Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Return Of The Cicada Killers

I work in Newton, Massachusetts. At the building where I work, we have an interesting and recurring insect problem. Every July, the Cicada Killers come out to play.

If you've never encountered a Cicada Killer, you're missing something big. And I do mean BIG. They are the largest damned wasps I've ever seen. Here is a picture that provides some idea of their size.

And that doesn't really do them justice. When they're alive and flying around, they're actually bigger. They stretch out to full length and you also have the wingspan to consider. The thing about them, though, is that they appear dangerous, but are actually almost completely harmless. Unless you're a cicada, of course, in which case they will KILL YOU.

The first time a visitor to our building encounters them flying around near our entrance, they're likely to get frightened. You can't blame someone for feeling that way. These things are almost big enough to saddle and most wasps would just as soon sting you as look at you. However, here is the thought process of a Cicada Killer:

He flies up to within ten inches of your chest and looks you over.

He says, "Duh... are you a cicada? Doy... guess not! Ooooh, look! I think that's a cicada over there!"

He flies off to look at a big rock.

A minute or so later, he comes back to within ten inches of your chest. He looks you over.

He says, "Duh... are you sure you're not a cicada? Doy... guess not! Ooooh, look! I think that's a cicada over there!"

He flies off to have a look at a Buick.

And so on.

After a while, you know they won't harm you. So, you walk through bunches of them, telling them, "Get out of my way, you stupid bastards!" And they do, too.

Some folks in this building kill them. Why? I suppose because it makes them feel big or something. I can't imagine a less thrilling sport than hunting these thick-as-a-brick creatures. I mean, they fly right up to within a foot-or-so of you, with no more guile or reticence than Paris Hilton. Where's the thrill in bringing your boot down on such a thing as that? Hell, if I took one of my softball bats out of the trunk of my car at lunchtime, I could swat them all out into the street by the time my lunch hour was over. Big deal.

I like to watch them, actually. They're amazingly industrious, once they figure out you're not something to eat. When building a nest, they get down on the ground and dig dirt like a dog, throwing it out with their hind legs in prodigious amounts. I've gone into work in the morning, not a sand mound of theirs in sight, and come out in the evening and seen four or five piles, each four inches high and maybe ten inches in circumference. Dug by ONE wasp, mind you. That's like you or me building a three-story house in a day.


With only our legs.

And while taking time off to go up to passing tractor-trailers and see if they're good to eat. Or something like that.

Oh, one last thing, in case you didn't click on the link above and find this out already? The Cicada-Killer adults don't actually kill the cicadas. The females - since the males have no stinger - paralyze the cicada and transport it back to the nest. They then place the still-living-but-paralyzed cicada in the nest with a new Cicada-Killer egg. When the new one hatches, it eats the cicada.

(Yuck! I'm mighty glad I'm not a cicada!)

(As are you, no doubt.)

They all go away by the end of August at the latest, having finally caught a cicada and laid eggs and whatever else they do during their brief lifespan - perhaps catch a Buffett concert or some other summery activity like that. Anyway, if you run into some of them, just say, "Get out of my way, you stupid bastards!" Unless you actually are a cicada, in which case you're toast, pal.

Soon, with more better stuff.


Anonymous said...

I can totally picture how these bugs act from your description. I can see it flying in, checking you out, and then going over to the Buick. The things that go on in Newton!

Anonymous said...

We have those as well. If you work on Winchester street, we are right downstairs from you. I heard they were called bald Headed wasps.
We had them bring in an exterminator last year because the parents were freaking out, but they just return to the same place every year, you can't get rid of them.
Some of the kids flip out about them when they are coming in for class, but I haven't seen anyone get stung yet.

Anonymous said...

Indeed you do work upstairs, you are the *ahem* letter reader i see pass by my kitchen daily. Wave hello next time, we don't bite. Sorry about the serious fried food smells today... said...

You're just a cesspool of knowledge!

Didn't know about them...thanks!

Tara said...

Wow....You are so good you made me miss them bout' as much as I miss ya'll.... say hello for me.

Suldog said...

Jo - Oh No! Now you know my secret identity! I'll have to kill you... unless you give me many cakes.

Do NOT apologize for the aromas. Every time I walk by your vents out back, my mouth starts watering. I thought I caught onions, peppers, sweet Italian sausage a couple of days back? I wanted to bust right through the wall and start eating.

(Jo works at "Create-A-Chef" - a cooking school for kids in Newton - which is located on the first floor of 51 Winchester Street, while I am on the second. If you have a website, Jo, feel free to put it up here. I always see happy kids coming out of your place, so I know it's good.)

Suldog said...

That's "Create-A-COOK" in Newton. I've only seen their signage, oh, twenty-thousand times.

Duh... Are you a cicada?

Suldog said...

Tara! Yay! I was wondering if you were still reading. Now I know, and I'm happy. I'll say "Hi!" to everyone.

Betty Blog said...

Suldog, I think you may have just cured me of my fear of bees. Seriously. Now please write a blog about pigeons.

endangered coffee said...

Thank you, Mr. Science

Melinda said...

Sully, that was great - I can totally imagine those bugs looking you in the face then flying away to stare at a rock or something.

I was watching an old standup routine by Ellen Degeneres in which she tells a joke what goes through the minds of houseflies before people whack them with a newspaper. Absolutely brilliant!

Here's the link:

cheers :)

Anonymous said...

I'm on the North Shore and haven't seen those yet...I did finbd a big ass beetle on the window screen tonight and took a picture of it.

Anonymous said...

Ha ha. I've got a pretty nice-sized population of the little bastards. They don't seem to have built any of the mounds on my lawn however.
At first, being the huge wussy that I am, I was extremely frightened of them. They're growing on me, though.
I just hope my dog doesn't decide to sniff up one of the wrong holes and get stung...stupid dog.

Anonymous said...

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