Pest Library | Cicada Killers (Digger Wasps)

Sphecius speciousis

Cicada Killer - Sphecius speciousus
Color: Hairy, black to reddish in the middle (thorax), black to reddish brown with yellow stripes on the rear segment (abdomen), brown veined wings
Legs: 6
Shape: Elongated Oval; bee shape
Size: 1/2″ to 2 1/2″ long
Antennae: Yes
Region: Eastern and Midwestern U.S.
The Cicada Killer is a large digger wasp. It gets its name because they hunt cicadas to provide food for their young. They have also been called “Sand Hornets” but are not in the hornet family. Cicada Killers are a beneficial measure of natural control on reducing cicada populations and directly benefit the deciduous trees upon which their cicada prey feed. In a typical season 100 female Cicada Killers will clear over 16,000 cicadas from the surrounding area.


Adult Cicada Killers emerge in summer, typically beginning around late June or early July and die off in September or October. The large females are commonly seen skimming around lawns seeking good sites to dig burrows and searching for cicadas in trees and taller shrubs.

Cicada Killer females use their sting to paralyze their prey (cicadas) rather than to defend their nests. Adult Cicada Killers feed on flower nectar and other plant sap.

The males’ vigorous territorial defense can be frightening and intimidating to human passersby, the males pose no danger whatsoever. They will only grapple with other insects, and cannot sting.


Cicada Killers prefer to dig their burrows in sandy, bare, well-drained soil exposed to full sunlight, as well as next to raised sidewalks, driveways and patio slabs. If you have reddish brown patches in your lawn they are Cicada Killer burrows. Since colonies of burrows are common, infested lawns usually contain several mounds that can smother the grass. Cicada Killers may also nest in planters, window boxes, and flower beds or under shrubs and ground cover.

After digging a nest chamber in the burrow, female Cicada Killers capture cicadas, paralyzing them with a sting. After paralyzing a cicada, the female wasp holds it upside down beneath her and takes off toward her burrow; this return flight to the burrow is difficult because the cicada is often more than twice her weight.


Although Cicada Killers are large, female Cicada Killer wasps are not aggressive and rarely sting unless they are grasped roughly, stepped upon with bare feet, or caught in clothing, etc. Male Cicada Killer aggressively defend their perching areas on nesting sites against rival males but they have no sting. Although they appear to attack anything that moves near their territories, male Cicada Killers are actually investigating anything that might be a female Cicada Killer ready to mate.

If you are allergic to bee stings, get immediate medical assistance if you are stung.


Adequate lime and fertilizer applications accompanied by frequent watering promote a thick growth of turf and can usually eliminate a Cicada Killer infestation in one or two seasons. In case of severe infestation, chemical control by a licensed professional may be necessary to prevent danger from stinging wasps.

* Information courtesy of University of Kentucky EntomologyIowa State University Department of Entomology.

* Image courtesyof Dawn Dailey O’Brien, Cornell University,

For more information check out AB-Con’s Bug Blog: