Ever since non-native Asian giant hornets, or “murder hornets” were spotted in Washington earlier this year, people from just about every state in the country have claimed to have captured wild specimens of this exotic insect species. Entomologists have found that most of these captured wasp specimens are actually European hornets or cicada killer wasps, and while both of these species are large in size, they are not murder hornets. European hornets (Vespa crabro) are non-native insects that are prevalent in eastern forests, but they are rarely spotted in human-populated areas. Unlike the Asian giant hornet (V. mandarinia), which is a little more than 2 inches in length, the European hornet is a bit longer than 1 inch in length. Eastern cicada killers (Sphecius speciosus) are slightly smaller than Asian giant hornets at around 2 inches in length, and they are commonly spotted during the summer season in the northeast. About two weeks ago, cicada killers emerged in large numbers in various areas throughout Massachusetts where their large size and seemingly aggressive behaviors have been frightening residents.

Public works departments and university extension offices in several Massachusetts cities have been receiving a large number of residential calls concerning cicada killer wasps this summer. While female wasps of all species possess stingers, the only wasp species that pose a danger to humans are social wasps that live in colonies, such as yellow jackets, paper wasps, and hornets. Cicada killers are solitary wasps that are only interested in using their stingers to prey on insects, but their sizable presence around Wellesly’s public works building has put employees and nearby pedestrians in fear of sustaining stings. In response to this public concern, the public works department posted a sign that describes these wasps as non-aggressive. While male cicada killers are known for being territorial and aggressive toward approaching humans, only the relatively docile female is capable of stinging. Females will only sting humans if they are properly provoked, and although their venom is not harmful, their stings are known for being quite painful. With the exception of the cicada killer’s habit of excavating unsightly ground burrows on residential lawns, cicada killers are not considered pests.

Have you ever encountered cicada killer wasps near your home?