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Cicada Killer Wasp

Sphecius speciosus
Family: 
Crabronidae (a wasp family) in the order Hymenoptera (ants, bees, wasps)
Description: 

The cicada killer ranks most formidable in appearance of any wasp in the state. It is an exceptionally large species, with rusty clear wings and the black and yellow markings common of wasps. In addition to their size and coloration, their behavior identifies them.

Males often defend territories around the nests of one of more females, and their energetic hovering can be intimidating. 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 molested) reserve their stinging for the cicadas they hunt.

Size: 
Length: can exceed 1½ inches.
Habitat and conservation: 
Nest tunnels are dug in open areas such as lawns and pastures, usually in aggregations. Loose, workable soils are preferred. A mound of excavated soil at the tunnel entrance is often conspicuous. These mounds often have a shallow furrow leading to the tunnel entrance, as if made by dragging a thumb. Female cicada killers may live a month and produce tunnels four or more feet long in a single nest. Although nests are not particularly deep, nine or ten cells per nest is not unusual.
Foods: 
Adult cicada killers feed on nectar and other sweet plant juices. To provide food for the young, female cicada killers hunt dog day cicadas (genus Tibicen), using their stings to paralyze them, then stock their nests with one or two cicadas per cell. Cicada killer larvae feed on the cicadas.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Statewide.
Life cycle: 
Males usually emerge before females and begin establishing territories about the same time dog-day cicadas emerge and start singing. Females emerge and dig nest tunnels; then they hunt, sting, and paralyze cicadas, transport them to the nest, drag them inside, and lay an egg on them. The larvae hatch in a few days and start eating the cicadas. Within a month, they finish growing, form a protective cocoon and overwinter. In spring they pupate for about a month, then emerge as adults.
Human connections: 
Sometimes the tunneling of this species disfigures lawns; the flip side is that it aerates the soil and helps rainwater to soak in. This species also provides us with drama: A cicada killer gliding with, then dragging, a huge, immobilized cicada to its nest is truly an impressive spectacle.
Ecosystem connections: 
Although they prey on cicadas, cicada killers are preyed upon by a wasp called the velvet ant. The female velvet ant sneaks into the cicada killer’s tunnel and lays an egg in a nest cell. The cicada killer larva eats its cicada and grows; when it pupates, the velvet ant larva eats the pupa.
Shortened URL
http://mdc.mo.gov/node/6644