is the second time we have received word that using our website has been beneficial to children with autism. You might enjoy this Fanmail posting from several years ago. We are intrigued that you watched the Cicada Killer laying eggs since we were always under the impression that a female Cicada Killer did not deposit an egg on the paralyzed Cicada until after it was buried in the underground nest.

      Reply
  3. I have seen 1 to two a day in the house. Small 1/2 to 3/4 long thin solid black cricket looking but fly’s very hard shell takes a little effort to kill. Anyone know??

    Reply
  4. How do you get rid of the cicada killer. I have a lot of burrows in my yard. They are taking over my front yard. Are they dangerous to animals and humans. Can a local pest control company get rid of them.

    Reply
  5. OMG! Do NOT exterminate them! The are doing their job (a wonderful service) of keeping the cicada population in check. They are non-aggressive. The males cannot sting. The females will only sting when seriously provoked. Many times over the years I have personally caught and held a female and I have never been stung. They don’t stick around long, maybe 3 months tops.

    Reply
  6. I began pruning my over grown lilac bush, when these huge wasps/hornets starting buzzing me. Same scenario as original question; dead limbs, saw dust, etc. In fact I am not far from Gaithersburg. They were scary but didn’t seem hyper aggressive as wasps defending a nest. I’m confused because all the info on these critters say solitary, yet I had a bunch of them flying around

    Reply
    • When Wasps are considered Solitary, it means they do not have a communal nest, however, there might be colonies near good nesting sites with each female tending to her own brood.

      Reply
  7. I am in Western North Carolina. I am seeing the same thing. My lilac bush is covered in these things and the leaves are curling, as though dying. I cannot see the base of the tree, as it is surrounded by a low bush.
    The tree was very healthy before this invasion!

    Reply
    • I thought the same thing. I never really noticed the wasps until I started pruning the lilac bush, then they were everywhere, seemingly trying to run me off. Then I learned I can ignore them (VERY difficult to do) and go about pruning and we each mind our business.
      As I pruned and cut out dead sections, I started seeing ants. Then more ants. The very dead sections were hollow in the middle and full of ants. I ended up cutting down the whole bush. It will grow back in a few years.
      Going forward I will keep it pruned to 5 or 6 feet in height. Lilacs are pruned immediately after flowers die, as they start setting buds for the next year very soon after flowering.
      If you work your way through the lower bush and see saw dust, that is the work of ants, not these wasps.

      Reply

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