Cicada Killer Wasp

Actual Size: 1 ½”

Characteristics: Large, black abdomen with yellow markings and amber wings

Legs: 6

Antennae: Yes

Habitat: Prefer areas in full sun, nearby cicada-heavy areas. They tunnel underground, leaving a U-shaped appearance in the soil.


  • Cicada killer wasp larvae feed on the paralyzed cicadas
  • If they do sting, their venom is not as potent as other social wasps
  • They target sandy areas and gardens

Cicada Killer Wasps in Iowa

Cicada killer wasps are one of the largest wasp species in the nation at nearly 2 inches long. Females are two times bigger than males. Female cicada killer wasps are named as such due to their ability to paralyze cicadas in flight. From there, the females bring cicadas back to their nest to feed her larvae. These unique wasps dig holes or burrows in sandy areas or soft, loose soil. They are frequently found on sloped terrains, in flower beds, in playgrounds, and more right here in the Des Moines area. As menacing as they appear, they are not known to be aggressive toward people.

Cicada Killer Wasp Habitat

Cicada killer wasps appear most often in late June or July, and are mostly seen visiting flowers or digging burrows in sandy or light soil. The cicada killer wasp nests in the ground near cicada populations. Frequently, dozens of their burrows are located in lawns and on golf courses. A pile of soil often surrounds the entrance. The male wasp flies guard duty over the lawn, chasing away potential predators. Meanwhile, the female cicada killer wasp will paralyze cicadas and bury them in the burrows with her eggs.

Cicada Killer Wasp Behavior & Threats

Unlike other wasp species, cicada killer wasps are not very aggressive and rarely sting humans or pets, unless they are disturbed. Males are aggressive and territorial, but do not possess a stinger. A sting from a cicada killer wasp can be painful and their venom may cause an allergic reaction in some people. Cicada killers can be a nuisance if they are found on your property. Female wasps dig fairly large burrows, making quite a large mess near plants and vegetation. Their burrowing is known to make walkways and areas unstable. It’s important to never attempt to destruct a nest yourself, even if it appears empty. Always contact a licensed wasp control expert for assistance.