Last month I received numerous calls from gardeners concerned that “killer Asian hornets” had made their way to Shelby County. The insets thought to be “killer Asian hornets” are, in fact, cicada killer wasps. I also fielded questions from individuals curious about the creature making strange deafening noises day and night. Those loud, alien looking creatures are called cicadas.
They are back! Cicadas are large insects (over 1 inch long) with clear wings that rest atop of their abdomen. There are two types of cicadas, annual and periodical. Periodical cicadas have either a 13- or 17-year life cycle. Annual cicadas have a shorter life cycle of three or four years.
Cicadas feed on the xylem of many wood ornamental plants using a needle-like mouthpart. Females will lay their eggs on young twigs. When those eggs hatch, the nymphs will drop to the ground and feed on tree roots. This feeding causes little harm to the tree.
The loud noise or “song” that you hear are the male cicadas singing to find their mate. Only the male cicadas can sing. Each species of cicadas has its own mating call.
Although the large, ominous looking cicada killer wasp can evoke fear on sight, they usually are not a threat to people unless provoked. Cicada killer wasps look like giant hornets with black with yellow band markings on their abdominal segments. They also have russet colored wings and are about 1-1/2 inches long. The females are larger than the males. Cicada killer wasps are active from July to early September, which coincides with the appearance of cicadas. These beneficial insects attack, sting and paralyze cicadas and fly or drag them to their burrows in the ground.
There is no need to use pesticides to control either the cicada killer wasp or cicada. Just let Mother Nature do her thing! Both insects are harmless to humans. If you have any questions, please give me a call at 901-752-1207. I am more than happy to help! Be safe out there!
Photo Credits: Julie Morgan; Shannon Hammers