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People in San Antonio may think they’re seeing murder hornets, here’s what they really are

Cicada Killers are predatory wasps in the Genus Sphecius

Cicada Killer
Cicada Killer (Pixabay)

SAN ANTONIO – A report by the New York Times in early May about Asian Giant Hornets, also known as murder hornets, seems to have spooked some San Antonio residents who think they’re seeing the 2-inch insects in the Alamo City.

It turns out what people are seeing are most likely Cicada Killers, a predatory wasp that is native to Texas and has “been present probably longer than people,” Texas Parks and Wildlife Department invertebrate biologist Ross Winton told KSAT.

Winton said he’s been fielding a lot of questions about them.

“Cicada Killers can be found throughout Texas. Eastern Texas probably has higher numbers just because they have greater diversity and abundance of their Cicada prey. San Antonio is not a hot spot but we will see more show up this time of year across the state as cicadas emerge in summer,” said Winton.

Cicada Killers can get up to about 1 to 1 1/2 inches in length which is smaller than a mature Asian Giant Hornet and it’s uncommon for Cicada Killers to sting humans.

“They are not aggressive and will not readily sting unless provoked. I walked through large group of them last Friday and they cared more about hunting prey and mating than attacking humans,” said Winton. “The real danger comes from a potential allergic reaction”

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There is no imminent threat of Asian Giant Hornets in Texas said Winton who also encourages Texans not to go out and kill bees, wasps and hornets because they suspect them as being an Asian Giant Hornet.

Molly Keck, an entomologist with the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service in Bexar County, shared the same message with KSAT last month, saying the Asian Giant Hornets are still hundreds of miles away from Texas.

“Our native bees, wasps and hornets play a vital role in reducing pests around our homes and communities not to mention agriculture. Most of our natives feed on abundant insect prey. Mud daubers for instance can pack each cell in their nests with dozens of spiders and many wasps feed on caterpillars that attack our backyard vegetable gardens. Please don’t kill our important natural predators. They have a job to do. Think of it as free pest control,” said Winton.

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“Cicada Killers specialize in capturing Cicadas and the females will paralyze their prey and bury them underground to feed their young. Asian Giant Hornets will target a variety of insects as prey but given an abundant number of honeybees will quickly adapt and attack a large number of easy prey,” said Winton.

The Asian Giant Hornets can kill off an entire bee colony within a matter of hours Keck said in early May. “Which is pretty amazing considering that you will have 60,000-plus honeybees in a healthy colony.”

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While there are no Asian Giant Hornets in Texas, a few were found in Washington state in the last two years and one nest was eradicated in British Columbia.

Still think you might have seen an Asian Giant Hornet? Winton told KSAT that “Cicada Killers have a head that is smaller than their body and often have yellow patches on their abdomen rather than stripes that continue around the whole abdomen. Asian Giant Hornets are a social species and will form nests with a queen and multiple workers whereas Cicada Killers are often solitary nesters.”


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