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Cicada killer or Northern giant hornet?

In 2019, Washington state and British Columbia’s claim to fame was the discovery of the northern giant hornet, (formerly Asian giant hornet), aka the “murder hornet.” As a result, fears of this deadly, honey bee decapitating species of wasp, migrating to other states, began to grow. And, to make matters worse, the cicada killer wasp as well as other large species of wasps were all being mistaken for murder hornets, adding to the confusion.

The main difference between cicada killer wasps and northern giant hornets is that northern giant hornets feature an orange head, are social insects, and are way more aggressive. But it's often difficult to tell at first glance so people tend to be afraid of all types of wasps.

In an effort to avoid the “murder hornet” frenzy this season, Western Exterminator is calling out a few key differences that’ll set harmless cicada killers and notorious murder hornets apart. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with some of them, and rest assured that murder hornets probably won’t be moving into your neighborhood anytime soon. And if you’re seeing wasps around your property, learn about our wasp control services to protect your family.

How the cicada killer and murder hornet look different

The cicada killer has bright yellow broken bands and a solid black abdomen. Its head is brown with a yellow patch on the front of its face. 

The murder hornet’s head is large and orange — its most distinguishing feature. It also has solid bands of brown around its orange abdomen.

Comparison of orange and black striped murder hornets and a yellow and black cicada killer wasp

Cicada killers vs. murder hornets

In addition to visual differences, there are several other factors that differentiate cicada killers from murder hornets such as their habitats, the time of the year when they’re most active, their behavior, and their geographic location.

Cicada killer

Habitat - Nests are built underground in areas that offer well-drained soil, full exposure to the sun, and near cicada-harboring trees.

Season - early July – mid August

Size -  1 ½ inch long

Color - Amber-colored wings, legs, and thorax; small brown head; black abdomen with broken yellow bands 

Behavior - Females are solitary (no queen, workers or drones) and don’t instinctively protect their nests. Males do not have a stinger, but they will show aggressive behavior.

Threat - The risk of a person being stung is very low. They will sting and paralyze annual cicadas, using them as food for their developing larvae. Unlike murder hornets, cicada killers are not a threat to honey bees, people, or other insects.

Location - States with a steady source of annual cicadas. Eastern U.S., east of the Rockies and Western U.S.

Prevention - To deter them from building nests in your yard, keep soil damp and packed down, mulch planting beds, and keep grass on the longer side.

Murder hornet

Habitat - Nests are built underground, oftentimes using abandoned animal tunnels and burrows or near decaying tree roots.

Season - June – September

Size - 1 ½ to 2 inches long

Color - Amber-colored wings; bright orange head; black thorax; alternating bands of orange and brown on abdomen

Behavior - These social insects live in large colonies made up of a queen, workers, and drones.

Threat - If you get near a nest, your risk of being stung is high. The ¼-inch stinger can easily penetrate through thick protective material, making them especially dangerous to people. Murder hornets are notorious for decimating honey bee populations.

Location - Not established in the U.S. In 2019 two were discovered in Northwest Washington state and a colony was found and destroyed in British Columbia.

Prevention - This species has not become established. In Washington state, you can report sightings or submit photos to the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

Avoid being stung

The best way to avoid being stung is to avoid stinging insects altogether. Stinging insects send more than 500,000 people to the hospital every year. For the safest removal of any type of nest, call a pest control professional for help.

Western Exterminator can help with stinging insects

If you have issues with wasp activity in or around your home, Contact us online or call 866-623-9842. We can safely remove nests, apply treatments to prevent them from coming back, and seal up any holes or entry points where they may be gaining access to the inside of your home.

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