An eastern cicada killer wasp. Photo credit: Rebecca Lauver

During the late summer months when the landscape is alive with the chorus of insects, you may have noticed these zipping about with bravado. They may even come up close to check you out! Is this the fabled “murder hornet” we keep hearing about from panicky, poorly sourced, social media posts? No! They absolutely aren’t in this area! It isn’t even a hornet! This is the eastern cicada killer wasp (Sphecius speciosus)! They are out and about searching for a meal for their offspring and most often that is the source of the sound of summer, dog-day cicadas. The wasp will sting the cicada, paralyzing it, and then fly or even drag the stunned insect back to its burrow where it will lay an egg on it before sealing the burrow closed. The egg will hatch and feed on the cicada that its lovely mother provided. They’ll hatch out again next summer right around when the dog-day cicadas emerge again. They will not emerge when annual cicadas (the 13 or 17-year large spring-time broods) emerge and only have one generation per year.

Open Cicada Killer burrows. Photo credit: Rob Frank

A wasp that big that can take down an insect the size of a cicada must be really dangerous right? Not at all! These are solitary wasps, not social wasps. A solitary wasp has a lot more to lose if it gets into trouble so unless you handle a female, you won’t find out. They will usually fly away when faced with a threat. What about the males? They will have their aerial territorial battles with each other and get really aggressive but completely lack the ability to sting. Stingers are adapted ovipositors (egg laying tube thingies) and the males don’t have them. In fact, earlier this summer I stood in a group of about 20 males flying about outside the mall and they flew around but never touched me. My son told me I was embarrassing him with my bug antics so I stopped, but I still really enjoyed being in the presence of such an impressive insect!

If you see something blooming, leafing out, ripening, or otherwise changing in your woods, send us photos ( to include in next month’s Forests for the Bay newsletter for more phenological fun!