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Last summer, entomologists and pest control professionals at several extension offices in the northeast were surprised at the high number of calls describing unusually large wasp-like insects aggressively darting into people’s faces and tearing up residential lawns. The insects in question are commonly known as cicada killers, and it is not surprising that homeowners in the northeast did not recognize these insects, as experts claim that cicada killer population numbers surged in 2019.

Pest control professionals visited some of the homes where large numbers of cicada killers had been reported. One particular resident’s lawn was riddled with holes made by burrowing cicada killers, and another resident had to relocate her garden due to the annoying and intimidating presence of several cicada killers nesting within her flower bed. The former resident stated that cicada killers had been excavating 50 to 70 holes in her turf-grass every week.

While cicada killers rarely damage lawns to this degree, they do seem to prefer excavating ground-nests in urban and suburban areas, especially around and under sidewalks, roadsides, and concrete slabs. Cicada killers hibernate for years within the ground soil, and males emerge shortly before females. After a male and female mate, the male locates an ideal nesting spot before the female burrows around 10 inches into the ground.

Males are highly territorial and they behave aggressively toward humans in close proximity to nests. Luckily, only female cicada killers are able to inflict stings to humans, but males can be tremendously annoying due to their habit of aggressively darting into humans on residential properties. Females are not aggressive, and they are not inclined to sting humans, but stings occur when females are provoked or when they become trapped beneath clothing. Although somewhat painful, cicada killer stings are medically harmless, but the wasps often become a nuisance in residential areas. Cicada killers are considered minor pests in Massachusetts where only one species, the eastern cicada killer, can be found.

Have you ever encountered a cicada killer wasp on your property?