Digger wasps take up residence

The Invasion Of The Cicada Killers

A breed of wasp that digs long tunnels underground emerges every August to feast on that year’s cicada crop. Ken Rafferty has become an expert on them. Independent/T. E. McMorrow

Them. They are cicada killers. Ken Rafferty is an expert on them.

Every August, a different crop of cicada emerges in the woods of East Hampton, living in the treetops. Also emerging from underground are Sphecius speciosus, also known as the cicada hawk, a large digger wasp species.

Ken Rafferty met up with the cicada killers when he was constructing a new house on Bull Path. Working as a contractor on the project, he had cleared an area around the house to stage its construction. “These cicada killers took up residence,” he said. “Now, they want to live here permanently.”

For Rafferty, that was a major problem: He is highly allergic to the wasp’s sting. He learned about their ways “for my own preservation. If I am stung, I have three minutes” to apply an antidote, he noted.

“These cicada killers can displace over 100 cubic inches of soil to make their nests underground,” he added. The wasps are attuned to the cicada. When the killer wasps emerge from their tunnels, which can wind for several yards, and they hear a cicada, they zip up to the top of the tree and capture it. At the end of the season, they will bring a dead cicada down into their tunnel, and lay their eggs on it. Another year goes by, and, having fed on the cicada, a new generation is born.

The current crop of cicada killers on the Bull Path property is being removed. Not to worry, Rafferty said: cicada killers are plentiful in the woods.