cicada killer wasp

Cicada killer wasp adult. Photo: Dawn Dailey O'Brien, Cornell University, Bugwood.org

Updated: July 9, 2021

Key points

  • Cicada killers resemble large yellowjackets. They are mostly black with pale-yellow markings on the abdomen and are about 2 inches long.
  • They are beneficial wasps because they help reduce cicada populations. Adults feed on flower nectar. 
  • Despite their appearance, these insects are not aggressive and usually will not bother people. The female's sting is meant for paralyzing prey (cicadas). She brings the paralyzed cicada back to the nest and lays an egg on it. It becomes food for the developing larva. 
  • Males are territorial around nests but they cannot sting. 
  • They are solitary wasps that build nests in bare soil, preferring sunny sites with well-drained soil. In some cases, many nests develop close together. This can be considered a nuisance because of the holes they create in lawns.
cicada killer wasp hole in soil
Damage to lawn. Photo: K. Mathias, UMD

Management

  • In lawns - Thicken up bare and thin spots in your lawn by overseeding in the fall. To temporarily discourage activity run a sprinkler over the nesting area. 
  • In ornamental beds - Cover bare soil with 2-3 inches of mulch or plant a thick groundcover. Or use landscape fabric and mulch to cover exposed soil to reduce or prevent digging.
  • Use an insecticide only as a last resort. Nest building is a temporary behavior. In the long term, it is better to correct the reason why the wasps are attracted to your landscape. 
  • Chemical control - Dust entrance holes with a registered insecticidal dust labeled for controlling ground-nesting bees and wasps. Apply at the recommended rate and follow label directions. However, many will still survive.

Rev. 2020