In high summer, we often get phone calls about different sorts of bees and wasps that are becoming more prominent (and, perhaps, more aggressive) as we continue in our stretch of warm months. There are many species of bees and wasps in Knoxville and all of East Tennessee, but today we’ll take a look at cicada killer wasps since they sometimes cause concern for homeowners.

Cicada killer wasps are often called ground hornets and are conspicuous in any yard. They have dark bodies with pale yellow stripes on their abdomens. However, their most notable feature is their size; a cicada killer can easily hit 1 ½ inches long, making them one of the largest members of their family in this area. You’re not likely to have trouble identifying cicada killers nearby, so what do you need to know about them?

The first step to dealing with these wasps is to take a breath and not panic. Let’s face it: It’s alarming to have a bug this size whirring past your head, but they’re not as big of a nuisance as you might think. Cicada killers are classified as solitary wasps. That means that there is no hive or nest filled with family members that they’re returning to after buzzing around your lawn party. In fact, ground hornets are more like carpenter bees (who also live alone) than standard wasps or honey bees. Solitary wasps spend the winter underground in their larval form. They spin cocoons in early spring and emerge as adults about a month later. During the rest of the spring and summer, ground hornets are content to dig out a spacious new burrow for their young and supply it with ample food. This is important because the adult cicada killers will all die out in the fall; they have to carefully supply their underground nests with dead cicadas so that the larva can survive the cold months and start the process over next year.

Why does this matter to homeowners? Well, it tells you something about the behavior of solitary wasps. Bumble bees, honey bees, yellow jackets, and wasps can be nuisances because they are so protective of their territory. They have a hive and a queen to protect along with a few thousand eggs. In fact, those insects all post sentries near their homes to alert them if intruders come too near so that they can try to scare them off. Solitary wasps don’t have a colony to protect. You have to seriously aggravate them (probably on purpose) to make them angry enough to sting. And, as with all members of the bee and wasp families, only the females possess stingers in the first place. Male cicada killers may be very curious about your outdoor activities, but they are in no way able to hurt you.

Homeowners who find cicada killers in their yards don’t need to worry. Children should be taught not to attack these wasps, but the ground hornets’ tendency is to cause no hurt to your family or your home. Now, there are other species of stinging pests that are also gearing up this time of year. Yellow jackets and some wasps and hornets can be rather aggressive and should be treated with caution. If you need help identifying what’s buzzing around your home, you can always give us a call. If you want someone to come out and inspect your home, you can always reach us here.

The Cicada Killer Wasp: A Gentle Giant in Knoxville TN

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