Sphecius speciosus

Taxonomy

Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Crabronidae
Subfamily: Bembicinae
Tribe: Gorytini
Genus: Sphecius Dahlbom, 1844
Species: Sphecius speciosus (Drury, 1773)
Common names: cicada killer, cicada hawk, or eastern cicada killer

Background

The eastern cicada killer (Sphecius speciosus) occurs in North America, east of the Rocky Mountains and south into Central America.

How to separate from Asian giant hornet

  • Cicada killers can be as large or larger than Asian giant hornets and are frequently confused with AGH
  • The head is smaller in proportion to the body than AGH and the eyes are round (instead of notched)
  • This species is mostly black with yellow markings

Distribution

Sphecius speciosus is native to North America and can be found as far south as Honduras. Cicada killers can be found in forested areas, grasslands, and even in city parks and urban gardens (Milne and Milne 1980).

The distribution of Sphecius speciosus by GBIF: https://www.gbif.org/species/1338940

Diagnostic characteristics

  • Cicada killer wasps range from 30–50 mm (0.6–2.0 in) long
  • The head and thorax are reddish-brown, with alternating bands of yellow and black on the abdomen
  • The legs range from yellow to red
  • The wing membrane is brown-tinted

Diversity

The genus Sphecius contains 21 species, 4 of which occur in North America (Holiday and Coelho 2006).

Host/prey associations

Adult cicada killer wasps feed on nectar from flowers and other sugar sources. Females feed their larvae cicadas that they place in their nests. Female cicada killers capture cicadas by stinging them in the abdominal region to paralyze them. They then drag the paralyzed cicada back to the underground nest where it will be stored as food for the larvae (Drees and Jackman 1998, Milne and Milne 1980). Adult females will only sting if handled roughly.

Nesting and general behavior

Cicada killer wasps build their nests in exposed, loose, sandy soil. Nest entrances are generally located in direct sunlight. As in other species of Sphecius, multiple females may share the same nest entrance, building their own egg cells.

Females build their nests and lay their eggs in mid-summer. Eggs are inserted inside the body of a cicada, which the female then stores in a nest cell. The larva hatches several days later and feeds on the cicada for several weeks. By the fall the larva is fully developed and spins a cocoon, where it spends the winter hibernating. It pupates in the spring and emerges from the pupal stage in early to mid-summer as an adult. The newly emerged adult cicada killers then feed and reproduce. Males die after mating, and females die after completing nest construction and egg laying. By mid-to late August, all adults are gone. Each generation of cicada killers lives only one year (Drees and Jackman 1998, Milne and Milne 1980).

<p><em>Sphecius speciosus</em>; photo by cotinis, Flickr</p>
<p><em>Sphecius speciosus</em>; photo by Judy Gallagher, Flickr</p>
<p><em>Sphecius speciosus</em>; photo by Katja Schulz, Flickr</p>
<p><em>Sphecius speciosus</em>; photo by Judy Gallagher, Flickr</p>
<p><em>Sphecius speciosus</em>, dorsal view; photo by Hanna Royals, USDA APHIS PPQ ITP</p>
<p><em>Sphecius speciosus</em>, lateral view; photo by Todd Gilligan, USDA APHIS PPQ ITP</p>
<p><em>Sphecius speciosus</em>, anterior view; photo by Todd Gilligan, USDA APHIS PPQ ITP</p>
<p><em>Sphecius speciosus</em> (left) compared to <em>Vespa mandarinia</em> (right), dorsal view; photos by Hanna Royals and Todd Gilligan, USDA APHIS PPQ ITP</p>
<p><em>Sphecius speciosus</em> face (left) compared to <em>Vespa mandarinia</em> face (right), anterior view; photos by Hanna Royals and Todd Gilligan, USDA APHIS PPQ ITP</p>