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Cicada Killer (Sphecius speciosus)


Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Cicada Killer



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The large Cicada Killer is a wasp that very rarely attacks humans, however, dispatching Cicadas may be its favorite pastime.



Updated: 01/26/2021; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Yellow and black Cicada Killers earned their common name for good reason. This large wasp hunts down cicadas in mid-air, attacking in-flight. The cicada may buzz and try to escape, but if the Cicada Killer catches hold of it with its strong legs, a quick sting immobilizes the cicada, and both fly back to wasp's nest for offspring to consume. Though cicadas are the nutritious choice for larvae, adult Cicada Killers actually drink flower nectar. The larger the population of cicadas in an area, the more likely you will see Cicada Killers taking them down.

The fast and hefty Cicada Killer looks intimidating, but it rarely stings people who leave it alone. They are sometimes considered a nuisance because they tend to build their nests in the ground, making it difficult to play outside or mow the lawn in that area. The nests are sometimes mistaken for small animal burrows, but wasp activity by the hole should make it apparent that a wide berth is prudent. They are mostly seen in the summer when females work together to dig out nests underground before laying eggs in the tunnels.




General Characteristics
Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Spiny / Spiky insect icon
Insect stinger icon
Striped or banded insect icon




Taxonomic Hierarchy
Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Hymenoptera
        Family: Sphecidae
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          Genus: Sphecius
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            Species: speciosus
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Sphecius speciosus
Other Name(s): Giant Cicada Killer
Category: Bee, Ant, Wasp and Similar
Size (Adult; Length): 30mm to 50mm (1.18" to 1.96")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: black; yellow; brown; orange
Descriptors: stinger, stripes, hornet, wasp, buzzing, large, flying, stinging

Cicada-Killer Video(s)




A Cicada Killer grasping a cicada, in slow motion.
Relative Size Comparison
Typical Size Between 30mm (1.2in) and 50mm (2.0in)
Lo: 30mm
Md: 40mm
Hi: 50mm
Territorial Map*
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Canadian territory of Alberta graphic
Canadian territory of British Columbia graphic
Canadian territory of Manitoba graphic
Canadian territory of New Brunswick graphic
Canadian territory of Newfoundland and Labrador graphic
Canadian territory of Ontario graphic
Canadian territory of Quebec graphic
Canadian territory of Saskatchewan graphic
Territory map graphic of the country of Mexico
Contiguous United States shape map layer graphic
Alaska  
Hawaii  
Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Cicada Killer may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Cicada Killer. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.

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