Species of the Month – Eastern Cicada Killer – August 2023


Cicada Killer
Cicada Killer at Trout Creek Nature Reserve, Photo Credit: Dan Marina

The Cicada Killer Wasps (Sphecius speciosus) name tells the story of a gruesome hunt. Emerging in mid- July, females capture unsuspecting Cicada’s, inject them with paralyzing venom, and bring them to their lairs for their young to feed on. This nature horror story may elicit extreme fear in many outdoor enthusiasts. But in reality, these wasps are an intelligent species, who prey on an abundant energy source, and are non-territorial nor aggressive. 

Adult Cicada Killers can grow up to 5 cm in length, with females growing to be slightly larger than males. They have black thoraces and black rears separated by bright yellow stripes; all of which are carried by their large brown wings. The Eastern Cicada Killer is a rare species in Ontario, but can be found on some of our nature reserves. 

Eastern Cicada Killer in hand
Eastern Cicada Killer, Photo credit: iNaturalist user manicmaxwell

Unlike other wasp and bee species that rely on a social hive for survival, Cicada Wasps are solitary creatures. Female Cicada Wasps use their stinger solely for hunting prey, not for protecting their nest like many other species. They will not sting, unless it is as a last ditch effort because they are being handled. Males do not possess a stinger at all. For these reasons, the Cicada Wasp is labeled as the ‘gentle giant’ of the bee and wasp world, rarely causing any harm to humans. 

The Cicada Killer inhabits areas with light soils/sand, full sunlight, and with trees nearby abundant in their sole food source, Cicadas of course. Females will burrow in the soils, up to 2 meters deep, creating a spacious home for her young. To provide her young with ample nutrients the female will begin her hunt high in the trees, using her large eyes to spot the camouflaged cicadas. When she spots one, she will stalk her prey and pounce, injecting fast acting venom that brings the cicada into a comatose state. As her prey is usually much too heavy for her to carry, she will use the height of the trees to her advantage, gripping onto the Cicada and gliding down leading it towards her burrow. Adult Cicada Killers feed on nectar of flowers, leaving the catch exclusively for their young. 

Young pupae will cocoon underground over the winter, protected until it is time to repeat the cycle and reemerge as adults the following year.

Victoria Quilitz – Stewardship and Outreach Technician, LPBLT 


Main, Douglas. “Cicada killer wasps have arrived. Don’t confuse them for murder hornets.” National Geographic, 28 July 2021, 

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/cicada-killer-wasps-are-here. Accessed 8 August 2023. 

Sanders, Jared, and Erin Postenka. “All buzz, little to no bite.” Ontario Parks, 18 August 2020, https://www.ontarioparks.com/parksblog/eastern-cicada-killer-wasp/. Accessed 8 August 2023. 

University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. “Cicada Killer Wasps.” Entomology at the University of Kentucky, 7 December 2018, https://entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef004. Accessed 8 August 2023.

Jackie Ellefsen

Senior Development Manager