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Hort in the Home Landscape

A blog devoted to sharing timely horticulture topics and answering the questions of gardeners and homeowners.
Cicada killer adult-Photo courtesy of Phil Nixon

Cicada Killers: More Fright Than Bite

I've heard numerous tales in the past couple of weeks about a giant wasp digging holes in gardener's landscapes or other tales of a giant insect flying by carrying another insect. You'd think it was a scene of a horror movie the way they describe it. But don't despair, these sightings are simply the cicada killer.

According to our state entomology specialist, Phil Nixon, cicada killer wasps are about 2 inches long, black with yellow markings, and have reddish, transparent wings. The females dig ½-inch-diameter burrows that extend about seven to twenty inches into the soil. This results in mounds of loose soil around the burrow openings which many gardeners notice first.

Annual (dogday) cicadas are captured by the wasp, stung to paralyze them, and dragged down into the burrows. Eggs laid on the prey hatch into wasp larvae that eat the paralyzed but still living prey. Pupation then occurs in the burrow with adults emerging the next summer.

The cicada killer is a solitary wasp, not a social wasp like the bee, and aren't prone to sting humans. Although they look intimidating, the male cicada killer does not have the ability to sting and the female is very unlikely to sting unless provoked or stepped on.

If these insects are of a concern to you, Phil states that numbers can be reduced in turf areas by using cultural methods to improve turf coverage and density. Mulching bare soil areas should also discourage female burrows. Carbaryl, sold as Sevin Dust, and deltamethrin, sold as DeltaDust, are effective in eliminating females when the dust is sprinkled next to the burrow opening.

So unless the cicada killers are causing a problem near where children may be playing or in another highly used areas of the yard, these insects really cause no harm and should be left to go on with their life cycle.

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