Australia has a Cicada Killer Wasp: Exeirus lateritius. It belongs to the same family, Crabronidae, as American Cicada Killer Wasps. Dr. Lindsay Popple says “They go for the big ones like Thopha [Drummer cicadas], Cyclochila [Green Grocers, Yellow Mondays]”.
This was provided by Gary Warner, and was taken by Jeff Doring.
This photo of an empty-handed Cicada Killer heading back to its burrow is by Gary Warner.
Here is a video from YouTube. According to the video description, they are also known as Ground Digger Wasps.
Graduate students at the West Virginia University’s Kasson Laboratory discovered a Cicada Killer Wasp (Sphecius speciosus) infected with Ophiocordyceps (a type of fungi). Ophiocordyceps can also infect cicadas.
The cicada is referred to as a “Harvest Fly”, which indicates that it is a member of the genus Neotibicen (back in 1902 I think the genus was either called Cicada or Tibicen). Judging by the description of the cicada it is likely a Neotibicen tibicen tibicen aka the Swamp Cicada.
Instructions for coloring the insects:
Directions for coloring-. Body black, with a dark
green band just back of the head, and two round
white spots on the first ring- or segment of the
abdomen. The eyes, legs and antennas are green.
The veins of the wings are green near the tody,
gradually shading into black at the tips. The
wings are transparent. The wasp, which is carry
ing off a dead harvest fly, is brown-the color of
bronze. The pupa or young harvest fly in the tree
is brown also. The tree trunk is dark brown; the
The harvest fly, or cicada, often incorrectly called
locust is usually the herald of hot weather. He
comes out in August, and the hotter the day the
more energetically he sings. He is own cousin to
the seventeen-year cicada, and it takes him two
years to reach his growth. He begins life as a
Uny egg bidden away by his mother under the
bark of sum.- tree. Who, he hatches out a tiny
grub, he begins eating Into his surroundings and
often does much damage. Soon he changes to a
pupa, and falls to the ground, i” which he imme
diately buries himself. Here he remains for two
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Photo by Elias Bonaros. The Cicada Killer is focused on cicada, and not bothered by 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:
Yes, these wasps kill cicadas1. it works like this:
The adult female wasp will paralyze the cicada with her venomous sting.
The wasp will carry the cicada to a burrow, where it will place the cicada.
The wasp will lay an egg under the left or right second leg of the cicada.
The egg hatches, and the larvae begins to eat the cicada, while taking care to keep it alive.
Once the larvae has had its fill, it spins a cocoon, in which it will change into an adult wasp.
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.
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.
Not all Sphecius wasps in the world kill cicadas, but all Sphecius in the New World (the Americas) do 3.
If you haven’t seen a Cicada Killer Wasp, they are largely black and pale yellow wasps, and are often found carrying a cicada (see image on this page).
Cicada Killer Wasps are often confused with European Wasps (Vespa crabro). European Wasps are a more vibrant yellow color and feature more yellow than black. They also belong to an entirely different family of wasp: Vespidae.
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.
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 larvae tucked under your arm. That said, check out the video below of a Sphecius speciosus “mating ball” in Elias Bonaros’ hand:
Some species of Cicada Killer Wasps show a preference 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 males cicadas make, but this is not the case 1.
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.
Cicada Killer Wasps are also known as Cicada Hawks.
Note: Cicada Killers are not related to Asian Giant Hornets currently being discussed in the press (May 2020). Cicada Killers are native to the U.S., and relatively gentle creatures (unless you are a cicada). They belong to the same order (Hymenoptera), but that’s about it.
This photo features an Asian Giant Hornet (left, under glass) and a Cicada Killer Wasp (right, above glass):
Lastly, here’s a recent video of a man subjecting himself to a Cicada Killer Sting to show that you shouldn’t fear them.
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.
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 larva.
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:
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.
Click the images for larger versions:
Cicada Killer Wasp and Neotibicen tibicen
Cicada Killer Wasp and Neotibicen tibicen
Female teneral Neotibicen tibicen by Elias Bonaros
Molting Neotibicen tibicen by Elias Bonaros
Neotibicen canicualris eclosing in Lakewood NJ 2
Neotibicen canicualris eclosing in Lakewood NJ 3
Neotibicen canicualris eclosing in Lakewood NJ
Neotibicen linnei teneral and its exuvia
Neotibicen tibicen by Elias Bonaros
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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.
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.
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.