Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Attack of the Cicada Killer

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?



  1. How creepy! What a vicious attack! Interesting video!

  2. I have just scrolled down your blog. Very nice. I'll be back :-)

  3. Tom: Cool attack vedio, those wasps can be tough.
    I have an award for you on my sight.

  4. Very, very creepy!

    I wandered over here to congratulate you on your win at The Fishing Guy's blog (MUST SEE AWARD). Congratulations and now I see why you were selected! I love your blog!

    NEWS at Razor Family Farms (

  5. Very interesting and educational... Do cicadas sting or bite?

  6. The attack was horrible and the other stuff made me sea sick but all in all you have some amazing things on here.

  7. fascinating & horrible. Like a train wreck!

  8. Mary-

    Thank you, I'm glad you like it.

    Ivar- Thanks for visiting, and stop back any time.

    Tom- Thanks so much for the award, and thanks for directing new people to learn about the nature of Ohio.

    Razor- Thanks a bunch, please stop back.

    Megan- I think they only have a big sucking mouthpart used to extract tree sap.

    Thanks Dot. And thanks for Sky Watch!

    Thanks Lana- Yeah, that is certainly an interesting way of describing this situation!