Life and death in the backyard – cicada killer wasp

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In my experiment with fermented insect bait, my greatest surprise has been the regular appearance of two cicada killer wasps (Sphecius speciosus). I’ve seen them in the backyard before, and they are always flying fast and low to the ground. It’s been a treat to see them up close on the feeder. Sphecius speciosus wasp

At 1-2 inches long, they are our largest wasp and look strikingly fearsome. However, I got close to them and they were not at all aggressive. Only the females have stingers, which they use to paralyze cicadas. I was fascinated to observe this process in our driveway last year.Sphecius speciosus wasp parasitizing a cicada

The female wasp then carries the paralyzed insect to an underground burrow. This is no easy task as their prey is often twice as heavy as the wasp. The cicada then serves as food for the wasp’s larva.

I like seeing and hearing cicadas. I’m also glad we have cicada killer wasps, and I enjoyed getting a closer look at them. The interaction between these two insects may seem a bit gruesome, but I accept it as nature’s way. I continue to be amazed at the dramas that occur in the backyard when I take time to notice.

10 thoughts on “Life and death in the backyard – cicada killer wasp”

  1. And I am continually amazed at what you have shown me, and what I continue to learn from you each week. Betty, you are amazing!!!

    1. Thanks for the credit, Norma. However, it’s really nature that’s amazing and the more I learn the more I realize there is to learn. It’s nice to know there are others, like yourself, that are also intrigued by it all.

    1. Yes, Judy, that has been my experience as well. I was surprised and pleased to find that they would stop for fermented bait.

  2. Now, those are vicious looking…I’m glad they’re not after you. It’s remarkable that they are able to carry that cicada to its nest. Great photos. Thanks for all that great information.

    1. Yes, Sara, if I didn’t know better, I’d be quite wary of getting very close to them. It’s quite interesting to watch them carry the cicada – obviously not at all easy.

  3. Hi Betty. What a fascinating blog article! Jim and I have been fascinated with these insects for a long time, but, as you say, they are hard to see up close. Have you had any experience with red velvet ants? We have found them in our yard several times and think one of them may have stung our cat on the paw. I wondered if you have seen them in your yard and what you know about them. They are hard to photograph because they move so fast and are very elusive at all time.

    1. Thanks, Linda. No, I don’t have any experience with red velvet ants. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one. I understand the sting of the female is quite powerful – thus the nickname ‘cow killer’ and I’ve read that they are one of the predators of cicada killer wasps.

  4. I’ve seen these bruisers flying about, but just a couple of times in our backyard. Great shot on the fermented insect bait. This is rather a beautiful creature.

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