One of our residential customers from Avenel, NJ recently called our office. She was concerned about stinging insects in her backyard, especially since she has children who are often outside during the summer. While the homeowner was outside playing with her children, she saw several large, black with yellow striped wasps. They were buzzing near the grass and occasionally would fly close to them.
Upon arrival, I immediately went in to the backyard. I saw a number of piles of sand throughout the yard. I also saw some of the wasps themselves. These pests were big, looking like yellowjackets on steroids! The largest were about 2” long and they all had bright yellow stripes on their abdomen. That’s all I needed to see. I knew exactly what pest I was dealing with. These were cicada killer wasps, one of the largest species of wasps.
Cicada killers are solitary wasps that live in burrows that look like an excavation site and are often mistaken for small rodent burrows. The females have stingers, which they use primarily for hunting and killing cicadas. Once they subdue there prey, the wasps return to their burrow and consume some of the cicadas and leave the rest for for the larvae to feed on once they hatch. If you’ve never heard of cicadas, they are interesting oval-shaped insects with transparent wings that emerge during the summer. You’ll hear the males “singing.” As a mating call, they will make a buzzing sound by vibrating a membrane on their abdomen. Most appear annually in late June or early August while other species emerge in periodic cycles. One periodical cicada emerges only every 17 years!
But back to this homeowner’s concern — cicada killer wasps. I told the homeowner that it was good she contacted Cowleys so that we could resolve the infestation. While cicadas have reason to be rightfully scared o these insects, I let the homeowner know that these were not aggressive, territorial wasps like yellowjackets that like to sting people for no good reason. It is rare for these types of wasps to sting people. Nevertheless, these large wasps can be intimidating to be around, especially for kids Also, although the males do not have stingers, they will try and intimidate people by flying close to them. Since they don’t have stingers, it’s all buzz and no bite. Of course, a pet or small child may try to catch a female wasp for fun, and may wind up learning a painful lesson.
It is important to treat a cicada killer infestation because the females dig extensive tunnels to rear their young and in the process displace a lot of soil, turning backyards into an unsightly mess. The soil accumulations can smother grass and cause property damage such as destabilizing a brick patio. Also, skunks are attracted to the areas infested by these wasps. They like to dig for cicadas and the wasp larvae, which are some of their favorite foods, causing even more lawn damage.
The best treatment option for cicada killers is treat each individual burrow with a residual dust. This treatment will eliminate any returning wasps and when the larvae hatch, they will also die from exposure to the dust. After explaining the preferred treatment to the homeowners, I treated the burrows. The homeowner and her children were able to play in the yard one again, worry-free.