How to Get Rid of Cicada Killers

How to Get Rid of Cicada Killers

Cicada killers (Sphecius speciosus) are a burrowing wasp species commonly found in North America in the summer and early fall. While cicada killers don’t typically sting humans, they can be a nuisance to your yard, pets, and peace of mind. 

Learn how to identify these wasps and discourage them from taking up residence in your yard.


Cicada killers are very large wasps that measure almost two inches in length. These insects are characterized by light brown wings and a black abdomen with symmetrical yellow stripes divided down the middle. When examined closely, these stripes almost look like angry eyes—perhaps a warning sign to predators. Like most wasp species, female cicada killers have a stinger at the point of the abdomen, but males do not.


Cicada killers do have a similar appearance to other wasp species, but there are some key differences to keep in mind. For example, unlike most wasp species, cicada killers do not build nests above ground. Cicada killers are not the wasps that populate the eaves of your house or the space underneath your deck. Another hallmark of cicada killers is that they’re solitary wasps, so they don’t live in large, intricate colonies like other wasps.


Common wasps, also known as paper wasps, measure around ½ an inch, making them much smaller than cicada killers. Common wasps have more prominent yellow stripes, and five out of their six stripes connect in the middle. Their nests are made from one comb that faces outward so you can see the individual hexagons exposed. 


Yellow jackets are closely related to paper wasps and are similar in size. Their yellow stripes are also bright and prominent, but all six stripes connect in the middle. Unlike paper wasps, yellow jacket nests are large masses of covered combs.


Sometimes cicada killers are confused for the so-called “murder hornets”—a nickname for the Asian giant hornet. The Asian giant hornets earned this moniker when they were spotted in the United States (far from their native East and South Asia home) for the first time in May of 2020. Murder hornets created quite a stir because of their extremely painful sting and the threat they posed to honeybee populations.

While they are about the same size as cicada killers and also dig holes, Asian giant hornets have largely been driven out of the United States.


Because of their size, cicada killers may seem menacing, but you’re more likely to be stung by one of its much smaller relatives, such as paper wasps or yellow jackets. However, cicada killers may cause harm to your pets if you have cats or dogs that play outside. 


Female cicada killers rarely sting humans, but they will on occasion if provoked. The sting of a cicada killer feels like a pinprick and can cause slight welting. It’s similar to a common wasp sting but not as painful. 

Male cicada killers do not sting but may buzz around passersby in an attempt to scare away potential threats while looking for a mate. Because these insects are territorial, several males may crowd around as an intimidation tactic, but again, they do not have the capacity to sting. 

While female cicada killer stings are rare in humans, be sure to keep a close eye on pets if you have these pests nearby. Because outdoor pets spend more time in the same area as cicada killers (and may even try to eat this insect on occasion), they are more likely to be stung. For some animals, a sting in the mouth or around the face will act as a warning, and they’ll avoid those pests in the future. But if your pet has allergies or other health risks, a cicada killer sting could be more problematic. If you notice swelling or redness, call your veterinarian right away.


As the name suggests, cicada killers mainly kill and ingest cicadas. When the female cicada killer attacks, she uses her stinger to inject a paralytic into the cicada—sometimes midair. She then drags her large prey into her underground burrow through its circular opening. Once inside, the cicada killer will store the immobile cicada in a chamber of the nest with a few of her own eggs. When her young hatch a few days later, they have a fresh (live) meal to feast on. 


Unlike typical wasps that build and fortify nests above ground, cicada killers burrow underground in warm sand and soil. They create tunnels about a foot deep in the earth that can stretch up to 70 inches in length. Within these tunnels, cicada killers create several chambers in which to store their eggs and food sources. 

This burrowing behavior is one of the main reasons why people want to get rid of cicada killers. The entrance holes they leave behind measure about ½  inch wide, and if you live in a favorable environment, you can have dozens of them dotting your lawn. Freshly dug burrows have distinctive piles of loose earth surrounding the openings.


Cicada killer nests are sometimes confused for vole dwellings because the entrance openings can be similar in size—especially when the dirt surrounding a cicada killer nest has been cleared away by weather conditions. Vole holes are about one to two inches wide (slightly larger than cicada killers), and these tiny burrowing rodents usually create many more openings than cicada killer wasps. Voles also tend to create distinctive pathways between their burrow holes—especially when an infestation has gotten out of control.


If these large pests are putting holes in your lawn and scaring your friends and family, it may be time to call a pest control expert who is well-versed in how to get rid of cicada killers. 

Our field experts use products inside and around nesting spots to ensure each individual nest is taken care of. The best time of year to mitigate a cicada killer problem is early summer while females are still building their nests.

You can also make your lawn less inviting to cicada killers and prevent them from coming back:


The easiest way to keep cicada killers away is to invest time and money into maintaining your landscaping. Keep lawns fertilized, watered, and mowed. Apply new weed barrier fabric under mulch or other decorative fillers each year. And don’t leave “projects” for another time. If you have a problem area of the yard that needs attention, it could become a pest breeding ground before you’re able to turn it into a fountain.


Your first reaction to seeing cicada killer burrows might be to fill in the holes, but this will not actually do anything to stop the pest. Instead, the female will simply relocate her nest and re-dig the entrance hole. Additionally, if the female is around while you’re trying to bury her entrance (they typically return home in the evenings), she is more likely to get defensive and sting you.


As soon as you spot cicada killers in your yard, or stumble upon burrowing holes, the best thing to do is call your pest control provider right away. At Joshua’s Pest Control, our field experts are always available for free warranty visits outside of our regularly scheduled maintenance services. 

While cicada killers nest underground and are not likely to sting humans, they can be a real nuisance to anyone’s yard. Females dig unsightly burrowing holes, and males can intimidate people with their territorial displays. A professional pest control expert can help you get rid of cicada killers and keep them from coming back. Contact us today for a custom consultation for your home.


Author Bio

Courtney Enzor has worked in the pest control industry for about a decade. From helping you build a fly trap to giving you the best tips for identifying various bugs, she loves answering all your pest-related questions and sharing her pest-related expertise through writing. At the end of the day, she hopes her content will help people avoid mishaps and keep families happy and healthy!