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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Violence in the Garden

I was out in the yard today with a friend when we heard a loud noise coming from a nearby tree, followed by a lot of rustling of the leaves. We ran toward the area where the sound came from to see what it was. Okay, we didn't actually run, more like we walked carefully toward where the sound came from to see what was going on.

And there in a red maple tree, we saw a Cicada Killer attacking a dog day cicada. Live, up close, right there it was. I ran for my camera and of course took a picture or two. I had to get pretty close to it to get good pictures. Aren't I brave? See what I will do for a good picture in the garden these high summer blogging days!

I did some looking up in my new book on insects by Tom Turpin, and he tells the whole gruesome story of just what happens when a cicada killer attacks a dog day cicada. It goes somewhat like this...

First, the cicada killer doesn't initially kill the cicada. It paralyzes it, but right before it paralyzes it, the cicada kind of screams or squeals or whatever, and that was probably the noise we heard.

The cicada killer, which is a very large wasp, digs a hole in the ground, six inches deep or so, and puts the paralyzed cicada at the bottom of the hole. She then lays an egg on top of each cicada and when the egg hatches in a few days, the larvae feed on the paralyzed cicada. That's right, the cicada is still alive, but paralyzed down in that hole! And the larvae apparently know how to eat the cicada's non-essential parts first to keep it alive as long as possible, so the meat is fresh. Told you it was gruesome. Then in the fall, the cicada killer larvae pupates, overwinters, and then emerges as an adult wasp the next summer, ready to kill a new generation of cicadas.

All of this violence is apparently going on in my back yard, where I am trying to establish a serene and restful garden to relax in and enjoy. Well, apparently it won't be so relaxing for the dog day cicada. I'll be okay, as long as I remember that these GIANT WASPS are not likely to attack me, unless I get too close to one of those nests, which by the way, the male wasps are guarding while the larvae are down there feasting on LIVE (did I mention live?) cicadas. I don't think male wasps can sting you, so maybe I'll be okay after all, even if I get too close to a nest.

If you want more info on cicada killers, try this link. If you want to know more about cicadas, here's a link.

Oh, and while I was reading about the cicada killers, I realized that what stung me a few weeks ago was not yellow jackets, but probably paper wasps. I've updated that posting to reflect that and here's a link with more info on the paper wasps.

I guess if I had my way, I'd prefer cicada killers in my yard instead of paper wasps, because the cicada killers aren't likely to sting me. They might startle me, but I can live with that. And besides, dog day cicadas can cause damage to trees, when they make slits in the branches to lay their eggs. So, the cicada killers are actually "good insects", in that regard, clearing my yard of a tree pest. But wait, I actually like the sound the cicada makes. I like to lay in the hammock of an evening and listen to them "singing" in the trees.

Okay, given those three insects, paper wasps, cicada killers and dog day cicadas, if I can only get rid of one, it would be the paper wasps. Definitely. Maybe.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

We have had what seem like 100s of cicada killers in our yard. I realize today that we've had them every year that we've lived at our current location. Now I know why....killing the ones flying around doesn't kill the larvae in the ground!

Third Sister

Sister with the homestead said...

That is an awesome picture, but I think I will have nightmares now about the poor cicada being eaten alive. Can you imagine such a slow,horrible death? My bug-loving children who carry ants and spiders outside would be horrified. I don't think I will share this story with them. They would want to know if you could steal the cicada from the wasp, would it be possible to nurse it back to health - would the poison that paralyzes it eventually wear off? Sigh....it's a cruel world out there.

Annie in Austin said...

Awesome photo is exactly right. And a nice creepy nature story to go along with it, like a poster for a horror film!

Carol, it might further ruin your idea of a peaceful garden, but the larger mantids are not always good, either. There were photos on garden web showing one of them who'd caught a hummingbird for lunch. Advice was to keep hummingbird feeders out in the open - away from Mantis hiding places. This totally freaked me out!

Blackswamp_Girl said...

Carol you weren't kidding about having your own close encounters of the insect kind! What a picture you got of it, too. Wow.

By the way, the parasitic wasps do something similar, I just didn't get into detail about that on the blog. They inject some kind of paralyzing venom into the hornworm, and the hatchlings eat from the hornworm's non-vital organs first. I'm glad that we can just go out and harvest veggies. :)

Christine said...

*feeling rather ill*

Anonymous said...

Hi!

My name is Lorraine Cook and I live in Philadelphia, PA. This is the first year I have dealt with Cicada Killer Wasps. They have set up house in my backyard.

I contacted entomologist Chuck Holliday about CK and per his request I 'collected' four paralyzed cicadas for his research.

Professor Holliday of Lafayette College, Easton PA. is an authority on CK and maintains a web site. To learn more about the CK visit his site at...

http://ww2.lafayette.edu/~hollidac/cicadakillerhome.html

Sincerely,
Lorrane