My co-worker Rick Gardner, one of the best botanists in the State of Ohio, was botanizing recently at Davis Memorial State Nature Preserve in Adams County, Ohio, when he heard a cicada buzzing on the ground. "What could be happening?" he must have thought. Sure enough, when he moved in for a closer inspection, a cicada was being viscously attacked by a female cicada killer wasp (most likely Sphecius speciosus, but I'm not expert on wasps!) He captured this excellent video of the attack.
Here are a few things that I have learned about these creatures, mostly from Prof. Chuck Holliday's Cicada Killer Page:
-Females dig burrows in sandy soils.
-Females catch and stun cicadas by stinging them and slashing their throats, as this individual is doing.
-Males cannot sting.
-The females carry back the stunned cicada to their nests, put them in an individual cell, lay an egg in the cicada, then cover the cell.
-A grub hatches in a few days and feeds on the cicada (i am unclear at which point the cicada actually dies, however, I'm guessing this occurs after it gets sealed off by the female).
- The cicada killer spends only 10% of its lifetime as an adult.
- Its life cylce is completed in one year.
- They emerge as adults just before annual cicada start flying, therefore they are not predators on periodical cicadas, which hatch much earlier in the year.
-They range throughout the eastern United States.
I only recently learned about this species thanks to a hike led by Jim Bissell in northern Ohio. A group of us encountered a sandy lawn on the floodplain of the Vermillion River that had hundreds of cicada killers flying low above the ground, and we even found a paralyzed swamp cicada that had been dropped. Perhaps the most interesting thing about seeing this species in real life is realizing just how huge they are. Aren't insects fascinating?