Not “Murder Hornets” but Cicada Killers

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Cary Sims
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.

It recently happened again. One of the Asian giant hornet’s nests was featured on the national news in the upper northwest part of our nation, and then local folks started “seeing them around here”.

You may have heard about the “Murder Hornet” as they make a big splash in the headlines and certainly getting a lot of attention as they can wipe out an entire Honeybee hive!

According to all scientific observations, we certainly don’t have any murderous hornets in East Texas. But we do have a unusually large wasp called a Cicada killer. These wasps reach up to 1-½ inches in length. Except for a rusty red head and thorax, they are overall black or rusty in color, with yellow band markings on the abdominal segments.

Cicadas are the large, late summer insects that are commonly mis-named locusts. Cicadas are well known for their “summer song” as well as the “cast/ skins” they leave behind as they grow.

(True locusts are a certain species of grasshopper that decimate crops as they feed.)

Our own Cicada killer wasp is of the largest wasps you will encounter. But not to worry, although females are capable of stinging, they are rarely aggressive towards people or animals. Of course, the males are incapable of stinging, but can be more aggressive and will make one think they can harm you!

Cicada killer wasps spend the winter in a larval or pupal stage in the soil. Adults emerge in the summer, feed, mate and produce new nesting burrows. They prefer loose sandy soil and tend to be solitary.

Cicada killers are most active during July and August, coinciding with the appearance of cicadas which they attack, sting and paralyze. They then fly, glide or drag the cicadas back to their nests, provisioning the cells in their burrows. Larvae feed only on cicadas, and the adult will feed on flower nectar.

Cicada killers could certainly frighten you if you met them in a dark alley but, be assured, they are beneficial as they reduce harmful insects. Yet large numbers of females nesting in localized areas such as sandy embankments can be a nuisance and cause concern because of their large size, low flight and nesting activities. Nest entrances are often accompanied by a pile of soil excavated from the burrow that may disturb turfgrass.

I hope we never have the Asian giant hornet in these parts. We already have a huge, native wasp that we can look for and appreciate.

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