Husker Hort

A Nebraska View of Horticulture

Attack of the Killer Wasps

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Cicada Killer Wasp

Cicada Killer Wasp

It sounds like a scene right out of an old horror movie.  Insects are taking over the world.  Hornets are so large they are big enough to carry people away and insects are taking over homes and businesses.  I have to admit I might be exaggerating a bit, but there are some insects that can be frightening to look at or in such large numbers it might feel as if they are trying to take over.  In reality they are just more buzz than sting.

Cicada killer wasps have a frightening name, but that is about all.  These wasps are by far the largest wasp species in Nebraska, up to two inches long.  Their black bodies have a yellow stripe color pattern that is similar to other wasps.  Cicada killers, like their name implies, hunt cicadas, sometimes known as locusts.  They listen for the cicadas to sing then attack and sting to paralyze them.  They carry the paralyzed cicadas to their underground burrows where the female cicada killer will lay her eggs on it.  When the eggs hatch, the wasp larvae feed on the cicada.

The nests of these insects are not always placed in the best location.  The cicada killers’ nests are in the ground, usually near sidewalks, driveways, retaining walls or other areas of exposed soil.  They can be identified by the half-inch wide entrance hole with fresh soil surrounding it.  If you get close to their nest, they will alert you.  These wasps are very docile and often will just fly around your or act like they are coming after you.  When a person walks by a cicada killer, the wasp may become disoriented.  It will circle around the person as a way to reestablish its position, they not attacking.  While they are a wasp, they rarely sting unless severely provoked.

While control is rarely needed, there are some things you can do to ease your mind.  Cultural methods can be used to detour these wasps from making their nests in particular locations.  Since they make their burrows in out of the way places, take steps to encourage dense lawns or place extra mulch around the flowerbeds and around shrubs to cover bare soils.  Insecticidal control can be used if the nests do become a problem.  Use an insecticide labeled for use on wasps and be sure to read and follow the label instruction.  Take caution when applying insecticides to wasp burrows.  Apply products in the cooler parts of the day, either early morning or later in the evening, when the insects will be in their burrow and not as aggressive.

They might not be taking over the world, but there is an insect that is invading homes right now.  The strawberry root weevil is a common home-invading insect that is black or dark brown and about 1/4 inch long.  They are often confused with a tick, but they have 6 legs instead of the 8 that ticks have.  The larvae feed on the roots of strawberries, evergreens, brambles, and grapes.  The adults, which are all female, emerge in summer and feed on the edges of foliage, giving a notched appearance.

The beginning in late July to early August the adult strawberry root weevils begin to migrate into homes.  Once inside the home, they don’t cause any damage and are just more of an annoyance than anything else.  They are attracted to moisture and will often be found in sinks, bathtubs, or other similar places.  Control inside the home is rarely required, in a few weeks the migration will be completed.  Once found inside they can be vacuumed or swept up.  While there are pesticides labeled for inside home use, they are rarely recommended.  To prevent entry into homes, now would be the time to apply a perimeter spray that contains bifenthrin, cypermethrin or cyfluthrin.

Insects might not be taking over the world, but there are times when larger than average wasps and armies of strawberry root weevils invading homes might make it feel as if they are.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at elizabeth.killinger@unl.edu, 308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at https://huskerhort.wordpress.com/, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website: hall.unl.edu.

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Author: Elizabeth Killinger

A Nebraska Extension Educator out of Hall County with a focus in horticulture and sustainable landscapes.

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