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Cicada Killer Wasps Swarm Area Neighborhoods

This wasp species is booming in the suburbs this summer.

Some Kentlands residents are being inundated by a dramatic upsurge in population of a rather pesky pest, namely cicada killer wasps.

Kentlands resident Ron Wiles was surprised at the magnitude of the problem affecting his home and many of his neighbors’ homes on Hart Road.

“We even know of people as far away as Olney experiencing this problem,” he said.

The sidewalk of the street is lined with holes and mounds guarded by these clumsy, flying behemoths that are generally not aggressive to humans, but they might get so close you have to swat them away.

Jim Tarwater, entomologist and senior technical director at , said that he has had a 50 to 60 percent increase in calls this season for this particular pest.

“I used to get three, maybe four calls a week," Tarwater said. "This year, I am getting one call or more a day.”

These cicada killer wasps appear to be this year’s problem pest.

“Just this week, I had one home where the entire backyard was covered in hundreds and hundreds of holes,” Tarwater said in an interview last week.

The average is about 15 to 20 holes per yard.

The term “cicada killer” might be bit of a misnomer, since they don’t actually “kill” cicadas — at least not immediately.

According to Tarwater, the wasps, about 2 inches in length, have a large stinger that they inject into their cicada prey, paralyzing it but not killing it. The cicada is dragged down into a hole that the wasp has burrowed into the ground.

The wasp lays its eggs around the cicada, and when the eggs hatch, the larva feeds on the instant food supply and is nourished for the long winter underground.

“Just the other day, while sitting here on my porch, I saw a wasp sting a cicada and drag it down into the hole,“ said Karma Kenny, one of the many Kentlands residents who is not too terribly put out by the pests.

As for why this bug is burgeoning this year, Tarwater speculated that it could be the fairly mild winter followed by a warm and early spring.

“We have them every year, and some years more than others. Generally, when the cicada populations increase, so do the cicada killers," he said.

But there is no denying this has been a banner year for the species.

“There was a gentleman at the neighborhood Lowe’s this week who was putting every conceivable spray and insecticide into his cart to get rid of these bugs,” said Barbara Wiles of the Kentlands.

Tarwater said that people don't usually know how to get rid of the wasps.

“The holes need to be treated individually with insecticides and then dusted with another chemical," he said. "It takes a while. But if you don’t do it right, you’ll have twice as many next year.”

But the good news this year is that area residents won’t have to put up with them much longer. The average life span of the cicada killer is about 60 days.

Kristen Steffens August 08, 2011 at 03:59 PM
Although I think 20-100 holes in my yard would not be too much fun, we have enjoyed watching these wasps over the years. We've never been stung and although they look huge and ferocious, their lack of aggression has made them interesting to myself and my young daughters - and seeing them bumble along with a huge cicada looks aerodynamically impossible!
dave bell August 11, 2011 at 01:46 AM
i have several acres at my home in laytonsville, the wasps seem to be very active and happy on my property. while cutting the grass i must have flattened over 100 nests in the ground just this week. its actually quite a sight mowing thru them with a few flying two feet from my head each with a cicada in their clutches. dave
jnrentz1 August 14, 2011 at 02:19 PM
Karma Kenny? Is that a real name?

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