Cicadas sing from the trees in a growing declaration that summer is upon us. Who doesn’t think of summertime when these insects start their annual rise and fall. Their emergence from underground dwellings also heralds the arrival of summer predators that keep these tree killers in check. I’ve grown increasingly fascinated with one such predator: the cicada-killer wasp. Part of that intrigue is borne of convenience as a significant colony of these enormous flyers lives just outside my home. This provides me with extensive opportunity to watch and interact with them. Because the males have no stinger and generally just hang around all day, I see them more often than the females who are busy hunting, digging underground burrows, and preparing next year’s wasp population.
Several times per day, at least one of the females will perform a cursory inspection of the patio. The males simply use it as their road-rage empowering aviation highway; they zoom through at tremendous speeds giving chase to other males, and at times large groups of them sweep through in a fit of territorial guardianship. I have even seen them give chase to other kinds of wasps and flying insects, not to mention cottonwood tufts and other plant material inadvertently swept into their airspace, but these chases are generally abrupt and short once they realize they’re not chasing one of their kind. It’s extremely captivating, and my growing interest has become educational as I try to learn more about these benign yet very intimidating giants.
The females, the larger of the two genders, reach at least 2 inches (5 centimeters) in length and are as big around as my pinkie. They dwarf yellow jackets, hornets, red wasps, and dirt daubers (and all the rest of those dangerous little creatures) by orders of magnitude. You can see a photo on this page that shows them along with a fly and another wasp (there is also a hornet hidden behind one of the cicada-killers). The photo is just below the four species photos at the top. While you’re there, take a look at the four species photos and find the bottom-right entry for Sphecius speciosus, which is the same species as my neighborhood friends. They are one of the largest wasps.
Despite my efforts to do so, I have yet to get photos of them on my hand or other body part (if they land somewhere unexpected). That would provide some scale, but the males are too jittery with so many other males around, and the females have too much to do to stay around long enough. I’ll keep trying…
In the meantime, I’ve put together a small collection of some of the photos I’ve grabbed thus far. Because they’re wasps and fly and dart about with abandon, picture quality in some cases is not as good as I would like simply because the first picture didn’t work out and the wasp flew away before I could snap another. Still, I think you’ll see why I find these creatures so fascinating and, to be certain, just very cool.