Cicada Killer

On August 8 2012, we had something really cool land right in our backyard. It was so amazing, we decided to split up and each do our own research on the subject. We then combined all our efforts to present our collaboration to you. Now we bring this cool backyard adventure right to your screen. Enjoy!

An Academic Encounter   by Ava McHugh

One day I went outside to water the lawn because it hadn’t been watered in a long time and was very dry. I was trying to turn on the hose when I saw this humongous  looking bee.  It was flying around carrying another insect.  So I went inside to tell my mom what I saw. We went outside and saw the bee digging a big hole on the edge of the lawn. My Mom thought it looked like a giant hornet.  We ran back inside because we didn’t want to get stung.  From the back door I noticed that right behind the digging bee was a dead cicada. So we went inside to look it up on the internet.  We typed in “digging hornet” and a picture of the exact same insect popped up. Only it wasn’t a hornet. It was a wasp called a Cicada Killer. This bug looks very weird, it has bright orange wings and legs and a big black body with yellow stripes.  Did you know these insects spend 90% of  their lives underground?  They only spend two to six weeks above ground to mate and (for females) lay their eggs. Also they dig holes to put there paralyzed cicada in the hole and lay their eggs on the cicada. They like to make their holes in very dry places. Our  dry lawn was the perfect place for a Cicada Killer. We found out that Cicada Killers are not dangerous to people although they can bite and sting. Females are more agressive then males. Knowing it was safe to go back outside we took the camera with us this time. When we went outside we saw the wasp dragging pebbles with its mouth.  It was digging like a dog with it’s powerful strong legs and large jaws. The amount of dirt this insect was digging up was incredible. It was amazing to read about the cicada Killer making its nest then going outside and witnessing it happen in front of our eyes.  I think having the Cicada Killer in my backyard was a great experience.

The Beautiful Species by Jack McHugh

A Sphecius Speciosus is a large, solitary, parasitic wasp. This species lives in the eastern and midwestern United States as well as Mexico and Central America. Female Sphecius Speciosus can grow up to 2 inches long and are among the largest wasps found in the eastern U.S. These wasps paralyze cicadae to bury underground with their eggs. They are commonly referred to as the Cicada Killer Wasp. In Latin, the name means beautiful species. With its vibrant yellow stripes on its deep black body and its bright orange wings and legs it is quite beautiful to look at. Sphecius Speciosus are parasitic wasps.  A parasite is an organism that lives in or on another organism of a different species and uses its body for nutrients. Adults emerge from underground in early July after spending more than nine months underground feeding on the cicada their mother buried with them. They are then chosen by a male Cicada killer to mate with. Males are found in small packs, looking for females to mate with. After they have mated with a male, the female Cicada Killer goes to hunt a cicada. A cicada is a large fly that is found worldwide. When the Cicada Killer finds the cicada, it stings it with paralyzing venom. The Cicada Killer then flies a long way with the paralyzed cicada until it finds a large, vacant patch of dirt to burrow. It then lays the cicada down beside it and starts to dig. After it finishes the hole, which takes a couple of days to a week, it lays its eggs on the cicada in the hole and flys away. The cicada is eaten by the larvae after they hatch. Then the larvae spins a cocoon and hibernates for nine months. A pupa emerges from the cocoon in spring and grows into an adult Cicada Killer. The lifespan of a Cicada Killer is just over a year, so when the female finishes laying her eggs, she dies. The life cycle of a cicada is similar and different to the one of a Cicada killer. There are two examples. They are similar in the way they lay their eggs. The Cicada Killer burrows underground, while the cicada burrows into a tree branch. One way they are different is the Cicada killers lifespan is just over 1/50 of the cicadas lifespan; a cicada can live up to 50 years!   Cicadae feed on deciduous trees. By hunting the cicada, the wasp helps control the cicada population and helps save trees.In conclusion,I think the Cicada killer wasp is an important part of our ecosystem and one of the most interesting insects I’ve ever learned about.

Wasps by Payton McHugh

The term wasp is typically defined as an insect in the order of Hymenoptera. Almost every pest insect species has at least one wasp species that preys upon it, making wasps important in natural control of their numbers. Parasitic wasps are increasingly used in agricultural pest control as they prey mostly on pest insects and have little impact on crops.

The various species of wasps fall into one of two main categories: solitary wasps and social wasps. Adult solitary wasps live and operate alone, and most do not construct nests. On the other hand, social wasps exist in colonies numbering up to several thousand individuals and build nests.  In some cases not all of the colony can reproduce. In some species, just the wasp queen and male wasps can mate, while the majority of the colony is made up female workers. With most species, adult parasitic wasps themselves do not take any nutrients from their prey, and, much like bees, butterflies, and moths, those that do feed as adults usually get all of their nutrition from nectar. Parasitic wasps will lay their eggs in their dead prey, or sometimes paralyzing their prey by injecting it with venom and using it as a host for the eggs. They then insert one or more eggs into the host or deposit them upon the host externally. The host remains alive until the larvae are mature, usually dying when they emerge as adults. While most wasps play no role in pollination, a few species can effectively transport pollen.  In a few cases such as figs pollinated by fig wasps, they are the only pollinators, and they are crucial to the survival of their host plants.

In conclusion, wasps may seem like a nuisance. They sting people and they are pretty scary looking. The next time you see a wasp, however, don’t kill it. With a little research, we discovered that wasps are a key part of our eco-system. They help to pollinate plants and keep cicada count under control. Without wasps, the world would be a lot different.

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