Cicada Killers, Sphecius speciosus, are among the largest wasps. Their large size and conspicuous yellow and black markings signal “Warning”. In Hymenoptera (wasps), the stinger is a modification of the female ovipositor. The venom gland is an adaptation to deliver paralyzing venom to prey. In males, the reproductive organs are adapted to fertilizing the female and lack venom. Thus, it is only the females that can deliver a sting.
Current fashion in landscaping uses wood chips and other loose materials on sloped beds for horticultural plantings. This fashion creates plentiful habitat for cicada killer wasps. Females frequent these well drained slopes with their loose soil to create nests for their prey, cicadas. The female will construct a nest in the ground, fly off to find a cicada, sting it, return to the nest, lay an egg on the prey and close the nest.
Males are seeking opportunities to mate and go where the action is- the nesting sites of females. Males patrol these territories, fight with other males and maintain a conspicuous presence. When landscaping places cicada killer nesting sites next to buildings, some occupants may be frightened. However, entomologists show no fear and get many convenient sites to observe cicada killer behavior. Even though they are big and look bad, we know that the patrolling cicada killers are all males that don’t sting. The public cannot help but notice the dozens of giant wasps buzzing next to the ground. It is a great opportunity to educate the public about cicada killers and their biology.