Cicada Killer

Cicada Killer

  • Common Name(s): Cicada Killer
  • Order: Hymenoptera
  • Family: Crabronidae
  • Common Species: Sphecius speciosus
  • Commonly Confused With: European Hornets, Other large Hornets/Wasps


How to Identify?
These are some of the largest wasps in the United States. They can range anywhere from 3.0-4.0 cm in length. They possess a tightly pinched waist (wasp waist). The abdomen (back section of an insect) is usually yellow and black, but can sometimes appear white and black. Some species in Florida can be a rust color and look like majorly oversized red wasps.


Where do they live?
Cicada killers live in ground burrows in forests, gardens, pastures, etc.

Food Source

What do they eat?
Cicada killer females do not feed much but will feed on nectar occasionally. Larvae (juveniles) feed on paralyzed cicadas.


What do they do?
These insects are parasitoids (lays eggs on or in a host) of cicadas. The adult female will catch a cicada, usually in flight, and sting it. This paralyzes (allows it to stay alive but unable to move) the cicada, which is then put into a ground burrow with cicada killer eggs. The cicada is eaten after the cicada killer eggs hatch, and the larva stays in the ground burrow as pupa (resting stage between larvae and adult) until they are ready to emerge as adults the following year. Due to their size, these creatures may scare homeowners, but they are mostly harmless. The males cannot sting but may fly at people if it thinks they are a threat to the nest. Females can sting, but they only do so as a last resort. As long as you don’t hold them or trap them they should not bother you. Due to the fact that they nest in random holes in the ground, they can be rather hard to treat. Males die shortly after mating, and females die after depositing their eggs.

Fun Fact

Male cicada killers do not have stingers but can poke you with spines on the end of the abdomen if threatened. There is another family of insects, Sphecidae (dirt daubers, thread-waisted wasps), that parasitizes spiders. Like cicada killers, they paralyze the prey and leave it with their young until the young hatch.

Additional Resources

Author: G. Wyatt West– B.S.E.S University of Georgia 2017; Board Certified Entomologist

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