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Ground Digger Wasp (AKA: Cicada Killer Wasp)

cicada killer wasp 2The ground digger wasp (also known as the cicada Killer wasp) is a large, orange and black, buzzing, hovering insect that you will find in area of your yard or around patios and walkways. They may be considered non-aggressors and don’t seem to attack, but don’t let their gentle reputation fool you. Female ground digger wasps will use their needle-like stingers when provoked.


The ground digger is one of the largest wasp species. Due to their size, these passive-aggressive wasps look more threatening than they actually are. You’ll know the cicada killer by its rust-colored head and alternating yellow/orange and black stripes on its abdomen – much like a yellow jacket. Its wings are nearly translucent with an orange hue. Measuring about two inches in length, this species is enough to haul cicadas and other insects back to its nest.


Ground digger wasps gravitate toward flowers because of their nectar food sources. The ground digger wasp habitat requires sandy soil for burrowing nests. Typically seen during the summer, after mating, female cicada killers dig theirs tunnels in dry soil, about six inches deep. Usual found in backfilled area like raise garden beds, walkways and patios.


Ground digger wasps are independent insects that do not depend on colonies or shared nesting communities to take care of their young.

In the summer, female wasps get busy digging their nests, long vertical tunnels in the soil. On average, a female builds six or seven tunnels, which include horizontal offshoots, or cells, where her young will spend the winter burrowing. Although ground digger wasps are solitary insects, this seasonal excavation work is sometimes the joint effort of two female wasps. The tunnels’ openings measure about the size of a quarter and can extend almost two feet into the ground - no wonder it’s helpful to have a digging partner.

Once the tunnel is complete, the female will store a dead cicada in the nest and lay an egg on it. As the wasp larvae mature, they will feed on the dead cicada and emerge from the tunnel the following summer as mature wasps. Once done the female will abandon the area and die.


Adult digger wasps feed on flower nectar but also have the killing tactics of a predator. When preying on crickets and katydids, wasps will capture and paralyze their targets, haul them to their nests and distribute to their young.


These pests are difficult to treat due to their habits and large size. It is best to contact a pest professional that will select the proper method to deal with the localized nesting areas. Treatment to individual nesting sites is important for control. Sometimes more than one application is required. These are seasonal pest and they may return each year. Changing soil conditions, if possible, can help in the process.


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