Eastern Cicada Killer Wasp

The other day, while I was walking around the boardwalk, I heard a loud buzzing and rustling sound coming from the prairie grasses. When I looked down, I immediately spotted the source. A long, slender wasp with reddish-tinted wings was dragging a huge cicada along the ground, furiously buzzing and working its wings as it went along.

To my surprise, the wasp began climbing one of the wooden stakes we are using to anchor the goose fencing (netting temporarily in place to keep Canada geese from eating our new plantings). I was able to get very close and take some photographs without disturbing the insect. The wasp seemed quite intent on the task at hand, and lucky for me, these particular wasps are not at all aggressive toward people.

I thought the wasp looked very awkward tugging the bulky cicada as it climbed the stake, so imagine my amazement when, at the top of the wooden stake, the wasp, giant parcel in tow, took a flying leap into the air. For a movement, the wasp was in flight, but alas, she began to lose altitude, and her flight rapidly became an arc to the ground. She landed about 3 feet from her point of departure. Entirely unwilling to accept defeat, the wasp, still buzzing energetically, began to make her way back over to the post to proceed with attempt number two.

The wasp I was seeing was an eastern cicada killer wasp. If you’re in the area of Nature Boardwalk, you’re probably aware that cicadas are out in full force (they certainly make themselves known with their characteristic loud chattering noises).

Eastern cicada killer wasps rely on cicadas for survival. Females of the species will find a cicada and sting it to paralyze it. They then carry the immobilized insect to their underground burrow (I think the wasp I observed was doing her very best to execute this part of the plan). Then, the female wasp lays an egg on the cicada. When the egg hatches and becomes a larva, the larva will eat the cicada and use the energy from this meal to develop and continue onto their next life phase. Ultimately the larva will become a flying insect and repeat the cycle.

As a biologist, I have the privilege of going out to Nature Boardwalk everyday and learning about the wildlife there. This was an exciting new species discovery for me. Be sure to try walking around on your own at the boardwalk and looking for interesting behaviors like this one performed by the eastern cicada killer wasp. You never know what you’ll find!

Vicky Hunt

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