Cicada Killers Part 2
News Category: Cicada Projects
Cicada Killers Part 2
This is a continuation of yesterday's Cicada Killer Lek Survey with Professor Chuck Holliday from Lafayette University
Cicada Killers at Montague Sand Plains - Montague, Ma.
I met Chuck at around 8:30 in the morning and we headed out west. It took about 1.5 hours to get there. When we arrived, the sun was high in the sky and we saw many cicada killer females at work. There must have been around 100 burrows. Some were active and some were not. These burrows were spread out over a wide area so a lot of the day was spent walking to the various burrows.
Cicada Killer activity was very light again, not many T. canicularis were calling and certainly no T. lryicens whatsoever. I found one dead female cicada killer that passed away right at the entrance to its burrow. I of course gave it to Chuck. Click the thumbnail to the right for a rare glimpse of Professor Chuck Holliday.
Cicada Killers Emerge from the Ground Like Cicadas!
Nestled right around an area of CK burrows, there were many emergence holes. At first I thought that they were cicada exit holes but there were no trees over head. Chuck explained that these were wasp emergence holes. After the cicada killer larva become full adults they dig themselves out of the ground in the same way as cicadas. I of course KNEW this but didn't make the connection. Chuck said that the adult wasp actually digs "straight up" from the burrow chamber allowing the dirt to fall straight down into the chamber thus filling it in.
Handling Male Cicada Killers.
So do Cicada Killers sting? The answer is yes, the females do sting but the males don't. The male's job is just to establish little territories, chase all other males out of it and try to mate with the big females. Chuck showed me that males do not sting by reaching into his net for a newly captured male specimen. He said it is a bit un-nerving to actually grasp a wasp when your natural instinct is not to. I definately agreed.
Then it was my turn. So I captured a male specimen and then I said to Chuck (despite the fact that I just witnessed him do it) "Are you sure males don't sting?" he said "Well, I tell you what, if it stings then you just caught yourself a small female." That was very reassuring let me tell you. But I think I pretty much got it down on telling males from females. So I reached in. The male was very angry, buzzing and buzzing. It felt weird on my fingertips almost like they were numb but it was just the male. They have very smooth and slippery abdomens and the wasp actually slipped out of my fingers inside the net so I had to grab it in the middle of the thorax and amazingly no pain!
Wasp Stinging Behavior
Even though the males have a "pseudo-stinger" at the tip of their abdomen, the thing is actually useless. The male still exhibits the stinging behavior though, probably passed down from a time when they could sting and through the evolutionary process has lost it. Click the thumbnail to the left to see this male trying to sting me without any affect. They do however, have mandibles! They can bite but while it only amounts to a slight "pinching" feeling the male cicada killer didn't draw any blood.
Chuck ended up only capturing around 7 female cicada killers with their paralyzed cicada prey. All the cicadas they brought in were Tibicen canicularis, so no new species. Chuck was hoping for some Okanagana but I explained to him that their time is over for the season and that they are a very tiny cicada probably useless to Cicada killers.
And that was it. We got done around 2:00 pm in the afternoon. Chuck was quite satisfied with this trip indicating that usually when he is out it takes him around 3 days to find areas with Cicada Killers and knowing someone who is knowledgeable of the area saves all that time and trouble.