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These cicadas sting

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By Ben Carlson

The very name "cicada" conjures images of earlier this summer when millions of them screeched and swarmed and left behind a blanket of corpses.

Fortunately, that brood of cicada is one that arrives only every 17 years. Unfortunately, a cousin with an intimidating name and even nastier sting is prevalent this time of year, and now is the time to keep a watchful eye out for them.

Cicada killer wasps are now setting up housekeeping in well-drained, light-textured soil, according to Tommy Yankey, an agent with the Anderson County Extension Office.

Yankey said the wasps' ominous name is well deserved.

"They have a very intimidating sting," Yankey said. "It will bring you to your knees in a heartbeat."

Although frightening, Yankey said the wasps aren't particularly interested in bothering humans.

"Males don't sting and are generally more interested in setting up territorial perches, where they wait and challenge intruders that come near," Yankey said.

The females, however, do sting and will protect their nests if disturbed.

"Females, which can sting, are too busy hunting cicadas to bury in underground tunnels as food for their larvae to be bothered by humans," Yankey said.

"However, they may respond to direct disturbance of their burrows and will sting in self-defense."

Cicada killer wasps prefer sandy lawns, flowerbeds and places with loose soil. They also prefer areas with direct sunlight.

Common sites include along sidewalks, in landscaping beds, or in lawns or fields where the turf is sparse.

"The wasps are solitary but in a few years, several hundred burrows may develop in an area," Yankey said. "This results in places where the wasps are very numerous and their normal activities can be unsettling or intimidating."

Cicada tunnels usually have a distinctive U-shaped collar of loose soil around the opening, Yankey said.

Individual tunnels are 12 to 18 inches long and may extend 6 to 12 inches deep.

There are an average of 15 egg-shaped cells as side chambers to the tunnel, each containing a paralyzed cicada and a developing wasp larva.

Development will be completed next year with the wasps emerging in late summer.

The presence of large numbers of cicada killers in an area is a sign of ideal conditions for them plus an ample supply of cicadas, Yankey said.

E-mail Ben Carlson at bcarlson@theandersonnews.com.