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Cicada Killer Wasp

Cicada Killer Wasp

Sphecius speciosus

(Order Hymenoptera; Family Crabronidae)


Photo by Jenny Bowen. (Kansas: Sedgwick County. 37o 41' 12.75'' N, 97o 15' 36.21'' W.)

 Adult Diagnosis: Adult cicada killers are strikingly large-bodied insects with a length of 1.5 to 5.0 centimeters (.06 to 2 inches), a very stocky build and hairy thorax. They are the largest wasps seen in the eastern United States. Males and females are similar in appearance though the females tend to be the larger sex, up to 2.5 times larger than males. Colors of the thorax consist of red, yellow and brown shades; the abdomen is reddish black with yellow horizontal striping.


Photos of adult Cicada Killers.

Adult/larval Natural History:

With a name as daunting as "Cicada Killer Wasp" one would think these were very dangerous insects, but you'd be wrong. Adults feed on nectar and plant exudates, and only the females have a stinger which has the primary purpose of paralyzing cicadas. Cicada Killers are rarely aggressive towards humans.

Cicada Killers are solitary wasps. Males live approximately two weeks during which time they set up a territory and defend it against intruders. This territoriality aids in spacing males apart, increasing the odds that a male may be able to interact with a female without being bothered by a large cohort of male competitors.

Adults emerge in the summer and can be seen for nearly two months in an area. It is very common to see females flying around searching for suitable burrow sites and hunting cicadas. Once a cicada is paralyzed, the female cicada killer will struggle until she persists in bringing the cicada, which is often twice her weight, inside the burrow.

Once a cicada is inside a nest cell the female Cicada Killer will lay a single egg on it and then cover it with dirt. A burrow eventually will contain up to twenty cells. Eggs hatch within 1-2 days, and larvae develop completely within two weeks, overwinter in burrows, and pupate in the cell in the spring. Adults do not overwinter.


Distribution: Sphecius speciosus is found east of the Rocky Mountains and south into Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras.


Habitat: Found in manicured residential areas where good burrow sites abound. Common in yards, city parks, golf courses, along concrete borders and other places where there is loose, well-drained soil. Common where cicadas gather.


Diet: Adults consume plant nectar and feed on plant exudates. Before eggs are even laid, the female provisions the cells with dead cicadas which serve as food once the young hatch.

Female Cicada Killer carrying paralyzed cicada.

Conservation Status: Stable





Professor Chuck Holliday's Cicada Killer page:

Biologist Joe Coelho's page:




Eaton, E.R. and Kaufman, K. 2007. Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America. Houghton Mifflin Company. New York, NY.

Salsbury, G.A. and White, S.C. 2000. Insects in Kansas. Kansas Department of Agriculture.

Grissell, E. 2010. Bees, Wasps and Ants. Timber Press, Inc. Portland, Oregon.



By jennynbowen


Wichita State University
Generated on 2011. This website is continuously updated.
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