Cicada killers are the gentle giants of the wasp world, but their formidable name and size do not stop a few intrepid predators from hunting and eating them. Let’s see who their predators are.
Nature tells us that there is a cycle to everything, and those who prey on others shall themselves be preyed upon in time.
How true that is for the cicada killers!
A stunning predator who loves to prey on cicadas, cicada killers (Sphecius speciosus) are often eaten by larger predators like spiders, moths, birds, and even many mammalian species.
Cicada killers belong to the Hymenoptera order of the Insecta class and are part of the Crabronidae family. These wasps are sometimes also called Sand Hornets or Cicada Hawks.
Predominantly seen in Central America and Mexico, they are native to North America and are beneficial insects that do not harm anyone (except for the cicadas!).
What Eats Cicada Killers?
Some of the common predators that thrive on Cicada Killers include amphibians like salamanders, mammals such as honey badgers, several birds, and insects like robber flies.
Frogs and other Amphibians, like salamanders, etc., are pretty commonly found enjoying eating wasps. They can eat the wasps with ease as the stings of the Cicada Killer or any wasp do not affect them.
Honey Badgers and Bears are often seen scavenging through tunnels and creeks during summer months in search of wasps.
Other mammals that eat Cicada killer include Mice, weasels, and even bats. They are known to hunt these wasps, their eggs, and larvae.
Birds like Chickadees, Chirping Sparrows, Orioles, Bluebirds, Warblers, etc., often prey on these wasps as they are easy to hunt.
These wasps are not aggressive, unlike others in their family.
Warblers prey on the wasps mid-flight and trap them between their beaks. However, during the breeding season, most birds generally revert to consuming fruits, nuts, berries, sap, etc.
Insects like Praying mantes, dragonflies, beetles, centipedes, hoverflies and moths also feed on cicada killers, even if most of these adult insects prefer nectars and saps.
Many of these bugs are omnivores, and they can feed on any insect that is easily available, which makes cicada killers a prime target.
Spiders generally trap the wasps in their web and gradually feed on them. Like birds, robber flies also attack these wasps mid-flight and paralyze them with a venomous sting.
What Eats Their Larvae?
Even though the Cicada Killer is known for its predatory trait, these solitary wasps are quite vulnerable when they are in their larval stage.
One of the most dangerous and common enemies of the cicada killer larva is the Velvet Ant. Despite the confusing name, velvet ants are actually wasps, not ants. They simply don’t have wings.
Velvet Ants stalk adult cicada killers and enter the tunnel dug by them. In a wicked irony of fate, these wasps lay their eggs in their nest cell, just like the female wasp lays her eggs on cicadas.
Once the wasp larvae hatch, they feed on the paralyzed cicada and then pupate. The velvet ants’ killer larvae lie waiting for this moment and immediately attack these pupae and eat them.
How Else To Get Rid of Cicada Killers through Natural Ways?
Cicada killers are neither dangerous nor are they pests. However, they can be a nuisance because they like to fly around in large numbers (even though they are solitary).
One of the easiest and most common practices is using boiling water in their nests. What you need to do is to pour hot water through the tunnel when the wasp is in its lair.
You can do this several times throughout the area, wherever there are burrows. This will kill the adults, their larvae, pupae, and eggs.
Here are a few more things that you can do without having to use pesticides on them:
- Spray loose soil with lime and fertilizers to ensure the growth of tall grasses. Cicada killers don’t create underground burrows in grounds that have grass on them.
- Add upto 3 inches of mulch under the shrubs and garden beds.
- Make sure that you add plenty of water throughout your garden, as these wasps cannot make their nests in wet or muddy soil.
- It is also possible to block any burrow entrances with a stick and remove the nearby dirt. If you find wasps coming back to enter their tunnels, simply stomp on them.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do cicada killers have predators?
Yes, from amphibians like frogs and salamanders to birds and insects like Praying Mantis, these wasps have many enemies.
Even though cicada killers are themselves predatory insects feeding on cicadas, these wasps are hunted by others. Even mammals like weasels, mice, and Honey Badgers feed on Cicada Killer wasps.
What are cicada killers attracted to
Cicada killers are attracted to areas with sandy soil (hence the name Sand Hornet), creeks between concrete, window boxes, and even lawns with dried and sparse grass. These places are optimal for burrowing tunnels for the females to lay eggs in.
Moreover, these wasps are attracted to flowery gardens since they primarily feed on nectar. Female cicada killers also look for green fields with foliage where cicadas are found in abundance.
What animal kills wasps
It is very common to see cicada killers being attacked by larger mammalian predators like honey badgers, beavers, mice, weasels, and even black bears. Bats and birds like bluebirds, orioles, chickadees, and sparrows also attack these wasps.
What happens if a cicada killer bites you
Cicada killers or sand hornets cannot bite humans and seldom pose a threat to humans. However, if prodded or disturbed, they can sting, but these wasp stings are not very painful, unlike those of social wasps like yellow jackets and giant hornets.
These wasps prefer escaping rather than attacking almost all the time. Despite their gigantic size and alarming appearance, the cicada killers are called the gentle giants of the wasp world.
There is No Escaping The Food Cycle of Nature
Even though they resemble the deadly murder hornets, these beneficial wasps are responsible for saving deciduous vegetation from the attack of the cicadas.
Unfortunately, every hunter must become the hunted, and so is the tale of the cicada killer wasp.
There are many who notice its lack of aggression and fancy it as an easy protein-filled snack!
There are several letters from our readers asking us about natural ways to get rid of cicada killers, including who eats them.
Please go through some of these letters and their experiences below.
Letter 1 – Subject: Cicada Killer Wasps
I’d love info on these delightful little visitors as we seem to have a family who lives/visits our yard every spring. I cannot leave the house.
The Cicada Killers, Specius speciosus and Sphecius grandis, are large solitary wasps that often live in colonies, hence your comment about the family situation. They produce one generation a year, and you are being visited by the offspring of the previous year’s visitors. The wasps are large, nearly 1 2/3 inches in body length, with a much larger wingspan, and they feed on nectar and pollen. Mating males are sometimes aggressive, and females will deliver a nasty sting if provoked. It is the female who kills the cicadas. She hunts for them on tree trunks after digging a burrow. She stings the cicada, paralyzing it, then flies back to her burrow with the now immobile, yet living food source for her brood. Each burrow contains one or two cicadas, and when the solitary egg hatches, the larva has a fresh food supply.
Ckeck out the Cicada Killer Thriller Page at http://www.showmejoe.com /thriller/thriller.htm
Thank you so much!! My exterminator was totally clueless (so I had to capture one and look online to find out about it – that’s how I knew it’s name) but I’ve now that I’ve seen them in my yard I’ve seen them around a lot more – don’t know if it’s a case of knowing what I’m looking for or if they’re really settling in around South Orange, NJ, but I do appreciate your great information on them. Poor cicadas – darn that must hurt! I’d noticed how aggressive the males are – especially if you fill up their burrow and they can’t get back in ;)Best,
Craft Writer / Knitting Designer
South Orange, NJ
Letter 2 – Question about Cicada Killers
Cicada Killer in Mass
July 28, 2010 7:22 pm
I have a Cicada Killer in SE Mass, the time table and territory shows Cicadas not here, and not due around this year. Am I wrong or are they sustained on nectar in the off years (and shes lost)?
There are cicadas in your area every year. Do not confuse the special appearance of the Periodical Cicada or 17 Year Locust that appear on a periodic schedule with the Annual Cicadas that appear each year. The Periodical Cicadas, when they do appear, are about a month earlier than the appearance of Cicada Killers, so the Periodical Cicadas do not contribute to the diet of Cicada Killers which tend to feed on the Annual Cicadas that appear in mid to late summer. It is also worth noting that only the larval Cicada Killers feed on the Cicadas which are paralyzed by the female Cicada Killer to provision her nest with food for her brood. Adults take nectar.
Letter 3 – Swarming Cicada Killers
Ground Dwelling Black and Orange Flying Insect
Location: Central New York
July 22, 2011 10:46 am
We have hundreds of these flying in our backyard. We started seeing them (in very small numbers a couple of years ago). The live in solitary holes, mounds of dirt around the holes, hover close to the ground, chase anyone who ventures near… Some have clear wings and some have orange wings. They’re between 1 1/2 inches and 2 inches long. The ’come out’ around mid July and last until sometime in August. At first we thought they cicada killers – because they carry bugs back to their lair; but they definitely don’t look like the pictures of c.killers I’ve seen. Can you tell me what these are?
These are most certainly Cicada Killers and we are very intrigued by the swarming behavior you are describing. Since Cicada Killers are solitary wasps, they do not swarm in the same sense that honey bees or hornets swarm, but we imaging that they present a frightening picture because of their large size. First, we understand that the aggressors are generally male Cicada Killers that are defending their territory while trying to lure prospective mates to nest in areas they are protecting. Male Cicada Killers do not possess a stinger, so while they may dive bomb you, your pets, and even birds that enter the vicinity, they are perfectly harmless. Female Cicada Killers do possess a stinger, but they are more interested in using it on Cicadas so that they can feed their brood. We have not received a verified report of anyone being stung by a Cicada Killer though we imagine a female is quite capable of stinging. You indicate that you have hundreds of them and that is most likely due to an increase in recent years of the number of Cicadas. Insect populations tend to by cyclical. We are very curious to know how this drama will play out. Please keep us posted as to any developments. We are positively thrilled with your photos that clearly show numerous Cicada Killers in close proximity to one another.
Letter 4 – Western Cicada Killer
what is this bug?
Location: El Paso, TX
July 28, 2011 4:13 pm
Saw this giant bug outside our home a few weeks ago. It was at least 3 maybe 4 inches long or so, approximately.
WE wish your photo had more detail, but this sure looks like a Western Cicada Killer, Sphecius grandis, to us. Though BugGuide does not list any sightings from Texas, the listed range of the Western Cicada Killer includes Texas.
Letter 5 – What’s Killing Cicada Killers???
Wasp type creature in back yard
Location: Jackson, MS
August 20, 2011 11:59 am
I found two of these dead in our back patio. I have no idea where they are coming form or why they are dead, but I’m glad! If you need another picture, let me know.
Your wasp is a Cicada Killer, but we are very intrigued as to what might be causing these deaths on your patio. We have two theories, and we will begin with the more offensive one. Perhaps they are being poisoned by one of your neighbors. Cicada Killers are large and scary, though they are not aggressive. They build underground nests which the female provisions with paralyzed Cicadas to feed her brood. Many people are frightened by the nesting activity and they try to eliminate the wasps. We have also received a large number of reports of large Robber Flies this year. Robber Flies are predators that take prey on the wing. They have mouthparts adapted to sucking fluids from their prey, so they would not leave bite marks nor would they chew the prey. Perhaps these Cicada Killers are falling prey to a large Robber Fly.
Letter 6 – Western Cicada Killer
Subject: Large Yellow & Copper Bee
Location: Northern Nevada Mountain Desert
July 4, 2013 5:48 pm
I found this guy buzzing around our yard in Silver City, NV. (It’s just outside of Carson City. ) I have never see anything like this before! I generally don’t have too much trouble figuring out what we have out here (like the Tarantula Hawks – so cool!) but this one has me stumped. He’s copper, yellow & tan, about 1 1/2 ” from end to end & fairly sturdy looking. He’s a very quick flyer! It’s July 4th, 2013 & about 95 degrees outside. What do you think!? THANK YOU!
Signature: Michelle Pedersen
We are quite excited to post your photo of a Western Cicada Killer, Specius grandis, a relatively underrepresented species on our site. During summer months, we get numerous identification requests for Eastern Cicada Killers, but nice photos of the western species are relatively rare for us. Female Cicada Killer Wasps sting and paralyze Cicadas to provide food for their young. More information and photos can be found on BugGuide. Though we imagine Cicada Killers might deliver a painful sting to humans, they are not aggressive and we have never received a substantiated report of a person being stung.
Thanks so much for such a quick reply! It makes sense that we would have a cicada killer right now because we have a very large migration of cicadas coming through, too. (First time I can remember this in 10 years, as well.) Very cool – thanks for solving the mystery!!
Letter 7 – Western Cicada Killer
Subject: LARGE WASP?
Location: Phoenix AZ
September 5, 2013 2:49 pm
We saw this wasp hanging around our pool in Phoenix AZ this past Labor Day weekend. I have looked on your site and am thinking it is a Western Cicada Killer. It was a good 2 1/2” long & very scary!! What can you tell us about it? We are new to AZ & have never seen a wasp this big. How painful/dangerous is it’s sting? Does it really kill cicadas?
The colors on your photograph are so saturated and stunning. The Western Cicada Killer is sure one impressive predator, even though as an adult it does not eat other insects. The adult female hunts Cicadas to feed to her larval brood. She stings the Cicada and drags it back to the underground nest which she provisions but does not defend. We only have photos of Eastern Cicada Killers with their prey.
Letter 8 – Western Cicada Killer
Subject: A beautiful type of wasp?
Location: Phoenix arizona
July 28, 2015 6:02 pm
I found this awesome little dude in my laundry room and I’m dying to know what they are.
Signature: Brooke c
This positively gorgeous wasp is a Western Cicada Killer, Specius grandis. Though Cicada Killers are not aggressive and we have not gotten any legitimate documentation of a person being stung by a Cicada Killer, the possibility does exist and we imagine a person might be stung if carelessly handling a Cicada Killer. We get many more identification requests for the Eastern Cicada Killer, and images of Western Cicada Killers are not too common in our archives.
Letter 9 – Is this Wasp a Parasitoid of this Cicada???
Subject: Most Curious
Geographic location of the bug: Andover, NJ
Time: 04:32 PM EDT
Wondering if you can shed some light on this. I found this very sluggish cicada on my deck this afternoon and while I was crouched a food away taking photos, I realized that it had some sort of small fly (or wasp?) on its head. I wonder if the fly/wasp is some sort of parasite? Have you seen anything like this?
The cicada seemed to be nearing the end of its life as I was able to pick it up and move it to a safer spot in the garden quite easily.
How you want your letter signed: Deborah E Bifulco
This is not a fly. It is a wasp and we suspect it is a parasitoid species of Braconid or Chalcid, though we do not know if any members of those family parasitize Cicadas, which means we have some interesting research ahead of us. Before we can do that research, we will be posting your images. We do want to forewarn you that we closely cropped one of your images to show the wasp better, and that cut off your signature. Of the Chalcids, BugGuide states: “most parasitize eggs or immature stages of other insects or arachnids” and “Some are used to control insect pests (Lepidoptera, Diptera, Coleoptera, Hemiptera).” Since Cicadas are in the order Hemiptera, it is possible that there might be a species, genus or family of Chalcids that preys upon Cicadas, but we have not been able to verify that at this time. It is also possible that there is no evolutionary relationship between the two insects in your image and your images document a chance encounter. We also found this BugGuide posting, but the larva appears to be Dipteran.
I actually wondered if it might be a wasp, so thanks for confirming. I did a quick bit of search on anything (other than cicada killars) that parasitize cicadas but didn’t turn anything up. Hopefully with your much more extensive network and knowledge base you can solve the mystery. And, of course, crop away – that goes for any images I send your way. I always appreciate you help very much.Very interesting. I wondered if it might be a chance encounter, but the wasp was on the cicada’s head for close to 2 minutes, moving around mostly between the eyes. I finally flicked it off with my finger. Fascinating stuff…
Letter 10 – Western Cicada Killer found drowned in pool
Subject: Wasp or bee
Geographic location of the bug: Murphy Idaho
Time: 10:22 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: I need to know what these are they showed up in our backyard and we have two small children
How you want your letter signed: Jackie
This magnificent wasp is known as a Western Cicada Killer. The female is a solitary wasp that builds an underground nest that she provisions with paralyzed Cicadas to feed her brood. Western Cicada Killers are not an aggressive species and the female does not defend the nest. Though Cicada Killers might sting if carelessly handled, we have never received an authenticated report of a person being stung by a Cicada Killer. Though we empathize with the action you have taken out of concern for your children, we are nonetheless tagging this posting as Unnecessary Carnage.
we have not killed any even though my daughter was stung in the face and she had to go to the ER because her eye was swollen shut and her whole side of her face was swollen so they do sting. We found this one floating in her pool they are all over my backyard can you tell me how long they will be here?
We apologize for our rush to judgement. BugGuide does not include any reports from Idaho, but in nearby Washington, they are reported in July. We suspect the life span of an adult Western Cicada Killer, Sphecius grandis, to be about four to six weeks.
16 thoughts on “What Eats Cicada Killers? 4 Types of Predators of Cicada Killers”
Isn’t the current evolutionary thinking about periodical cicadas that the staggered hatching may help protect them from predation by, among others, cicada killers?
The theory about the staggered hatching with respect to the years that the Periodical Cicadas “swarm” is true, but Periodical Cicadas appear in June and Cicada Killers don’t make an appearance until mid July, making their typical prey the Annual Cicadas. Good Question.
Although the Cicada Killers in this photo don’t look as big (long, round, fat) as the ones I saw swarming on 7/22/11, it looks like I found what I was looking for. Thanks!
Cicada Killers are very large, robust wasps.
I observed this also in Cincinnati, OH at the California Woods Golf Course. There must have been literally thousands…around 7/16/11.
We would imagine that the area around sand traps is prime nesting territory for Cicada Killers, and we also imagine that the owners of golf courses hire exterminators to eliminate Cicada Killers because golfers might fear getting stung.
they do they same on my front porch – i think thats what they are? (i took pics – here — http://ciara.smugmug.com/Animals/Insects/13935064_pvuNu) I find dozens dead every morning. I have discovered they are attracted to light — and that if we have water – sprinkler, hose etc – they come and retrieve it and take the water back to the forest nearby.
You actually have European Hornets.
i loved this post! I never would have thought of loikong at dead, dried up insects as a nature activity! But your explanation of the benefits for kids was compelling. One thought I had in response was that involving the kids in doing a simple line drawing of the critter might add to both their fun and their learning, since it enhances observation and also engages more senses. That way, when you next hear the cicadas buzzing in the trees and draw the kidsa! attention to it, you can send them to their drawings as a reminder of their past experience with its brethren!(I wish I could get a do-over and come back as YOUR kid!)
Thank you for your kind comment.
I work at a sears in PA and their are at least 100 maybe more that fight over the small spot out side our MPU area. The past summers only a few were seen now their is a bunch swarming around this one area.
Possibly a greater food supply of Cicadas last year prompted the spike in populations. Fewer Cicadas will mean fewer Cicada Killers the following year.
Cicada killers usually have only one predator besides people—so called cow killer ants, and these prey on sub-adult cicada killers. No, robber flies did not kill any cicada killers. It’s possible but highly unlikely, as the CK is too powerful in flight and on the ground. Most CK’s die because they buzz like jets till their insect heart suddenly stops, and they curl up and extend their stinger. I was surprised to see a CK couldn’t escape a spider web and it definitely was pierced and sucked by the spider. I don’t think any other flier in the insect world, anywhere, could have escaped, when that CK could not do it.
I believe this is the kind of creature I saw in Hell’s Canyon. Near Oregon, Idaho and Washington. As it resembled a very large bee( which I’m allergic to) I kept my distance and could not get a picture of it.
This is probably the latest reply in WhatsThatBug history, but I think I’ve found a possible identity of this wasp. It’s probably Centradora cicadae, a member of the family Aphelinidae. These wasps are, as you suggested, members of the superfamily Chalcidoidea.
Thanks for your comment. Actually, we sometimes get corrections on postings ten years old or even older.