The cicada killer wasp, Sphecius speciosus, which can get up to two inches in length. Yikes! It’s one of the largest wasps in North America, but if you aren’t a cicada you shouldn’t worry much. As you can see, it’s a gentle vegetarian: this one was collecting nectar out at the Saltmarsh Nature Center in Marine Park.
However, larva cicada killer wasps are ravenous carnivores. So the adult wasps hunt down cicadas, which are themselves about two inches long; they sting the cicadas to paralyze them, and take them to their nests. These underground burrows are found on patches of dirt poking out from grassy meadows and lawns. There, the wasp deposits an egg on the still-living flesh of the cicada, and… well, you can guess the rest. It must be like being born at an all-you-can-eat brunch, a veritable smorgasbord of cicada meat.
I knew this crunchy tidbit of natural history in theory until one day in Prospect Park. Then, suddenly, this macabre couple dropped down right in front of me on the path:
Cicada down! I was quite agog, yes, sir, I was.
The wasp had a hell of a time hauling the cicada. But she did so, hustling the prey off the path, towards a tree, and then up the tree. She needed, I gathered, the advantage of height to be able to get a drop on flying off with such an enormous cargo clasped to her deadly bosom.