Cicadas. Part II.

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.

9 Responses to “Cicadas. Part II.”

  1. 1 Xris (Flatbush Gardener) August 1, 2010 at 9:05 am

    They’re impressive creatures []. They seem to be very localized. Though I’ve lived in Brooklyn for nearly 20 years, I never saw one until I moved to Flatbush. I think they need sufficient open ground of the right texture for them to be be able to burrow and bury their prey.

    • 2 mthew August 1, 2010 at 9:12 am

      I have seen one freaking people out in Union Square, but you’re right, they really need that suitable soil which suggests further out in Brooklyn. There’s been a prime nesting site on a grassy hillside in Prospect Park for a couple of years now. They nest singly, but individuals seem to clump their nests together, probably because of the availability of the ground. I’ve heard of yards out there in suburbia swarming with them.

  2. 3 Dana Marie August 1, 2010 at 10:35 am

    I’m SO glad you posted this! This exact event happened to me one day walking home from the laundry mat – ( I live RIGHT by Prospect Park South West) I was rather amazed and watched the mini murder in curious mini horror and went home. Then in a near day this week I opened my window to let in some of the nice cool air and one of the wasps flew in! I screamed and hid (yes lol) in the bathroom but it flew out…..
    They are pretty scary. I can’t imagine for the cicada. I noticed the cicada murder first by sound – it sounded like the cicada was “screaming”
    eek! wild wild nature 🙂

  1. 1 Cicadas Emerging « Backyard and Beyond Trackback on July 15, 2011 at 11:44 am
  2. 2 Summer Whine « Backyard and Beyond Trackback on August 25, 2011 at 7:53 am
  3. 3 Wasps « Backyard and Beyond Trackback on July 28, 2012 at 8:46 am
  4. 4 Corner Pocket « Backyard and Beyond Trackback on August 5, 2012 at 7:36 am
  5. 5 Cicada Killer | Backyard and Beyond Trackback on August 26, 2017 at 8:01 am
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