The 17-year cicada swarm is rapidly approaching, some people are hoping for a miracle—something, anything to eradicate the 30 billion cicadas festering underground for almost two decades. Why it may not be a miracle, it will certainly help: the cicada killer wasp.
Sphecius specisus, or more commonly known as the cicada killer, may not only relieve the cicada population that is said to outnumber humans 600 to 1, but these killers will benefit the trees in which the cicadas prey upon, eliminating the threat of disease, say experts.
While much has been made of the emergence of the cicadas, very little has been noted of the natural predators that feast on the insects. The cicada killer wasps are one of the largest wasp species and—just like cicadas—they are relatively harmless (the female can sting if provoked). Just like many birds and fish, these cicada wasp killers will feed off of the upcoming swarm. The females kill the cicadas by paralyzing it with its sting before taking them back to their nest where it will either be fed to younger wasps or used for building nests.
According to experts, the cicada killers are not aggressive and rarely sting humans unless they are grasped roughly, stepped upon with bare feet, or caught in clothing. Scientists they expect to see an increase in the number of wasps, mainly in areas afflicted with the highest populations of cicadas. [8 Stunning Facts about Cicadas.]
While the swarms will likely reach North Carolina to Connecticut, experts say that people in the bigger cities, like New York, may not even see a trace of the red-eyed pest. However, in other cases there are likely to be literally millions upon millions of insects vying to mate with one another.
“With the large swarms of cicadas emerging over the next few weeks, you can expect many more cicada killers,” said seteorologist Brad Panovich. “But even they won’t be able to keep up with the swarms coming.”
As the ground temperatures heats up to 64 degrees Fahrenheit, the 30 billion to 1 trillion cicadas will emerge and make their way up to tree branches for mating. The males will emerge first, and the females will follow. They will then go through another molting process before they’re ready to mate. After mating, the female will typically lay about 600 eggs and when the offspring hatches, they will burrow themselves into the ground for another 17 years.
During their time underground, the cicadas are not sleeping. In fact, they actually go through 4 molting processes before they burrow their way to the surface. The timing of the cicadas’ emergence is somewhat of a baffling mystery. Some scientists believe that the insects emerge at such a specific time and in such large numbers as their prominent survival technique.
The creatures, harmless to both animals and humans, are said to cause only minor damage to saplings and young shrubs. Still, the emergence of the insects already has some on edge.