My yard has recently been infested by the “747” of wasps. The Eastern cicada killer (a.k.a. cicada killer wasp) is the largest wasp in North America. So naturally, when one see two or three of them buzzing in and around their personal space, you run for cover.
Actually, the cicada killer is not an aggressive wasp. It benefits us by keeping the cicada population under control. An over-population of cicadas would be devastating to deciduous trees. Males are more aggressive than females but do not have a stinger like the female. Its venom is comparatively weak to other bees, and is primarily used for paralyzing its prey. Once paralyzed, the cicada is brought back to the nest and becomes the main food source for its larva offspring.
The cicada killer burrows a hole about one to two feet underground, preferably in well drained sloping earth. So if this describes your lawn, and you can hear the cicadas singing, don’t be surprised to see mounds of earth popping up about your yard come mid-summer. As mentioned before, the cicada killer is BIG, almost 2 inches long. Thus, you may mistake the dirt mounds (with a distinguishable “luge track” leading to the hole) for some larger animal’s home.
These wasps spend most of their lives underground. The adult female lays eggs on the buried cicada which provides food for the hatched grub. It spends the winter in a pre-pupa stage and in early spring it pupates in its brown cocoon. Around mid-July it starts to dig out of its subterranean chamber and the cycle repeats. So, these monster wasps are only active above ground for approximately six weeks out of the year.
The fact that these creatures spend such a limited time above ground, in combination with their relatively docile behavior, makes it hard to consider them as real pests. Still, it’s hard to get past their intimidating size.
If your yard is infested with nests (let’s say, more than two or three) and you have young children running around in bare feet, then you’ll probably want to take some cautionary measures. There’s also the aesthetic value to having a manicured lawn free of scattered dirt mounds.
So, there are several methods to controlling the cicada killer wasp. If you want to go the passive route, water and feed your lawn liberally. Thick, healthy grass is tough to dig through and is the best deterrent for nest building. If you decide to get tough with them, as I did before doing my research, then pull out an old tennis racquet and practice your swing.
If your considering “going chemical” and you’re dealing with just a few nests, then use a good quality aerosol “wasp freeze.” I repeat, good quality, because the cheap stuff won’t cut it with these big boys.
With a large infestation it’s better to use a cypermethrin and water dilution out of a hand-held pump sprayer. Cypermethrin has a beneficial residual effect that lasts for 90 days. Screw the adjustable spray nozzle completely off so the liquid “pours” into the nest holes. The best time to spray is around dusk when the female is in the nest and you can still see the holes in the ground. This method will also save you money compared to buying several cans of aerosol spray.