The Cicada Killer

Common Name:
Cicada Killer
Scientific Name:
Sphecius Speciosus (Dury)


This wasp gets its common name from the fact that it hunts and provisions each of its nest cells with a cicada (Homoptera: Cicadidae) as food for its young. These wasps can become an urban nuisance pest when they select a bare area around a structure as a nesting site. People become alarmed because they look like giant yellowjackets. In the United States, they are found east of the Rocky Mountains.


Large, about 1-1 5/8" (25-40 mm) long; hairs (setae) unbranched. Color black to rusty with yellowish markings on lst 3 abdominal segments. Thorax with pronotum short, collarlike, not reaching tegula (scalelike structure at base of front wing); front wing with 3 submarginal cells, 2nd squarish; middle tibia with 2 apical spurs.


  1. Western cicada killer (Sphecius convallis Pafton) very similar except length 5/8-1 3/8" (15-35 mm), abdomen rust brown with yellowish markings, and distributed Kansas to Central Valley and deserts of California.

  2. European hornet (Vespa carbo) brownish with orange stripes on all abdominal segments and pronotum in lateral view almost triangular, extending to tagula (scalelike structure at base of front wing) or nearly so.

  3. Other wasps either lack the size and/or characteristic pale abdominal markings.


Cicada killers are solitary wasps, do not live in colonies or nests, and are females or males as adults. However, many individuals may fly over a lawn and/or they may use the same general area for nesting purposes, but they do not share nests. Each female digs her own burrow which is about 1/2" (12 mm) in diameter and may extend up to 10" (25.5 cm) deep. She then locates a cicada, stings it, and brings the paralyzed cicada back to the burrow. One or 2 cicadas may be placed in each burrow and an egg is deposited on one. The wasp larva feeds on the paralyzed cicada. Full-grown larvae overwinter in their burrow, pupate in the spring, and emerge as adults during the summer, usually in July and August. Females will construct and provision many such burrows.


Typically areas of bare ground are used as nesting sites. Many individuals may use the same general area for nesting purposes. While digging their burrow, the females excavate a sizeable pile of soil which can be disfiguring to a lawn.

Females in general will not sting unless handled or stepped on, such as by barefooted children. Males will buzz people but cannot sting.