Cicada Killers Appear Threatening But Theyre Not

Dale K. Pollet, Blanchard, Tobie M.  |  4/19/2005 10:29:04 PM

News Release Distributed (08/26/04) 

Summer afternoons often are filled with sounds of cicadas singing. This song is music to the cicada killers’ ears.

The cicada killer is a large wasp-like insect, and in some areas it’s showing up in large numbers and worrying homeowners.

"People call in and say they’ve got flying hornets in their yards, and they’re scared about their kids and pets," explains LSU AgCenter entomologist Dr. Dale Pollet, who says in most cases the pests people have spotted are cicada killers.

The LSU AgCenter entomologist also says the cicada killer looks more menacing than it actually is.

"Actually they’re very gentle," Pollet explains, stressing that principle applies unless you are another male cicada killer.

These insects are not aggressive toward humans and pets, but the males can be seen, sometimes by the hundreds, chasing other males away from their nests in the ground. That is the sight that has homeowners so alarmed, according to Pollet.

Male cicada killers can grow to 2.5 inches long. They have black bodies with yellow markings. And the wings, head and legs are a rusty brown.

While the males hover around the nest sites, the females are busy living up to their name.

"The female catches cicadas and paralyzes them," Pollet said. "She has several cells at the base of her tunnel where she places the cicada."

The female will then lay eggs on the cicadas. And those cicadas provide food for the developing larvae.

Female cicada killers also can sting.

"They will sting you only if you step on them with a bare foot or if they get caught in your clothes or hair," Pollet explains.

Since cicada killers are not harmful, the entomologist says there is no reason for homeowners to try to control cicada killer populations in their yards.

"Cicadas live on small branches in trees, causing them to break off," Pollet explains, adding, "So the cicada killer performs a service and helps you maintain your trees."

Cicada killers prefer yards with sandy soil, thick ground covers and shady areas.

They will be around as long as cicadas are here, according to Pollet, who says both usually start disappearing around the end of October.

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Contact: Dale Pollet at (225) 578-2370 or dpollet@agcenter.lsu.edu 
Writer: Tobie Blanchard at (225) 578-5649 or tblanchard@agcenter.lsu.edu

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