Cicada Mania

Dedicated to cicadas, the most amazing insects in the world.

Buy a Cicada T-shirt, Mug, or Hat!

February 22, 2015

10 Facts about Cicada Killer Wasps

Filed under: Cicada Killer Wasps,FAQs — Dan @ 8:58 pm

Cicada Killer Wasp on Elias' Finger

Every now and then someone will email me about “a giant bee attacking a cicada”. These are not bees, these are Cicada Killer Wasps. Now is a good time to write about them because Prof. Chuck Holliday is now retired and has shut down his Cicada Killer Wasp website 1.

Here are 10 facts about Cicada Killer Wasps for you to enjoy:

  1. Yes, these wasps kill cicadas. it works like this 1:
    1. The adult female wasp will paralyze the cicada with her venomous sting.
    2. The wasp will carry the cicada to a burrow, where it will place the cicada.
    3. The wasp will lay an egg under the left or right second leg of the cicada.
    4. The egg hatches, and the larvae begins to eat the cicada, while taking care to keep it alive.
    5. Once the larvae has had its fill, it spins a cocoon, in which it will change into an adult wasp.
  2. Female wasps are able to predetermine the sex of their larvae.1 They must do this because it takes more females to create new generations of wasps, than it does males.
  3. Cicada Killer Wasps belong to the family Crabronidae Latreille, 1802; the tribe Bembicini Latreille, 1802 and the genus Sphecius Dahlbom, 1843 2. Crabronidae comes from the Latin word for hornet, Bembicini comes from the Greek word for buzzing insect, and Sphecius is from the Greek word for wasp.
  4. Not all Sphecius wasps in the world kill cicadas, but all Sphecius in the New World (the Americas) do 3.
  5. If you haven’t seen a Cicada Killer Wasp, they are large black and pale yellow wasps, and are often found carrying a cicada (see image on this page).
  6. Cicada Killer Wasps are often confused with European Wasps (Vespa crabro). European Wasps are a more vibrant yellow color, and feature more yellow than back. They also belong to an entirely different family of wasp: Vespidae.
  7. There are five species of Cicada Killer Wasps in the Americas 3:
    • Sphecius convallis (Patton, 1879) aka the Pacific Cicada Killer, is found in the U.S.A. and Mexico.
    • Sphecius grandis (Say, 1824), the Western Cicada Killer, is found in the U.S.A. Mexico and parts of Central America.
    • Sphecius hogardii (Latreille, 1809 aka the Caribbean Cicada Killer, is found in Florida and Caribbean countries.
    • Sphecius speciosus (Drury, 1773) aka the Eastern Cicada Killer, is found in Ontario, Canada, the U.S.A. Mexico and parts of Central America.
    • Sphecius spectabilis (Taschenberg, 1875) is found in South America.
  8. 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. Play it safe, do not go near these wasps, particularly if you are allergic to stinging insects, or do not wish to be placed in a burrow with a larvae tucked under your arm. That said, check out the video below of a Sphecius speciosus “mating ball” in Elias Bonaros’ hand:
  9. Some species of Cicada Killer Wasps show a preferences for female cicadas (S. hogardii), and some seem to prefer male cicadas (S. grandis), but it is not clear why. You might think that these wasps will take more males than females because of the loud sound the males cicadas make, but this is not the case 1.
  10. Cicada Killer Wasps (S. speciosus) will prey upon Magicicada periodical cicadas 3. There is a bit of a myth that Magicicada are able to avoid these wasps but that is not the case.

References:

  1. The “Biology of cicada killer wasps | Prof. Chuck Holliday's www page at Lafayette College” website which is now archived at http://web.archive.org/web/20150203211426/http://sites.lafayette.edu/hollidac/research/biology-of-cicada-killer-wasps/.
  2. The ITIS listing for Sphecius Dahlbom, 1843.
  3. Holliday, C., Hastings, J., and Coelho, J. 2009. Cicada Prey of New World Cicada Killers, Sphecius Spp. (Dahlbom, 1843) (Hymenoptera: Crabronidae). Entomological News. 120:1-17.

Bonus:

I love this tweet featuring the cicada collection of song cicada killer wasp:

August 5, 2012

Cicada Killer Wasps Are Busy Killing Cicadas

Filed under: Cicada Killer Wasps,Video — Dan @ 9:39 am

If you’re in North America in mid to late summer, you might notice an abundance of large black and yellow wasps flying around your yard or local park. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll spot one of these wasps with a chubby green, black & white Tibicen cicada in its grasp.

T. tibicen and Cicada Killer Wasp

These wasps are appropriately named Cicada Killer Wasps. There are many species of Cicada Killer Wasps, but the most well known is the Eastern Cicada Killer Wasp (Sphecius speciosus). These wasps paralyze and bring the cicadas to their burrow, where the cicada is used as food for a Cicada Killer Wasp larvae. The best Cicada Killer Wasp resource on the web is Prof. Chuck Holliday’s Biology of cicada killer wasps. If you’re interested in these wasps, visit Prof. Holiday’s site now.

People fear these wasps, because they are large and we tend to fear stinging insects, but truthfully these wasps are not interested in stinging people — they are interested in stinging cicadas. Unlike more aggressive species of stinging insects, Cicada Killer Wasps will probably only sting you if you step on, harass or otherwise physically contact the creature. If you don’t want to be stung, don’t harass the wasps. Not need to panic. No need to bomb your local environment with pesticides.

Take a look at this stunning picture of a Cicada Killer Wasp holding a cicada while perched on Elias Bonaros’ finger. Neither Elias or the wasp was harmed. The cicada was harmed, and likely eaten by a wasp larvae.

Update:

Elias recorded this footage of a Cicada Killer “mating ball”. If you weren’t terrified by the image of the Cicada Killer clutching the Tibicen on Elias’ finger wasn’t scary enough, check this out:

Another video of a Cicada Killer Wasp

Cicada Killer recorded by Joe Green

March 7, 2010

10 new Tibicen photos from Elias Bonaros

Don’t try this:

T. tibicen and Cicada Killer Wasp

Elias was kind enough to send us 10 Tibicen photos he took in 2009. Photos include Tibicen tibicen (chloromera), Tibicen lyricen, Tibicen tibicen & Cicada Killer Wasp on Elias’ fingers, Tibicen canicularis and Tibicen linnei.

You can view the gallery page for all, or visit the individual photos:

Female Tibicen tibicen eclosing.

Female Tibicen tibicen eclosing.

T. lyricen male in the teneral phase.

Tibicen tibicen female with emerald green eyes.

Cicada Killer Wasp and Tibicen tibicen on Elias’ finger.

Cicada Killer Wasp and Tibicen tibicen on Elias’ fingers.

Tibicen canicularis eclosing.

Tibicen canicularis eclosing.

T. canicualris eclosing in Lakewood NJ.

T. linnei teneral and its exuvia.

August 23, 2008

Cicada vs. Cicada Killer

Filed under: Cicada Arts,Cicada Killer Wasps,Pop Culture — Dan @ 8:26 am

A cicada vs. Cicada Killer Wasp, typically isn’t much of a battle — the cicada typically loses.

My friend David Wilson made a display out of an old clock featuring a cicada and Cicada Killer Wasp locked in battle (or the wasp going grocery shopping for its larvae, depending on how you want to look at it).

Check it out, I think it’s very cool.

Cicada vs. Cicada Killer Wasp

Cicada vs. Cicada Killer Wasp by David Wilson

David said:

The thing is a diorama I made of an unnoticed moment in history. With New Brunswick [New Jersey], as seen from Highland Park circa 1900, in the back round.

August 17, 2008

Cicada Killer!

Filed under: Cicada Killer Wasps,Video — Dan @ 7:47 am

Here’s a video of a Cicada Killer wasp captured by my friend David Wilson in Lambertville, NJ. You can hear the cicadas in the background, so you know the wasp is quite frustrated.

August 9, 2008

Cicada Killer Wasps

Filed under: Cicada Killer Wasps,Joe Green — Dan @ 11:54 am

Now is the time for big, meaty Tibicen cicadas, and nothing loves Tibicens more than Cicada Killer Wasps. Cicada Killer Wasps are large wasps that use living cicada bodies to nourish their wasp larvae.

People fear these wasps, but they’re not interested in people — only cicadas. They’ll only attack people if people attack them. So keep your distance, but don’t bother to kill them. Respect them, but don’t wreck them.

Prof. Chuck Holiday has the best information about these wasps.

Joe Green sent us this photo of a Cicada Killer Wasp clutching a cicada. See if you can spot the cicada under the wasp.

Cicada Killer Wasp with Cicada in tow by Joe Green