Control of cicada killers


Thinking of using pesticides to control cicada-killers on your property?

You may want to think twice – pesticides only kill this year’s wasps and, if your property is attractive to them, cicada-killers will likely return again next year.


The picture on the right shows a female cicada-killer entering her burrow with a paralyzed cicada. Many people are afraid of wasps in general and really large wasps like cicada-killers can be very threatening when breeding, digging and nesting on one’s property. Although it is extremely unlikely that a cicada-killer will land on you and sting, they do fly close to people and pets when they venture near their breeding areas and this can be frightening. Thus, many people want to rid their properties of cicada-killers.

I have had many e-mails from people who say that they are at their wit’s end because they have paid exterminators lots of money to rid them of cicada-killers and, yet, the wasps keep returning year after year. This occurs because of the way the wasp breeds: They do not have large nests like yellowjackets and hornets, but dig their solitary burrows over a wide area, lay their eggs in individual nest cells in the burrows and then move on to another suitable area. Thus, there is no single nest for each female and her offspring to defend, as there is with yellow jackets, hornets and bees, and there is no single source of new females which will dig next year’s burrows. Unfortunately, this also means that exterminating all of the wasps on a given property in the middle of the summer cannot keep them from “seeding in” from other properties in the neighborhood later in the summer or again in the following summer.

Each year female cicada-killers hatch in July and August, mate and then search for suitable places to dig their burrows. So, if you spray for wasps this year, you will kill only those which visit your property after it has been sprayed. Next summer, females will hatch in your general area and, because your property is attractive to them (probably southern-facing, well-drained and with large trees nearby), they will dig burrows and reinfest your yard. In addition, if you spray after burrows have been dug on your property, the eggs which have already been laid in them will not be killed and will hatch next year. When male cicada killers emerge each July, they stay where they hatch (your yard) and fight each other and fly around looking for females; the females emerge in late July and early August, mate and then search for suitable places to dig their nesting burrows. These are behaviors which bother many people because the males appear aggressive when they fly close to them and the females are very persistent in searching a lawn for good nesting sites. Unfortunately, many exterminators do not tell their customers that this will happen year after year and, thus, will require regular reapplication of pesticides.

There is a new cicada killer trap on the market that uses no pesticides. The manufacturer says, “The cicada wasp trap is a unique method of eliminating infestations of cicada wasps using a pet-friendly, non toxic glue. Traps are simply placed over an active cicada wasp burrow after dusk, when the wasps are resting in their burrows. In the morning, the wasps emerge from their burrows into the glue trap and can be properly disposed of.” Click on this link if you are interested: cicada killer traps.

If you are determined to use pesticides, you should read the excellent circular published by the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station of West Virginia University; email them and ask for circular #161. It presents the results of experiments to determine the best way to eliminate cicada-killers from a golf course which had nearly 1000 burrows. They found that spraying the insecticides Triumph (isazophos), Tempo (cyfluthrin), Karate (cyhalothrin), Dursban (chlorpyrifos) and Baygon (propoxur) into the burrows at the rate of 1-2 ounces of mixed liquid per burrow eliminated all burrowing activity by the wasps three days after application. Spraying the same insecticides over an area to control cicada-killers was less effective. The author notes that the golf course must be sprayed every year to control cicada-killers because it is ideal habitat and attracts the wasps every year. has a page on cicada-killer control and sells pesticides and spraying equipment to apply them.

I believe that you are in more danger from pesticides applied to your lawn to kill cicada-killers than from the wasps. People often feel that the wasps deny them the use of their yards, but they should also be aware that many pesticides also temporarily deny them the use of the area which is sprayed, particuarly so for children and pets. This, of course, is the same area that the wasps deny them the use of. 24K jpg image of Gulliver fighting the brobdingnabian wasps

Here is what I say to those who ask me how to deal with cicada killers on their properties (revised August 25, 2012):

1) You can swat and kill the wasps very easily with a badminton racquet if you swing it hard. Don’t use a tennis racquet unless you play tennis regularly, as it will quickly give you tennis elbow and it is hard to accelerate quickly compared to the much lighter badminton racquet. You may, if you like, call this aerobic exercise. Most of the wasps you see in July are males and they can’t sting because they use what would be the stinger for sex. Just ten males flying around waiting for the females to hatch and mate can look like 50 – wade into them swinging the racquet and you’ll quickly reduce their numbers. The same is true for female wasps. I have caught, tagged and released over 2000 cicada killers, and never has one tried to land on me and sting. In some wasp species, male wasps swarming in a given area attract females which then dig their burrows in that area; the same may be true for cicada killers, so killing off the swarming males may well make your yard less attractive to nesting female cicada killers looking for a good place to make their solitary nests.

2) Every day at about 9 am, plug the wasps’ burrows with a short length of stick, stomp it level with the ground and brush away the piles of dirt next to them. The female wasps use the dirt piles to help them locate their burrow each time they return to it after hunting a new cicada for a new nest cell, so you’ll make things difficult for them by removing the dirt. The dirt piles also attract new females to the area and they will look for places nearby to dig their own burrows, so, if you remove them daily, you’ll have fewer new burrows dug on your property.

3) Once you have blocked the burrows and removed the dirt next to them, look at them again 30-45 minutes later – some of them will have wasps trying to dig back into them after they have returned from hunting cicadas. Kill them with the edge of the racquet or by stepping on them with your shoe (don’t do this barefoot or in zoris, or you’ll be sorry).

This summer (2012) I have used these methods above (kill all available wasps with a badminton racquet, plug the burrows with a piece of stick, remove the pile of dirt next to each one and kill all wasps that return to the blocked burrows 30-45 minutes later) on three yards in Easton, PA that have had regular infestations of 50-100 cicada killer burrows each year for the last 3-5 years. At each property I killed over 100 males this July and over 150 females in July and August; this took me a total of about two hours a day from 9 – 11 am for all three properties. At no time were there more than 10 new burrows present on any given morning and the lawns were only minimally disturbed. Best of all, no insecticides were used. If you are persistent, this method works. If you are not persistent and let it go for several days, then each wasp will make several nest cells with cicada-provisioned eggs in them in each burrow each day. These eggs will turn into wasp grubs, eat their cicadas, make cocoons and hatch out next summer to annoy you again.

The alternative is to remove each burrow’s pile of dirt daily and then blow powdered or liquid insecticide into each burrow from which you have just removed a dirt pile. This method insures that you are spraying only active burrows – those with fresh dirt next to them. Be certain not to breathe the insecticide powder or mist as you are using it, don’t get it on yourself or the grass around the burrow and don’t let children or pets use the area for the recommended length of time after applying the insecticide.

Good luck!

The following are suggested methods of dealing with cicada-killer infestations offered to Prof. Joe Coelho by readers of his “Cicada Killer Thriller Page”. Neither he nor I have tested them, but their inventors claim success with them. Again, good luck!

Method 1:

We’ve recently had a cicada killer explosion in my native northern Alabama. It started last summer with a good-sized infestation next to my utility shed. I’d never seen these gigantic wasps in my entire life, so I assumed it was a fluke from the mild winter we had the previous year and paid it no mind. However, they came back in force this summer, digging more nests than ever before. No one in this area knows how to deal with them, so when I went to call around for an exterminator, I was out of luck. No one wanted to touch them, despite the males having false stingers. However, when I talked to my father about it, he had a solution that had been passed down from his great-grandmother. It’s all-natural, involves no pesticides, and has worked for me every single time. At dusk, after the cicada killers go to sleep, boil a big pot of water — get it really boiling, now — go outside, and pour it into the nest. Later on, when you cut the grass, mulch over the bare patches of soil and the holes with the clippings so they won’t come back. Using this tactic, I have wiped out entire infestations in less than 24 hours, and they haven’t returned. Meg

Method 2:

Hello Joe: I was surfing the web for help in getting rid of cicada killers and I came across your web site.I have had about 10-20 wasps in my back yard (where my pool was). In the last 2 weeks, I have been desparately trying ways to get rid of them (short of playing tennis with them). Raid was too expensive. I thought of “Hot Shot” Spray starting fluid (inexpensive but explosive … didn’t want to mess with that). Then a friend suggested this and I tried it and it seems to be working – at least they are leaving my yard. In an old dish wash soap bottle (squeeze type) I’ve been mixing salad dressing (1/2 of the bottle of oil, the remaining half vinegar) equal amounts of each to fill the old soap container. I used the cheapest oil and vinegar I could find in the supermarket.

I mixed and shook, waited for a wasp to enter a hole, then squirted the mixture into the hole after it. I also looked for all of the other holes and randomly just filled them with the mix. Apparently, the vinegar helps the mix to run down into the hole, and the oil coats it, so as to frustrate the wasp. It works and I’m not questioning it. The wasps are leaving and soon I can sit on my deck again. Thanks. Steve in New Jersey.

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