Cicada Killer - Sphecius speciosus


Between mid-summer and early autumn, cicada killers (Sphecius speciosus) begin to emerge from their nests after exiting pupation.  Males, usually surfacing a week before their female counterparts, seek to claim territory within the environment in preparation for the breeding season (Cornell University-Master Beekeeper Program, 2004).  Once female cicada killers finally emerge, males attempt to attract a partner for mating (Animal Diversity Web, 2012).

In regards to the mating process, males patiently wait for females to enter their territory.  Once a mate has been spotted within a particular male’s territory, the male will fly after the female in order to attempt in mating.  If mating does occur, it most often takes place while airborne.  Additionally, during the process, the couple will plummet through the air, hitting the ground together (Dambach and Good, 1943).  This process may attract the attention of other males; however, the mating process, itself, has already been completed.  At this point, the male and the fertilized female separate apart.  The female works in preparation for her offspring, while the male may continue to attempt in finding additional mates until approaching death (Animal Diversity Web, 2012).

After fertilization, the female wasps actively work their way into the ground.  They proceed to create cavities within the soil that will serve as a nest for the expected offspring (Animal Diversity Web, 2012).  Once the nest is complete, a female will target and hunt wild cicadas to provide a host for their offspring.  At least one cicada is placed within every nest; however, additional cicadas may be added as a food source for when larvae hatch (Smithsonian Institution, 1999).  In general, female offspring are given preference to additional cicadas (Encyclopedia of Life, 2012).  As a result, many believe that this preference partially accounts for their larger size (Hastings et al., 2010).

Unlike many insects, the female cicada killer lays only one egg during reproduction (Oklahoma State University Entomology, 2012).  Once laying its egg inside the host cicada, the female wasp patches the nest along with any additional cicadas.  Within two to three days, the egg within the cicada hatches, giving rise to a larva that proceeds to consume its host.  For approximately two weeks, the larvae will feed on its host as well as any other cicadas until entering pupation (Smithsonian Institution, 1999)Meanwhile, the parent generation, after providing for their young, dies off after reproduction around the month of September, only living for a little more than one year.

Pupation rounds out the final turn of the cicada killer life cycle.  The process lasts approximately 10 to 12 months and is critical for the development of the larval wasps.  While still in their nests, the larvae will spin and suspend themselves within silk cocoons, which provides a basis for their transformation.  As stated above, the wasps will then exit pupation and emerge from their nests in the following summer months (Smithsonian Institution, 1999).