Wild Guide

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From Missouri Conservationist: July 2019

Cicada Killer Wasp | Sphecius speciosus




Length: can exceed 1½ inches



The cicada killer wasp is an exceptionally large species, with rusty clear wings and black-and yellow markings. Males often defend territories around the nests of one of more females. Females also cruise around, looking for good places to dig tunnels and searching around trees and shrubs for cicadas. Males, however, are incapable of stinging, and females (unless bothered) reserve their stinging for the cicadas they hunt.

Life Cycle

Males establish territories about the same time dog-day cicadas emerge and start singing. Then females emerge and begin digging nest tunnels of nine or 10cells in open areas, such as lawns and pastures. Females hunt, sting, and paralyze cicadas, transporting them into the nest. Females lay an egg on the cicadas, and the larvae hatch in a few days and start eating the cicadas. Within a month, the larvae finish growing, form a protective cocoon, and overwinter. In spring, they pupate for about a month, then emerge as adults.


Adult cicada killer wasps feed on nectar and other sweet plant juices. To provide food for the young, female cicada killers hunt dog-day cicadas, using their stings to paralyze them, then stock their nests with one or two cicadas per cell. Cicada killer larvae feed on the cicadas.

Ecosystem Connections

Although they prey on cicadas, cicada killer wasps are preyed upon by a wasp called the velvet ant. A female velvet ant sneaks into a cicada killer wasp’s tunnel and lays an egg in a nest cell. When a cicada killer wasp pupates, the velvet ant larva eats the pupa.

Did You Know?

A cicada killer wasp’s tunneling tendencies are beneficial to lawns. This behavior aerates the soil and helps rainwater soak in.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld

Associate Editor - Larry Archer

Staff Writer - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek

Creative Director - Stephanie Thurber

Art Director - Cliff White

Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter

Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner

Circulation - Laura Scheuler