Case Studies

Pests We Treat Case Studies: Cicada Killers invade backyard in East Brunswick, NJ

Tuesday, May 8th, 2018 by Bill Cowley


I was sent out to a home in East Brunswick after the homeowner contacted Cowleys. She reported that “giant wasps” had moved in and taken over her backyard. She told our CSR (customer service rep) that, although no one in her family had been stung, everyone was afraid to even step into the backyard.

Upon arrival, I always try to get as much information as I can. For example, I want to know how long the homeowner has been seeing insect activity. If the infestation has been going on for some time, it is likely that the population has grown along with the possible areas of infestation. I also want to know the primary locations where insect activity has been observed. While I conduct a thorough inspection of the entire premises, it helps to know the “hot spots” ahead of time. After gathering information from the customer, I inspect the premises in order to develop the most effective treatment strategy. Finally, I treat the infestation.

With this infestation the customer did not know the type of wasp. However, she did say that they looked like yellow jackets on steroids. She also said that the wasps did not seem aggressive, but they were intimidating nevertheless when flying around her backyard. Bottom line: She wanted these things gone ASAP!

I had my suspicions of what insect I was dealing with, and once I saw all of the holes scattered around the backyard, my suspicions were confirmed. This East Brunswick home had a cicada killer wasp infestation. The females dig tunnels to raise their young, and by doing so, make a big mess out of your lawn. 

When the homeowner said that these wasps looked like yellow jackets on steroids, she wasn’t kidding. There wasps are huge — about twice the size of yellow jackets. Cicada killers look intimidating and have an intimidating name. After all, they are “killers.” However, you only have to be afraid of these wasps if you are a cicada. Cicadas are these wasps favorite food. These wasps paralyze the poor cicada and feed them to their larvae. Not a pleasant experience! However, cicada killers have no interest in people, and they have no territorial nest-guarding instinct. Only the females have stingers, and they are completely focused on digging their underground burrows. Of course, getting stung by one of these wasps is certainly possible, especially if you step on one or squeeze one in your hand. But they won’t chase you down for invading their territory like yellow jackets and paper wasps.

Even though these wasps are not aggressive and rarely sting people, these infestations should still be resolved. While these wasps may sting too curious children or pets that are playing in the backyard, the real problem is property damage. Not only do these wasps cause burrowing damage, but other wildlife, like skunks, are attracted to areas that have been extensively tunneled by these wasps. Wildlife will then do their own digging to reach and feed on cicadas and wasp larvae. So, now you have even more damage from  skunks or other nuisance wildlife that are now on your property. With cicada killer wasps, homeowners should play it safe and contact a pest control service.


For this cicada killer wasp infestation faced by this East Brunswick homeowner, I treated every hole individually with an residual insecticide dust. It is time-consuming work to treat every hole, but it’s the most effective way to make sure that the infestation is completely taken care of. You have to apply the treatment where the insects are, and in this case, they happen to be in underground tunnels. 

After I was done, I  explained the treatment process and its effectiveness to the customer. I also let her know that I’d be returning in two weeks for a follow-up treatment where i could evaluate how well the treatment worked and do any “touch up” applications for any wasps lucky enough to escape the first round of treatment. 

The customer was very happy with the treatment. The wasp activity had immediately died down. Within two weeks, I was confident that there would not be a wasp left in site. The homeowner breathed a sigh of relief, and told me how relieved she was that she could now go into her backyard without fear of being stung. Even if you know that these wasps probably won’t sting you, it is still not pleasant to be surrounded by them. It is almost instinctual for people to be afraid of stinging insects. They look scary, sound scary, and act scary. And for most people that’s more than enough!

I evicted these trespassing wasps  for this homeowner. If you happen to have cicada killers in your backyard, I’d love to take care of the problem for you. As a pest control technician, there is nothing more satisfying for me than giving a homeowner his property back. Homeowners spend a lot of time and money on their home, and they deserve to enjoy it, especially during the summer.