three murder hornets on a tree branch

Cicada killers vs. Northern giant hornets

Despite the fact that northern giant hornet, formerly known as the Asian giant hornet, activity has only occurred in two areas – northwest Washington state and British Columbia – people across North America continue to report “murder hornet” sightings. And, the season for stinging insect activity has just begun.

At a glance, it’s difficult to tell the difference between stinging insects; especially when they’re buzzing about, extra-large in size, and somewhat intimidating. This is why so many people are mistakenly identifying larger species of hornets, such as the cicada killer, for the murder hornet. 

To avoid misidentifications and ease peoples’ fears that murder hornets have not migrated to their state, Ehrlich’s entomologists have provided you with some helpful key differences that don’t require you to get up close and personal with either of these giants.

Key differences between the cicada killer and the murder hornet

When these insects are flying, it can be hard to see their distinct colors and patterns. But when they’re not, you should easily be able to identify the features that set them apart. 

In the images below, you will notice that the cicada killer has broken bands of yellow that stand out against its black abdomen and a small brown head. The murder hornet has solid bands of brown and orange on its abdomen and a large orange head.

Habitat, behavior, sting threat, and more

Besides the differences in their coloring and patterns, there are several other important factors that set these two stinging pests apart.

Cicada killerMurder hornet
HabitatNests are built underground in areas that offer well-drained soil, full exposure to the sun, and near cicada-harboring trees.Nests are built underground, oftentimes using abandoned animal tunnels and burrows or near decaying tree roots. 
Seasonearly July – mid AugustJune – September
Size1 ½ inch long1 ½ to 2 inches long
ColorAmber-colored wings, legs, and thorax; small brown head; black abdomen with broken yellow bands Amber-colored wings; bright orange head; black thorax; alternating bands of orange and brown on abdomen
BehaviorFemales 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 and can often be seen hovering above lawns.These social insects live in large colonies made up of a queen, workers, and drones.
Sting ThreatThe 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.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.
LocationStates with a steady source of annual cicadas: Eastern U.S., east of the Rockies and Western U.S.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.
PreventionTo deter them from building nests in your yard, keep soil damp and packed down, mulch planting beds, and keep grass on the longer side.This species has not become established. In Washington state, you can report sightings or submit photos to the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

Brood X cicadas and cicada killers

If you’re in a state that is experiencing the Brood X cicada emergence of 2021, there’s no need to worry about swarms of cicada killers invading your town. Cicada killers will only go after annual cicadas that emerge every year. Learn more about Brood X cicadas.

Avoid the sting

It may seem like a good idea to blast a wasp or hornet nest from afar, using an over-the-counter spray, but more often than not, this approach backfires. Every year, stinging insects send more than 500,000 people to the hospital. Avoid your risk of being stung by calling a pest control professional for help.

Ehrlich: Your stinging insect control experts

If you have issues with stinging insect activity in or around your home, contact us online or call 888-984-0186. We can safely remove hives, 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. Ehrlich Technicians are licensed to handle all types of stinging insect issues, big or small.

Tiffany Tenley

As a Marketing Content Manager, Tiffany has come to love and appreciate the diverse and complex world of pests—good, bad and ugly. Not only does she research and write about them, she admits to having eaten a few crickets on some cheese-laden nachos. When she's not working, Tiffany enjoys spending time with her family, exploring new restaurants, concert-going, reading, writing and traveling.



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