Barry Fugatt: Cicada killer wasps are useful, if a tad creepy
BY BARRY FUGATT Garden World
Saturday, June 30, 2012
6/30/12 at 4:57 AM
Nature is all about beauty and serenity. There are times, however, when she shows a creepy side. I witnessed it firsthand recently.
I was sitting on my patio when I heard a noisy commotion going on behind me. I turned to see two large insects, a giant hornet-like wasp and a big clumsy locust (cicada) locked in mortal combat on the concrete several feet away.
The loud buzzing and frantic beating of wings made the hair rise on the back of my neck. The cicada held its own until the bomber-size wasp flashed a long black stinger that apparently packed a wallop. The cicada ceased to struggle and died.
Well, not quite.
The grisly truth is straight out of "The Twilight Zone."
The big wasp (nearly 2 inches long) was a "cicada killer." Only this angry gal (females do all the hunting and killing in the cicada-killer clan) doesn't kill her cicada prey, at least not from the initial stab of her imposing stinger.
The sting paralyzes the poor cicada, putting it in a state of suspended animation. Although the sting had to be painful, the cicada's worst days are yet to unfold.
The huge wasp wraps its six hairy legs around the paralyzed cicada and flies the helpless creature to her underground lair; a hole dug an inch wide and 8 to 12 inches deep in a lawn or garden.
She pulls the paralyzed cicada down a dark tunnel and stuffs her prey into a side chamber. Remember, the helpless cicada is very much alive, probably witnessing the entire ordeal.
I have no idea if a cicada has the capacity to be terrified. But if it does, at this point, it is.
She lays an egg or two on the cicada's paralyzed carcass. The cicada's fate is now sealed; the clock is ticking; horror waits in the shadows. Within days the eggs hatch, and hungry wasp larvae tear into a live meal of cicada a la king.
Cicada killers are solitary wasps, very different from social wasps (hornets, yellow jackets and paper wasps). The big female wasps are nonaggressive (thank goodness) and rarely sting humans, unless, of course, you resemble a large cicada. In which case I would stay inside and lock my doors and windows.
Male cicada killers are smaller than females and may act aggressively by dive-bombing pets and humans who stray too close to their nests. Like lots of males, however, they are all bluff and bluster. A male cicada killer has no stinger.
Cicada killers are commonly seen during summer skimming over lawns and shrubs looking for prey. Cicada killers definitely are beneficial insects. Their life cycle is a tad creepy, however.
Original Print Headline: Cicadas often face a gruesome fate
Barry Fugatt is director of horticulture at the Tulsa Garden Center/Linnaeus Teaching Garden. He can be reached at 918-746-5125 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cicada killers are beneficial insects. Their life cycle is a tad creepy, however. Courtesy