To say the least, Georgia’s largest wasp is intimidating. Indeed, it is two or more inches long. Although it can inflict a painful sting, it only does so when provoked.
While it is big, the insect prefers to dine on fermented sap and nectar. However, its young have a far different diet.
The cicada killer gets in name from its habit of hunting down and catching cicadas. Often it latches on to these large insects in flight. Since its prey often weighs more than it does, when it attempts to fly back to its nesting burrow it more often ends up hopping for short distances than actually flying.
The female cicada killer paralyzes its hapless victims and places them in burrows (5-10 inches deep). Once she positions a cicada in just the right spot, she lays an egg on it. Next, she leaves, sealing off chamber before heading out to search for another cicada. She will sometimes repeat this process more than a dozen times.
The eggs hatch in only two to three days. Upon hatching, each larva begins eating its own paralyzed cicada.
The cicada killer overwinters as a larva. In the spring, it emerges and begins hunting down its own cicadas needed to produce a new generation of these formidable predators.
Female cicada killers live for a couple of months or so. On the other hand, males die shortly after mating.
You can go for years without ever seeing one of these large insects in your yard. I personally cannot remember the last time I spotted one. However, during the past couple of weeks, my niece saw one grab a cicada in mid-air and ride it down to the ground. Then this weekend my granddaughter found a dead cicada killer on the floor of her garage.
Both of the young women had never encountered a cicada killer before. Both found spotting one an eye-opening experience. If ever see one, I am sure you will be astonished to learn such a large predatory insect patrols your backyard.