“Bugged” by Cicada Killers?

 One source of joy and fascination for grandparents consists of sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm with grandchildren. Knowledge and enthusiasm take diverse forms. Likewise, the abilities and interests of our grandchildren are also diverse. The challenge for grandparents is how to blend their personal abilities and interests with those of grandchildren. 

Your author’s profession as teacher of science in public school has provided some advantages while interacting with grandchildren. He was able to take advantage of “The Science Wow Factor” to fascinate his grands when they visited. His challenge was to avoid overkill, permitting young children to be creative yet safely make science discoveries by themselves. 


A few days ago four grandchildren and “Grandpa” visited our nearby lake for a quick, informal fishing experience on a hot summer day. The success score: three small sunfish/bluegills for two grandsons. The fish were quickly returned to their natural environment—an example of “catch and release” fishing. Afterward we were hiking across the field to our car. Our granddaughter came upon a fascinating event. A cicada killer wasp had captured a dog-day cicada much larger than itself and was energetically dragging it toward its underground burrow. Reference books supply pictures of this natural phenomenon and describe the fascinating sequence of events leading up to the main event. For example, several weeks in advance the female wasp  excavates the underground burrow to a vertical depth of twelve inches, complete with side tunnels. The cicada is hunted, anesthetized with a quick sting, and flown to its underground lair—a challenging aeronautical feat. After the cicada prey is dragged into its subterranean home, the female wasp deposits its egg. The egg hatches, transforms to a larva which feeds on the cicada, then overwinters as a pupa. It emerges as a new generation cicada killer the next summer.

Cicada killers help control the cicada population. Most predatory insects such as wasps are part of the natural system acting to maintain an ecological balance among thousands of various species. In light of the fact that cicada killer wasp males never sting and females rarely if ever sting, we should respectfully leave these animals alone. They are part of a healthy ecological system.  

Wasps inspire both healthy and unhealthy fear in both adults and children. Insects, particularly wasps and bees, are more interested in their own welfare and safety than searching out humans to sting. As Grandpa and four grandchildren observed the wonder of the cicada killer’s amazing feat, I counseled the children not to shrink back or cry out in horror as if to escape a dreadful wasp attack. Rather, they should quietly observe the spectacular natural event. 

The unique behavior of cicada killer wasps is genetically programmed. In researching the meaning of this phrase we discovered a quote highlighting the complexity and mystery of this concept: “Complex behavioral traits…..are influenced by tens if not hundreds of genes, each intersecting with the environment and each other in unpredictable ways.” (Benson, Behavioral genetics, meet molecular biology, 2004). Genetic programming enables the wasp to accomplish multiple survival tasks they did not consciously learn. A catalog of abilities manifest by this singular species of wasps strains credibility!

Beyond the scope of comprehension of our grandchildren, we reference more advanced resources concerning hymenoptera—the biological classification which includes cicada killer wasps. Cicada killers are but one species of wasps. There are 21 species of cicada killer wasps in the world, but only a few in North America. There are more than 30,000 wasp species on Earth. Many articles deal with the unique behaviors of cicada killers. We encourage readers to research the many articles on cicada killer wasps, or any other wondrous wild creatures encountered in your neighborhood.

A final word about hymenoptera, the class of insects to which cicada killers belong. There are 115,000 known species of class hymenoptera in the world: wasps, bees, and ants. Each species possesses stunning genetically programmed functions and behaviors.

Our secular schools possess multiple textbooks on biology. A substantial majority of biology texts tout evolution, but do not mention divine creation as a possible explanatory hypothesis to account for the incredible morphological, functional, and behavioral diversity of millions of species of living things, including this post’s topic du jour, the cicada killer wasp. We quote a passage from an ACS (American Chemical Society) website concerning evolution. It is “…..not a hypothesis but the scientifically accepted explanation of the incontrovertible fact that life and its many forms has changed over the years.” If the ACS article on evolution ended there, we may be able to endorse it. The created world has experienced the appearance of many geologically sudden new forms of life over long periods of planetary time. As conditions changed over vast time periods new forms of animals appeared, examples of “Ongoing Creation.”         

Our blog has described the programmed abilities of many animals, including predation and parasitism. Such features are a source of wonder, not fear. We rejoice in God’s created operational system for our living world, teeming with life. Intuitively, when we examine the intricate design and functional features of living creatures in only one phylum—arthropoda—we sense that these operational features could not have arisen merely by accident without the input of an infinitely intelligent Creator. 

As we studied the world of living things back in the day with our children and grandchildren, I hear myself saying  “God had great ideas!” These were expressions of worship—emotional and intellectual responses to divine natural wonders surrounding us wherever we look.  

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