Which is more dangerous: giant wasp or fuzzy yellow caterpillar?

 wasp on top of cicada

Since I’ve moved to Brooklyn I’ve been seeing a lot of an enormous wasp–like two inches long with a black and yellow stinger that looks like it could hurt a bear. A couple weeks ago, when I went to a Brooklyn Forest School class in Prospect Park with my daughter Ginger. Our leader Jane showed me how these huge insects seemed to swarm out of a nearby hillside.

This week in class, Jane told me in wonder how she had seen one fly off with a cicada. That’s like me carrying a hog around. Then we got to see it: one of these huge bees or wasps–we weren’t sure which–dragged a struggling cicada across our dirt classroom. Some screamed, some speculated, some, like me, took pictures.

A quick search helped me figure out that the cicada hunting was not an anomaly. The species Sphecius speciosus is known as the Cicada Killers because that’s what they do. They’re from a tribe  of wasps known as that eat other insects (and a little bit of nectar). The females dig long burrows–sometimes cooperatively–with a bunch of caves at the end. Then, they go hunt cicadas. Their sting paralyzes the big bugs, sometimes in flight. They may climb up a tree then jump to get closer to their hole, a recent fawning article in The Atlantic noted. Or the wasps just drag the cicadas there. Then they lay an egg on it and seal up the paralyzed cicada, which the larvae will eat.

In one season a female wasp lives only a couple months but kills about 160 cicadas, the NC folks say. Which is nice, if you like trees. And, no, they don’t have to wait 17 years; they’re targeting the annual cicadas.

The Cicada Killer we saw was was struggling to sting the beetle. I saw her shoot some liquid behind her, which I presumed was a miss. People don’t have to worry about getting stung unless they step on the wasps barefoot or catch them by hand, the NC Cooperative Extension says. Maybe not even that. “I’ve done abominable things to these animals, and I’ve never had one try to sting me,” cicada killer expert Chuck Holliday told The Atlantic.  Stonybrook calls them “gentle giants.”

don't touch me

Cute but toxic Dagger Moth 

Oddly, in the same spot off the Long Meadow we saw a fluffy yellow caterpillar up in a tree. Who would have thought that this insect was the real danger? Turns out this fantastic looking bug, which just about any kid would let crawl on them, will cause a painful rash. It’s an American Dagger Moth–named because of it’s dagger-like teeth. It’s only fun looking in this stage; when it grows up it is about the most plain looking mottled brown moth you’ll ever see.




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