During mid- to late-summer, my patio is inundated by cicada-killer wasps. These rather intimidating creatures grow to about 2 inches (5 centimeters) in length. Because the males are territorially aggressive, they zoom about chasing one another. Also, the ground outside is perfect for them and causes a virtual swarm of this B-36 of the wasp kingdom. I have been struck (not stung) a few times by males chasing each other and not realizing I did not intend to get out of their way.
Those of you who know me well enough understand I have a deadly allergy to bee and wasp stings (and an even deadlier allergy to ant stings), so you undoubtedly are wondering why I don’t avoid them or, more importantly, take steps to kill them. None of that is necessary with these critters.
While the males are fiercely territorial with each other, and this lends itself to near uncontrolled and aggressive chasing, they can not sting. They have a false stinger that is actually just a sex organ. The most they can do is bite, at least in theory. That might or might not hurt depending on the size of the wasp, but it certainly doesn’t pose the same risk as being stung. Besides, I’m not aware of any known instance when this has happened.
As for the females, they do in fact have a real stinger but are not generally aggressive unless they are disturbed in such a way so as to be perceived as a threat (especially true when protecting their nest or carrying a paralyzed cicada). Despite this, they can still be handled under all circumstances so long as it’s done carefully and slow enough that the wasp does not see it as threatening.
Personally, because I’m so allergic to stings, I prefer handling the males (no gay jokes!) just to be safe. I’ve also handled females before and have never been stung since, as I pointed out, neither gender is normally aggressive toward people. Also, the males tend to hang around their territory waiting for females, so they are more readily available and noticeable. The females, on the other hand, are busy digging nests in the ground and hunting cicadas in which they lay eggs, so I see fewer of them.
At the height of their season, several dozen will occupy the area around my patio. This has the unfortunate effect of rendering that area unwelcoming to most people as they perceive the giant wasps as dangerous. I rather like that since it makes the area private and protected (I don’t need a guard dog; I have wasps).
My hope is to get some video and pictures later in the summer as their numbers grow dramatically. With so many of them in close proximity, hopefully that won’t be difficult.
[Update] I have since identified the species as Sphecius speciosus.