Sat. Mar 2nd, 2024
Killer Cicada Wasp

Today’s post comes from Jared Sanders, with information provided by Erin Postenka. Both are members of the Pinery Provincial Park Resource Management Team.

In my youth, the sight of any yellow and black flying insect was terrifying to me.

Any child who has been stung quickly learns not to play with bees and wasps!

Fast forward a few years to one of my family’s annual camping trips to Pinery Provincial Park.

My parents had just bought me a scoop of ice cream when we came across a sign depicting one of the scariest images I could have imagined: a wasp several times larger than any yellow jacket I’d ever seen!

I ran back to my parents and they told me the same thing as always: “Leave them alone and they will leave you alone.” The eight years of anecdotal evidence she had up to that point seemed to say otherwise.

To my great surprise, the trip passed without an attack by one of these seemingly terrifying insects. But I didn’t know that this wouldn’t be my last meeting…

The Eastern Cicada Killer Wasp

Summer 2019 was my first year working with the Pinery Discovery team. I loved working in the park and rediscovering its fascinating wildlife as an adult.

My supervisor informed me that one of the projects on our agenda for the summer would be to post signs to educate the public and raise awareness about the eastern cicada killer wasp (More beautiful), a rare species that nests annually in the park.


These were the same bugs on the poster that scared me all those years ago. After a few more years under my belt, I had overcome my fears. I was eager to learn more about this rare species and help with its conservation.

Now I would like to share with you some of what I learned in the hopes that you too will find a new appreciation for these much misunderstood wasps.

A misunderstood creature

The Eastern Cicada Killer Wasp is an extremely rare species in the province of Ontario, but we are lucky to find it in several locations in Pinery.

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They get their name from the cicadas they use to feed their larvae, but the term “cicada killer” is actually a misnomer!

Adult wasps don’t immediately kill cicadas, they paralyze them, but that’s just one of the many misconceptions that give them a bad reputation!

A rude wasp

Cicada killer wasps emerge as adults in early July after overwintering in underground burrows as pupae wrapped in cocoons.

wasp near the mound

These summer months are when they are most visible, as they fly to defend their territories and look for a mate. After mating, females dig a nest in sandy soil exposed to the sun.

These nests can be up to half a meter deep and are easily visible because, as the wasp digs, it piles up the sand it removes around the entrance to its burrow, creating an easily recognizable mound.

When he finishes digging, the cicada killer wasp comes out to hunt!

It looks for the largest cicada it can find and injects it with a paralyzing poison with its formidable stinger. Cicadas are usually much heavier than wasps themselves and, in most cases, too heavy to fly with.

But do not worry; These clever moms-to-be have a clever way to solve this problem!

Instead of flying back to their nests, the wasps repeatedly climb the trees with the cicada in tow and jump, gliding toward their nest. They then drag the paralyzed cicada towards their mounds, creating what looks like the world’s most morbid slide.

Place the still paralyzed cicada in its burrow and lay an egg under its second or third leg. This cicada will provide food for its larva until it is large enough to spin a larval box and overwinter.

Females lay an average of 15 eggs in each burrow and provide each with 1 to 3 cicadas; This means that a single female wasp can collect more than 45 cicadas in her short life.

However, she doesn’t keep any of them. Like most other bees and wasps, the adults feed on flower nectar and have left their cicada-munching days behind them.

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leave them alone

Despite their fearsome appearance and tough-guy name, cicada killer wasps are actually not aggressive at all.

They will only sting humans when handled, as a last resort. Even when people walk through an area with multiple burrows, they will go about their business and expect you to do the same.

Not only should we not be afraid of cicada killer wasps, we should actively try to protect them. These wasps play a limiting role in cicada populations, helping to maintain ecological balance.

Conservation of eastern cicada killer wasps is important because preserving native biodiversity is crucial to maintaining a resilient and functional ecosystem in the Pinery.

Look closer

This year has posed a new barrier to the conservation of the eastern cicada killer wasp.

Recently, Asian giant hornets (also known as “murder hornets”) have been making waves in the North American news cycle and on social media.

wasp on leaf

These hornets have not yet been found in Ontario, and only a few sightings have been documented in British Columbia.

Although they are called “murder hornets,” their introduction represents the greatest threat to bee farming and Canadian ecosystems as a whole, rather than to humans.

Because these insects have become so notorious, some people who have only heard of “murder hornets” in passing may find that eastern cicada killer wasps fit their description.

As a result, conservation efforts must now take into account the growing fear of large stinging insects and a public perception that equates any intimidating wasp with “murder hornets.”

A new appreciation

Now that I’ve had a whole summer to learn, appreciate, and protect these creatures that are part of the unique biodiversity of Pinery Provincial Park, I wish I could go back to my eight-year-old self and help him be less afraid.

Killer cicada wasp

I now know that cicada killer wasps are nothing more than gentle giants who are truly misunderstood.

Especially now, with “murder hornets” in the back of everyone’s minds, it’s more important than ever to teach people about this rare species, so they don’t get crushed out of fear by a camper who once thought the same thing as I. .