Have you ever been out in your yard working in the garden, or playing with the kids and suddenly a huge black wasp with a few yellow rings on its abdomen appears and begins to buzz (or shall we say rumble) uncomfortably close? Chances are, this oversized insect is non-other than the Cicada Killer Wasp. If your yard is level, well drained, and is fairly close to some tall deciduous trees, you may have qualified yourself for the presence of this fascinating creature.
The good news is, despite their daunting name, these wasps are generally gentle giants when it comes to their interaction with humans; in fact, the males (seen predominantly in July) are somewhat territorial, but physically not in a position to sting, since that particular appendage is used for mating. If you notice them invading your personal space, it’s very likely that you’re in close proximity to their breeding ground.
In late July/early August, the females appear and begin looking for a mate. Although females are quite capable of inflicting a painful sting, it is not very high on their list of priorities, and they usually only do so in cases of self-defense, or if they are accidentally being crushed (by a foot, for instance). They are not protective of their nests like other species of wasps and hornets are, so they don’t mind if you get close.
If you see one of these wasps digging a hole in your lawn, it’s most likely a female preparing a den for her egg. While some wasps simply insert their ovipositor (egg laying tube/stinger) into a selected surface to lay eggs, cicada killer wasps must make extra room in the form of a den, for… you guessed it, a victimized cicada!
After preparing a suitable den, the female cicada killer wasp buzzes way up into a nearby tree in search of a noisy cicada. Once she finds one, she inflicts it with a fierce sting which causes instant paralysis. Then the wasp drags the cicada to the edge of a high branch, holds on tightly, and jumps; gliding down to the ground, and landing as close as possible to the newly formed den. They often have to drag the body of the cicada part of the distance on the ground, depending on how well they aimed.
After the paralyzed cicada is tucked into the den, the female wasp is ready to lay her egg on it; she lays a single egg behind one of the cicada’s second wings. Because it was paralyzed and not killed, the cicada’s body remains fresh and dormant, ready to be eaten by the wasp larva that is going to hatch. The larva takes all the nourishment it needs from the cicada’s body and then wraps itself in a cocoon, waiting through the winter for its rebirth as an adult wasp. The cicada now dies.
If you are experiencing an infestation of cicada killer wasps in your yard, it doesn’t matter if they are friendly or not; when they are present, it always increases the risk of being stung, especially if you have young children, or conduct a lot of activities in the area.
Cicada killer wasps are a unique challenge to control and eradicate because of their method of reproduction; while some other types of wasps have a single nest with many young in it, these big buzzers place their eggs in single suites all over your yard; but there are ways to deal with them. Miller Pest and Termite has spent the last 16 years discovering the best methods for pest control in the Des Moines area. If you are having trouble keeping wasps out of your yard, give us a call and we’ll be happy to help you out.