Soon

Counting the days.  This time of year leaves me increasingly restless, waiting expectantly until the first eastern cicada-killer wasp (Sphecius speciosus) appears.

A male eastern cicada-killer wasp (Sphecius speciosus) perched on my fingers (20080622_07465_c)

My favorite insect.  Gentle giants.  Docile and inquisitive.  Beautiful.  Intriguing.

A male eastern cicada-killer wasp (Sphecius speciosus) perched on a leaf (2009_07_05_025997_c)

Years of drought and the subsequent dearth of cicadas wiped out two of the six colonial nesting sites in the area.  The largest, the one that surrounds my home on all sides, was nothing but a shadow of its former self when last year only a dozen or so of the wasps emerged for their short summer lives.  In good years, nearly a hundred adults strike fear in the hearts of passersby whilst simultaneously providing me with weeks of entertainment and drama, not to mention protection (I’ve always said I don’t need a guard dog in summer because I have giant wasps instead).

A male eastern cicada-killer wasp (Sphecius speciosus) perched on a leaf (2009_07_05_025992)

Thankfully, last year offered a glorious resurgence of cicadas in such vast numbers that I suspect the remaining wasp colonies will once again fill the air with clouds of buzzing wings.

So I wait.

[note these photos are of males; the females are significantly larger; see this post for some bad photos showing a mating pair as it will give you a sense of the size disparity]

24 thoughts on “Soon”

  1. So, I went over and looked at the other photos…the female is HUGE! And I KNOW that males can’t sting, but it sure LOOKS like he’s got a stingy bit in the first picture up there. You’re braver than I…I don’t think I’d dare to touch one (unless it was cold and very sleepy). Wasps are pretty, but I’m intimidated by them.

    1. The fun thing about the females being so large is that they make tremendous noise when they fly. And they’re quite inquisitive, so they always buzz around me checking me out (I always think they’re looking to see if I’m hiding any cicadas on my person). They sound like small B52 bombers when they get close.

      But here’s the real intimidation factor, C: I’m deathly allergic to wasp and ant stings (and bees to a lesser degree). I’ve always wondered if my fascination with this species is equivalent to playing with fire. Getting over my apprehension was a big move, and since then I’ve honed my skills at getting the males to perch on me and/or to be comfortable around me. Admittedly I’ve also had females perch on me and I’ve helped them get off the ground when they’ve crashed with a cicada in tow, but they’re usually too busy to hang around much.

    1. That’s high on my “must photograph” list, Adrian. I’ve seen the females with cicadas in tow many times, but they’re always in a hurry and I’m never fast enough to get a photo. And only a few times did I render aid–or a place to perch. But I promise you I’ll be doing the photographic happy dance if I get those images, and I’ll certainly be showing them here if they’re even remotely presentable.

  2. beautiful macros, Jason. Something in my brain makes me a little freaking insane when i hear buzzing noises -really, it’s quite entertaining apparently. (it’s not even that i’m scared of bees/wasps/other buzzing things..but buzzing itself…whoa).

    I’m pretty impressed you get that close to them, being allergic! Bold!

    1. You’re not the only one bothered by buzzing noises, Jill. Despite my intentions to the contrary, I can’t help but be terrified given how allergic I am to stings. But that doesn’t stop me from being a fool! (Well, not much stops me from being a fool, but that’s a different story altogether…)

  3. Wasp Whisperer, I’m happy to hear the cicadas have snapped back. My experience with a bald hornet bite some years back (a classic case of operator error in which I walked through a doorway immediately under a nest and sustained a sting on my shoulder that left me looking like Quasimodo for nearly a week) has left me wildly leery of of the whole family — but I can appreciate the beauty of the beasts in your lovely photos.

    1. Oh my goodness, Jain. That’s hysterical! You had to follow a link or two to find that Wasp Whisperer name. Too funny.

      I do think they’re beautiful–wasps and bees and ants, I mean. And although I’ve been hospitalized more than several times because I was dumb enough to push my luck, I keep doing it. They’re just so doggone purty! And thankfully this species is so docile that I don’t fear them at all. But paper wasps are a whole different story…

  4. Great photographs of a stunning insect. I cant certainly believe what you say regarding the sound she would make. That’s some serious wing area she’s sporting (as can be seen in the third photo).

    This is my first comment here, though I have been reading a while. Thought I should say that while I love your photo’s, it’s your writing I come here for. Really enjoy your turn of phrase.

    1. Thanks so much for the generous compliment, Peter. Writing is as much a passion for me as is nature and photography. And yes, the females are quite loud in flight, a low rumble more than a buzz. It’s very impressive to hear.

    1. Thanks, Anna! You’re not the only one who would be intimidated by them. I’m embarrassed to say I sometimes laugh about the gyrations and antics of people trying to pass through the wasps’ territory in summer. It’s like panic incarnate.

  5. Hi Jason,
    Great-lookin’ cicada-killer you’ve got there. I’ve seen one once – boy, they certainly are big.

    I have a wasp story. When I was a kid, I was playing in the neighborhood swimming pool, and opened my mouth to call out to my sister. A wasp flew into my mouth at that exact moment – I can still feel the wings fluttering against the inside of my cheek. And I can still hear the sound it made. Somehow, it flew right back out without stinging, and I managed to not chomp down on it. I’ve even asked my sister about it years and years later to confirm that it really happened. You know how sometimes you’re not sure if you remember something or are just imagining it? Well, it happened. Weird, huh?

  6. A couple years ago my friend Chris and I were along the Current River in southern Missouri. We found a big hole excavated in the dry sand of the upper banks and were crouched down looking at it and discussing what might have made it. Just then, a HUGE female cicada killer crash landed on the ground near the hole with a cicada in tow – we watched in stunned amazement as she frantically dragged the cicada to the hole and pulled it in. It all happened in a matter of seconds – we couldn’t believe what we had just seen.

    1. That’s so cool, Ted. Sure answered the question about who dug the burrow. I love the sense of eyes wide open as you watched. I can relate. It’s such an impressive sight in a lot of ways.

  7. Jason, I happened to stumble over your website and have enjoyed learning little tidbits about you and your family. I am looking for any great pictures of swamp ecosystems and the inhabitants. My son (Jason) is doing a report and I was wondering if you had any pics he could use in his report. Also, the cicada-killer pictures are wonderful. These same creatures showed up 3 years ago, here where I live and we had no idea what they were, just that they would not hurt us and did not sting. Your have a beautiful soul that is expressed wonderfully in your pictures and writting. Thank you and keep up all the beautiful work you do.

    1. Thank you for the warm and generous compliment, Cendy. I appreciate the feedback.

      As for your son’s report, I’ve not focused primarily on swamp ecosystems, though I do have photos from such areas. The challenge is that I don’t have my images organized by ecosystem. That said, you’re more than welcome to go through the images posted here. Jason can use any of them if they fit the report he’s working on.

  8. Some people look forward to wasp season. Others of us look forward to rattlesnake season. We naturalists are an odd bunch. I love this post and the photos. You inspire me to learn more about wasps. I must confess I haven’t differentiated much between pesky yellow jackets, hornets and the paper wasps you describe. Lovely creatures – now that I see them from your perspective. Thanks.

    1. Too funny, Liz! Quite true: we are an odd bunch. And thank you. I didn’t start paying close attention to wasps and bees until many years ago when I moved into the middle of this colony. Before then I’d pretty much avoided them. But these critters taught me a lot.

  9. Oh boy, these are magnificent! You say the males can’t sting, so what’s that sticking out of his nether regions in the photograph? (I know many insects that don’t sting have something pointy at the end, perhaps to make them look more lethal. It that the case with this male?)

    I love the idea of you sitting there on a veranda with a cloud of benign male cicada-killer wasps hovering and clattering in the air around you. Sounds like something from an episode of True Blood!

    1. That intimidating abdomen is a false stinger, Clive. It’s just a sex organ for the males. They couldn’t penetrate skin even if they wanted to sting. But their size and strength means they can give a pretty good pinch if they decide to bite.

      Believe me when I say I’ve received more than a few strange looks and whispered remarks when sitting outside in the middle of this colony. It always makes me smile, too, because I’m sure I look like a crazy fool who’s just begging for a sting or two.

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