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Kidadl Team

SEPTEMBER 02, 2021

Eastern Cicada Killer: 19 Facts You Won't Believe!

Read these fascinating eastern cicada killer facts about the eastern cicada killer range and sting.

The eastern cicada killer (Sphecius speciosus), also known as the cicada hawk, is a species of large wasps who are soil diggers. The eastern cicada killer distribution is in areas in the eastern and midwest United States, the east of the Rocky Mountains, southwards to Mexico, and Central America.

Eastern cicada killers are different from western cicada killer wasps as the latter is much more aggressive than the former. They choose loose soil, burrows, and flower beds to dig into and stay in areas that have cicadas in order to feed on them. Even though female cicada killer wasps have stingers, it is not unsafe or dangerous to walk past a cicada killer's nest as they don't attack unless they are being harmed. Females lay one egg with two or three cicadas and then close the cells like any other wasp. Their burrows are oblique in shape and run deep as far as 6-10 in (15-25 cm).

The burrows that they dig can often cause destruction to flower beds or patios with well-drained loose soil and in times like these, their tunnels are cleared out by humans. Wild animals like raccoons also try to get into these burrows in order to feast on the cicadas and insects.

Scroll down to read about the eastern cicada killer life span, what they feed on, their sting, yellow markings, and other exciting details! If you want to discover more like the eastern cicada killer, take a look at whirligig beetle and tiger beetle facts.

Eastern Cicada Killer Interesting Facts

What type of animal is an eastern cicada killer?

The eastern cicada killer wasp (Sphecius speciosus) belongs to the species of digger wasps and belongs to the family, Crabonidae.

What class of animal does an eastern cicada killer belong to?

Cicada killer wasps belong to the Insecta class. They are insects that live under the soil and lay eggs to reproduce.

How many eastern cicada killers are there in the world?

There is no definite information on the amount of eastern cicada killer wasps (Sphecius speciosus) all over the world, but they have been spotted in eastern America. They seem to increasing in number from a report in July 2021.

Where does an eastern cicada killer live?

The eastern cicada killer is mostly found in areas of the eastern and midwest United States, the east of the Rocky Mountains, southwards to Mexico, and Central America.  Being diggers who create burrows to sustain and reproduce, they look for areas that receive minimal rain and have cicadas to feed on.

What is an eastern cicada killer's habitat?

Cicada killers are a solitary wasp species. They tend to live alone, but in rare cases can create colonies too. They dig tunnels into soft, wet soil that is easy to create burrows in and can be found in areas like lawns, edges of concrete slabs, flower beds or vegetable beds, and soft soil playgrounds. This makes up the majority of the eastern cicada killer habitat.

The burrows may look simple from above, but there is extensive tunneling underneath that looks like a maze that varies in depth and length. The tunnels can range to 30-70 in (76-178 cm) long and maybe 12-15 in (30-39 cm) in depth. The chambers that are created for the cells are big enough for a big colony or two-three dead cicadas to be sealed in.

Who does eastern cicada killer live with?

Cicada killer wasps are like solitary bees. They are solitary wasps, meaning they live alone in their nests or burrows but in times of need or certain circumstances, they can be seen creating colonies as well.

How long does an eastern cicada killer live?

They don't have a long life span and can survive until two to four weeks.

How do they reproduce?

After the male and female cicada killers mate, the female cicada killer starts to create a burrow in her choice of area where the soil is loose enough to be dug out to a depth of at least 10 in (25.4 cm). After that, she hunts for cicadas and brings them back to her nest. The burrow that is created under the soil is cubical in shape and after laying one egg in the cube, she places cicadas in that cubical and shuts it with soil.

This is done for every cube formed and enough food is put into the cubes so that the wasp larva has enough food until pupation. The amount of cicadas provided to the egg depends on whether it is a male or female cicada killer, as for male cicada killer wasps, one cicada is enough but female cicada killers need more than two as they are bigger in size. The egg hatches in two to three days and produces larvae that feed for about two weeks and then spin a cocoon of silk mixed with sand or soil. The cocoon remains in the chamber throughout winter and it emerges as an adult in the summer.

What is their conservation status?

According to the IUCN Red list, the cicada killer wasp is Least Concern as it hasn't been seen to be declining in number. In fact, there has been a 40% rise in numbers.

Eastern Cicada Killer Fun Facts

What does eastern cicada killer look like?

Cicada killer wasps are large in comparison to most wasps like the mud dauber wasp. The adult cicada is 0.6-2.0 in (1.5-5.0 cm) long which makes it quite massive in comparison to other wasps. They are long and hairy and reddish-brown in color around their middle parts. They are brownish in the areas of the abdomen and have yellow markings on the top. Their wings are brownish in color and are almost on the verge of being transparent. The legs are either brownish or vibrant orange.

Their eyes are set apart from each other and can be red or black in color. The female cicada is bigger in size than the male cicada and the female ones have a stinger which is used to paralyze cicadas with venom in order to bring it back to the burrow for the larvae to feed on.    

The eastern cicada killer wasp has brownish, almost transparent wings, and yellow markings.

How cute are they?

If the stinger is forgotten for a second, cicada killer wasps are quite cute and can be seen as nicer wasps. Due to its humongous size, people tend to mistake it for murderous hornets or bees which makes them fear the cicada killer wasp.

How do they communicate?

Insects have a unique way of communicating with one another and that is by the chemical pheromone. An eastern cicada killer wasp can detect the presence of prey or danger due to the pheromones secreted.

How big is an eastern cicada killer?

The eastern cicada killer size can vary from 1.25-2 in (3.175-5.08 cm) and female cicada killers are bigger in size than male cicada killer wasps.

How fast can an eastern cicada killer fly?

There isn't a certain speed that can be calculated but the cicada killer wasp preys on cicadas mid-flight and from this, it can be assumed that they are fast enough. They can start to fly in the morning to the evening until there is full sunlight as they avoid coming out of their tunnels during the night.

How much does an eastern cicada killer weigh?

The cicada killer wasp can weigh about 0.002 lb (0.907 g).

What are the male and female names of the species?

A male and female cicada killer wasp doesn't have separate names and are called by their scientific name, Sphecius speciosus or common name, eastern cicada wasp. The only difference is that the female cicada killer is bigger in size and has a stinger with venom used to sting cicadas for food, while male cicada killers have a pseudo stinger and have no venom.

What would you call a baby eastern cicada killer?

There is no name for the baby cicada killer and are simply referred to as cicada killer wasp larvae until they come out as an adult from their cocoon.

What do they eat?

The adult eastern cicada killer diet comprises flower nectar, fermented sap from larger plants and trees. The larva feeds on cicadas and other smaller insects.

Are they poisonous?

The female cicada killer has a stinger that has venom used to kill or paralyze cicadas but they don't use the stinger to attack, while male cicada killers have a pseudo stinger and have no venom but are very territorial.

Would they make a good pet?

It's surely not your friendly Chow Lab mix but if you are a wasp enthusiast, then why not! However, being solitary animals who stay under the soil, they won't be obeying commands. Moreover, male cicada killers are very territorial and even though they don't have venom in their stingers, they tend to attack anything that appears a threat to them. A cicada killer sting can hurt but is not deadly.

Did you know...

Cicada killers sound and look aggressive or dangerous, but they don't intentionally harm anyone. They are called killers because they kill cicadas for food, not like Africanized bees who can kill anyone with just one stab. In reality, if they are not mishandled or made felt unsafe, they don't attack anyone. Male cicada killers do come across as more aggressive than the female cicada killer wasp as they defend the burrow in case other animals or humans try to harm the burrows.

What happens if a cicada killer stings you?

Cicada killer wasps can sting unintentionally and female cicada killers only have venom which can cause infection in some cases, both for humans and animals, and it is best to get it checked as soon as it happens. Other than that, cicada killers don't sting anyone without any reason. In some cases, people can step on them or come in the way of their burrows which can make them feel unsafe and the female cicada killer wasp can sting.

What is the difference between the cicada killer vs Japanese hornet?

Cicada killer wasps are large wasps while Japanese hornets are of the genus Vespa. The former is not unsafe for humans to be around, while the latter has venom that can kill people. The Japanese hornet is known to kill almost 50 people every year by stinging them with its venom.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other insects from our atlas beetle fun facts or click beetle facts pages.

You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our free printable eastern cicada killer coloring pages.

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