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Cicada Killers and Sand Wasps

August 7, 2002

Cicada killers are very common in Illinois. These large wasps approach 1-1/2 inches long. They have black bodies with yellow bands; their wings are reddish transparent. Females dig holes in the soil into which they drag cicadas and other large insects that they capture. An egg is laid on the paralyzed insect, and the hole covered up. A new hole is built, and the cycle repeats. Males patrol aerial territories, buzzing around people and anything else that enters. Females deliver a painful sting if grabbed barehanded or stepped on while barefoot. Males cannot sting. If possible, learn to coexist with these generally harmless insects. If this is not feasible, applying carbaryl (Sevin) dust to nest openings or sprays of diazinon or permethrin to nesting areas should provide control.

Sand volleyball courts and playgrounds commonly get these and other related sand wasps. Although the chances of stinging are small, the intimidation factor is great; and there may be hundreds of holes per volleyball court. With children or scantily clad adults playing on or diving onto the surface during play, there is a reluctance to use an insecticide. Because these are diurnal insects, if the sand areas can be covered with a tarp during daylight hours, the wasps are likely to abandon the site. Another possibility is to install weed-barrier fabric 3 to 5 inches below the surface. These wasps tend to burrow 6 to 8 inches deep, and the weed barrier should discourage them. We have little experience with either method but feel they should work. If anyone tries them, please contact me with the results. Contact information is at the end of the newsletter.

Author: Phil Nixon


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