Cicada Killer Wasps in Michigan are Threatening in Appearance but Harmless in Reality
The drone of cicadas is the nostalgic white noise of summer, familiar and somewhat comforting even. But for one specific creature, this sound isn't just ambient noise; it's a call to action, a dinner bell signaling life's most fundamental pursuit: survival.
The cicada killer wasp, measuring over an inch in length, is essential to this seasonal narrative. Built to capture and subdue large adult cicadas, these wasps are a fascinating example of nature's efficiency.
Only female wasps have stingers, which they inject venom into their prey and carry back to their burrow. The cicada killer wasp occurs in all states east of the Rocky Mountains and prefers to dig its burrows in sandy, bare, well-drained soil exposed to full sunlight. Unlike other wasps that may be aggressive towards humans, cicada killers usually ignore people as they go about their business of digging holes and hunting for cicadas.
The female cicada killer wasps are solitary and use their short time as adults to dig burrows where they stash the cicadas they catch and lay their eggs. Males, though territorial, lack a stinger and pose no danger to people; females sting only in self-defense. Just like the cicadas, cicada killer wasps die as summer wanes.
Concerned residents might connect these insects with the stories of giant murder hornets invading North America. However, DNR game biologist Karen Cleveland reassures, “Don't worry. This secretive native insect has been here all along and can be found silencing cicadas across the entire eastern U.S.”
Although the cicada killer wasps' appearance might seem threatening, they aren't prone to stinging. People can even observe them closely at their burrows without concern, provided they maintain a respectful distance. While some property owners might choose to employ methods like lime and fertilizer treatment, along with regular watering, to deter or eradicate cicada killer colonies, experts like Cleveland emphasize understanding and respecting these unique insects.
Cleveland repeatedly stressed the importance of being good neighbors to these insects, saying that if people respect the wasps' space, “they'll be with us for a long time to come.”
Photo: Cicada killer wasps are nothing to fear. A wasp with a black and gold body, black legs and antennae, and pale orange, translucent wings on a bed of pale, dry grass and brush. Photo courtesy of MDNR.