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Cicada Killer with Cicada Prey in Medfield, MA

Sightings Category: Cicada Killers

Cicada Killer with Cicada Prey in Medfield, MA

Two of us were birding the fields behind Ralph Wheelock School when we saw many giant wasps flying back and forth over a grassy open stretch alongside the paved path we were on. Later I was able to identify them as Cicada Killers. Prof. Holliday, Lafayette College, confirmed this when I sent him my photo. As far as we could tell, all the nest mounds were already sealed, even though the wasps continued to fly above them, land on them, spar on the mounds with other wasps, and exhibit unceasing activity in general. We left the site to continue our birding. When we returned some time later, there were fewer wasps patrolling the stretch. The ground here was flat not sloping and probably covered a swath of short field grass some 30 ft. or more across. The time of maximum observed activity was probably around 3 PM. See my second observation at the same site involving both a CK and its prey Cicada on Aug. 9, 2008.

Following our July 29 observation at this site, we returned to the fields for a sunset walk. On our way back we checked the CK communal nesting ground again, not expecting to see much if any activity. To our surprise, we discovered a lone CK struggling with a Cicada. At first we saw only the wasp on the paved path next to the nest area. Then it moved toward te grassy edge where it picked up the Cicada. The wasp may have dropped the Cicada and was simply retrieving it. As we watched, the wasp appeared to wander aimlessly in circles in the grass with its prey, being nowhere near one of the old nest mounds (sealed. One other CK buzzed the area without prey and without landing. Finally we left. I took a flash photo of the CK struggling with its prey and sent it to Prof. Holliday. (In the years since, the wasps never returned to the site.) See the July 29, 2008, report.

Date Posted: 2012-07-21 Comments: (5) Show Comments Hide Comments


Posted By: Massachusetts Cicadas | On: 2012-07-25 | Website:

Hi Walter,

Thank you for sharing your in-depth report. Your sighting indicated that it was July 29, 2008 which is probably around mid-way through the cicada-gathering season for the females.

Its been my experience that - in some instances - the actual entrance to the burrows can sometimes be several inches away from the mound of dirt, and hidden in the grass.

Given the size of the cicada relative to the large female, the specimen looks to be that of a Tibicen canicularis. I can clearly see the large rounded opercula which is indicative of a male specimen.

I am surprised to hear that when you returned the following year, no cicada killers could be found. I wonder if an exterminator was brought on site to exterminate them.

Thanks very much for sharing your very cool photos.

Keep us posted should you return to that same spot this year.

Posted By: Walt Webb | On: 2012-07-26 | Website:

Thanks for your comments. The absence of any CK activity at this spot in subsequent years (including this summer) is unexplained to us. This is town-owned land, and other fields nearby are mowed annually from mid to late summer--but not this particular stretch. We regularly bird the area and always check the old CK nesting ground for any signs of activity. So far nothing!

Posted By: Massachusetts Cicadas | On: 2012-07-26 | Website:

Hi Walt,

Typically once an area has been inhabited by cicada killers they never leave the area because it is the offspring from the females from the previous year that stay in the area.

Another possibility is I seem to remember a few years back that we had heavier than usual rains in early to late June. In fact I remember complaining about it.

It could be that during those rains that the burrows containing the cicada killer wasps were flooded out effectively drowning the little guys before they could emerge.

I have noticed this in other locations in Massachusetts in the summer of 2010 where cicada killer leks I visited in previous years were suddenly gone.

Thanks again.

Posted By: Walt Webb | On: 2012-08-02 | Website:

The flood theory certainly is a possibility. Whatever happened, we were surprised by the total absence of any CK activity the following summer and during subsequent years. I wonder how this site came to be selected in the first place. And could we have somehow overlooked it prior to 2008? We haven't been back to the area since July 14 and are overdue for a return. We'll keep you posted.

Posted By: Walt Webb | On: 2012-08-24 | Website:

The Medfield Cicada Killers are back! After not noticing any activity at the former Medfield communal nest site since 2008, on August 7, 2012, I found a single suspect nest mound at the edge of the tall unmowed field grass. Then, two weeks later, on August 21, I returned to the spot and found the grass there mowed. But the biggest surprise was finding many additional nest mounds--I counted at least 14--along the same original 30-foot stretch next to the paved walking path.Many of the mounds exhibited apparent exit holes where the new CKs could have emerged. While I was there, a single CK landed in the grass, and I photographed it. Two walkers stopped and said they independently witnessed many large wasps (CKs) buzzing this stretch a few weeks earlier. I suppose it could be possible that i somehow might have missed the continued use of the site since the 2008 sightings. For instance, last year my two visits in late July and August fell on July 27 and not again until August 29. During that interval perhaps CK activity occurred. I will upload two photos that I took on August 7--one of the lone CK and the other of an exited nest mound.

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