How To Identify Cicada Killer Wasps in Texas

a cicada killer wasp in texas

Cicada killer wasps rarely harm humans, but they can still make people worried due to their large size. They can also cause annoyances to Texas homeowners when they burrow into the ground to build their underground tunnels, leaving a wake of dirt behind them.

Gardens, lawns and even patios are at risk of damage when cicada killer wasps are around. Their tunnels also draw larger pests, like skunks, to your property.

Even though female cicada killers largely ignore humans and males do not have stingers, there is still the possibility of getting stung if the female wasp feels threatened. While their stings are mild, they can hurt your pets.

The first step to getting rid of these pests is to know how to detect them by their appearance and behaviors. It’s also important to be able to tell them apart from more harmful stinging bugs like hornets.

A few cicada killer wasps on your property are not something to worry about, and they will even take care of cicadas for you.

What Do Cicada Killer Wasps in Texas Look Like?

Cicada killer wasps are easy to identify by their unique body. They are black and red with yellow banding around their abdomen, and their head is a reddish-brown color. They also have transparent wings that have a slight yellow tint and are heavily veined. These wasps can grow to be quite large, and adult bodies range from one and a half to two inches in length.

Do Cicada Killers Sting?

Even though their name is scary and they are one of the largest wasp species in the United States, cicada killer wasps do not necessarily cause harm to humans unless they feel threatened. Males are highly defensive, so they may follow someone who is invading their territory, but they cannot sting.

Female cicada killer wasps in Texas do sting, but only when they feel unsafe. When they are not threatened, they keep to themselves and ignore humans. If you happen to get stung by a female cicada killer wasp, you will notice that it doesn’t hurt as much as being stung by a smaller wasp or a yellowjacket.

What Do Cicada Killers Eat?

As you can probably guess from their name, these wasps feed on cicadas. Their entire life cycle revolves around stinging and trapping cicadas. Females dig underground tunnels that have a diameter of a quarter and burrow around six inches into the ground. The tunnels are also around six inches across and can have multiple cells.

Just before laying an egg, a female will hunt for a cicada. Once she finds one, she will sting the cicada to paralyze it and then fly or drag it back to her underground tunnel. She will fill each cell of her tunnel with a cicada and lay one egg on the cicada’s leg. Fertilized eggs are female, so their cells will get two or more cicadas to feed on. Unfertilized eggs are male and only need to feed on one cicada. The female’s last duty before laying her eggs is to close up the opening of the tunnel.

After a few days, the eggs hatch and the larvae feed on the cicada for four to ten days. They then go through their pupa phase and overwinter in a silken case.

Once the cicada killer wasp pupae mature into adults, they emerge from their underground tunnel and start the mating and hunting process over again. The whole process takes a year. Adult cicada killer wasps in Texas are solitary, but you will often see several in one area because they previously shared an underground tunnel.

Adult cicada killer wasps do not actually feed on cicadas, they only hunt them for their eggs. Adults feed on tree sap, flower nectars and other large plants they can access in their habitat.

For the most part, cicada killer wasps in Texas are harmless to humans. Homeowners are only at risk of getting stung if they appear threatening to a female wasp. Many homeowners find this wasp species beneficial because they take care of cicadas.

On the other hand, if you have pets, they could unknowingly threaten a female cicada killer wasp and get stung. The venom may cause a severe reaction and need emergency vet treatment. Luckily, most dogs and cats learn their lesson and do not bother a wasp nest again.

a cicada killer outside of its nest

Where Do Cicada Killers Nest?

As mentioned above, cicada killer wasps spend most of their time underground building and supplying their nests with cicadas for their offspring. They like to burrow in places that get plenty of sunlight, have a light texture soil and have good drainage. Since they need to be near cicadas, they choose spots next to trees to make the hunt easier.

Flower beds and gardens are popular places for cicada killer wasps to nest. They may also choose to dig tunnels on the edge of a sidewalk or patio. Even though they burrow underground, homeowners can spot a cicada killer nest because of all the dirt they kick up.

Females unearth several pounds of dirt to build their tunnels, which can become an eyesore in lawns and gardens. Even worse, if they dig near a patio, they can cause structural damage and make the patio unstable.

Additionally, even though cicada killer wasps live solitary lives, they often live near each other. Over a dozen adult wasps can emerge from a tunnel each year. Cicada killer wasp nests can also attract other unwanted pests that can do even more damage to your property. For example, skunks like to dig into their nests to feed off of the cicadas and wasp larvae.

Even though cicada killer wasps in Texas do not harm humans, they are not always welcome guests. If you believe you may have wasps nesting on your property, contact a pest control specialist.

a Japanese hornet which can be confused for a cicada killer

Cicada Killers Versus Hornets: How to Tell Them Apart

Cicada killer wasps often get confused with Japanese hornets because their bodies resemble each other. They both have dark bodies with yellow bands, and they are both larger than most other stinging pests.

However, Japanese hornets, pictured above, often called “murder hornets” are not native to the United States. While some murder hornets have made their way to America, native cicada killer wasps are much more common in the southeast.

The murder hornets that have migrated to North America are usually found in the Pacific Northwest, like Vancouver, Canada or Washington State. On the other hand, cicada killers are common in Texas and other parts of the United States with warm climates.

Another difference between cicada killers and hornets is their appearance. They are close in size, but hornets are slightly longer because of their sharp stingers. Cicada killer wasps have darker bodies and fewer yellow bands. Their stingers are also shorter and less aggressive looking than murder hornets’ stingers, which makes their backside blunter.

Murder hornets, on the other hand, have long and sharp stingers. Getting stung by one of these pests will hurt much more than a sting from a cicada killer wasp. Hornets also have different prey. They go after honey bee colonies instead of cicadas.

Getting stung by a murder hornet is also much more dangerous than a cicada killer wasp sting. In Japan, their stings kill around 50 people per year. Those with an allergy are the most at risk.

If you live in Texas and see a large yellow striped wasp, it is most likely a harmless cicada killer wasp. However, if you are unsure, it is a good idea to call in a pest control specialist to make sure you don’t have a more dangerous problem.

Dealing With Cicada Killer Wasps in Texas

If you see random piles of dirt accumulating around your garden, lawn, sidewalk or patio, you likely have cicada killer wasps building underground tunnels on your property. If the tunnels are large and the female wasp lays several eggs, you could see over a dozen wasps emerge from underground by springtime.

While cicada killer wasps in Texas are not as threatening as murder hornets or other stinging bugs, that does not mean that you want to welcome a swarm of them to your home. They can cause property damage, hurt your pets and draw more problematic pests to your lawn.

If you have noticed an uptick in wasp activity, contact a pest control specialist. A specialist will have the right tools and training to properly identify the pests.

ABC Can Control the Wasps on Your Property

Finding large wasps on your property can be frightening. If you need help with wasps, contact ABC Home & Commercial Services. Our pros will be able to identify the wasp you’re dealing with and implement an effective pest control plan. We can also help you identify bees in Texas that might be nesting on your property.

Russell Jenkins

Russell Jenkins is the Chief Communications Officer for ABC Home and Commercial Services in North Texas. Russell has been working as part of the ABC Family since he was 12 years old under the direction of his father, Owner Dennis Jenkins, and has since held several leadership roles at ABC. Russell holds a degree in Agricultural Leadership from Texas A&M University, and is a Food Safety Specialist. In his free time he enjoys spending time with his family and two children, playing tennis, and gaming.

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