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Entomology (Study of Bugs)/wasp or bee that has taken over my backyard!!

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Kingston, Massachusetts

I'm very curious what type of insect this is that has sort of taken over my backyard. They fly around my back yard, landing on blades of grass and there are alot of them. The sunnier and warmer it is, the more there are. I first noticed them when i was mowing my lawn. I must have disturbed them somehow because a bunch of them started flying around me. At first i thought they were coming from nests/holes in the ground, like a ground dwelling wasp because there are small sand piles with finger sized holes. But when i stomp around that area (right before dusk) nothing would come out. Also, i noticed that they are flying back and forth from trees around my yard to my backyard.

I have yet to be stung by one, but i don't want to take my chances. I've seen probably close to 50 flying around the backyard ground at one time. Please see a picture of one that i found after i swatted it out of the air. Thank you for the help!

Answer
This is a cicada killer, a species of hornet that lives a solitary life.  Here's a window into what you are seeing:

Female cicada killers dig a hole in soft, fluffy soil and create several branched tunnels.  They fly into the trees and capture cicadas, paralyzing them with a single sting.  They drag the paralyzed cicada into the tunnel, lay an egg on it, and seal it into a side branch tunnel.  The new cicada killer emerges the following spring.  With the increase in cicada populations this spring on the east coast, populations of this predator should increase as well.

Females CAN sting, but usually don't.  Male cicada killers patrol a territory, flying near the ground looking for females.  If a male cicada killer sees his reflection in the mirror, he will crash into the window in an effort to run the "trespasser" away.  Males CANNOT sting and are a little smaller than females.

We have them in Texas as well.

Entomology (Study of Bugs)

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Nathan Riggs

Expertise

I currently live in San Antonio, TX and have expertise in identifying insects, many types of spiders, and other arthropod critters that infest lawns, ornamentals, structures, trees, pets and livestock. Mites are not a strong point of mine. I'm not a licensed doctor, so I cannot provide medical diagnosis of conditions possibly related to insects or other arthropods. If you've got an interesting photo for me to see, attach it to your question, or let me know and I'll give you my email so the picture will get to me. If you have hosted an insect photo on a website, please include the link so I can go look at it and provide a faster ID for you. You may also join my group page on Facebook and post your picture at www.facebook.com/groups/antmans.hill/.

Experience

22+ years' experience as an entomologist: 5 years as a biologist with Merck Animal Health (I was part of the R&D team that worked to develop FrontLine flea and tick products) and 7 years as an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Specialist in San Antonio, Texas with Texas Cooperative Extension.

Publications
Veterinary Parasitology, Southwestern Entomologist, San Antonio Express News, San Antonio Gardener Newsletter, Master Gardener SCION Newsletter, GardenStyleSA e-Newsletter

Education/Credentials
BS - Entomology from Texas A&M University in 1992.

Board Certified Entomologist, 1996-2000 - Medical and Veterinary Entomology Specialty (Entomological Society of America)

Awards and Honors
2000 Texas A&M University Vice Chancellor's Award in Excellence for leadership on the Texas Fire Ant Program Educational Team.

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