Don’t Fear the Cicada Killer

My favorite posts to do are the ones that make people stop, think, and change their minds about something.  Last week, my dog and I had an interesting encounter with a GIANT wasp, and after I stopped Solo (my dog) from eating it, I went home to google the little bug and see what I could learn…needless to say, 30 minutes later I just knew that I had to do a post about my new little friend!

The name ‘cicada killer’ strikes fear in many people.  Cicadas are large and icky enough, and imagining a wasp large and powerful enough to take on a cicada or two is enough to make a person shudder!  In fact, cicada killers are one of the largest species of wasps found in the eastern US!  I don’t like wasps or bees any more than the next person, but after learning all about cicada killers, I felt it was important to share their story with my reader – maybe you’ll have the same change of heart that I did.

Cicada killers are solitary wasps, so right away that distinguishes them from other wasps.  Bees and wasps sting (and sometimes give their lives along with it) as a way to protect the queen and the colony.  Bees and wasps that live in colonies have a sort of ‘hive mind‘ and act to the betterment of the group, without thinking about their individual needs.  This creates a very effective life strategy out of colonial living, but it means that colonial bees and wasps are very different from solitary ones, because they have to be to survive.

A female digging her burrow.

Solitary wasps, on the other hand, are worried about what most animals are worried about: survival and reproduction.  This means that they act not to protect a queen bee or a wasp nest, but to mate, provide their young with care, and keep themselves alive long enough to do so.  Only female cicada killers can sting, and they mostly use their sting to paralyze the cicadas that the prey on.  They only sting people when roughly handled or stepped on.  Adult cicada killers feed on flower nectar and tree sap, but they use the cicadas they capture to feed their young.  Female cicada killers dig burrows where they stash the paralyzed cicadas and lay their eggs in with the cicadas.  Then the females close the burrow and leave the eggs to hatch.  The larva feed on the cicadas, and then go into a cocoon and overwinter, emerging as adult cicada killers in the summer.

Males cannot sting at all.  Male cicada killers are the ones most likely to frighten you or I – it was one of these little guys that inspired me to write this post!  Males are territorial, and stake out ‘perches’ to defend from other males.  They aggressively defend their patch of land, and will grapple with other males, but pose almost no threat to humans.  When they’re not fighting off rivals, the males are patrolling their perch and hoping to find a female to mate with.  They investigate anything that moves nearby with the hopes that it’s a female – and that’s what was happening to my dog and I each morning last week!  A male had claimed our apartment building’s stairs and was checking us out each morning, just in case we were his kind of cicada killer lady (we’re not…).

I just felt like sharing with you guys.  Hopefully you learned to be less afraid of these intimidating wasps if they’re in your area.  And if not, it’s still important that we all remember to stop and learn something from nature before we immediately fear it.  More often that not, nature has more to worry about from us than we do from it.  (I’m having a very tree-hugger-like day, apparently).  Thanks for reading!

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Thanks to the Sandy Richard and Flickr’s creative commons for the lovely picture of a cicada killer.
And, as always, a special thank you to the masses of Wikipedia, for most of the background knowledge needed for this post.

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