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OSU’s Professor Wyatt Hoback endures wasp sting to engage students

Students in Wyatt Hoback’s ENTO 2003 Insects and Society class have an opportunity to closely observe a cicada killer during his lecture. (Photo by Todd Johnson, Agricultural Communications Services)

By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter

OKLAHOMA CITY – In order to keep his students engaged during in his lectures, one Oklahoma State University (OSU) professor will even endure a little pain.

This semester, students in Wyatt Hoback’s class – ENTO 2003 Insects and Society – watched nervously as he intentionally let a cicada killer sting his arm as part of a recent classroom demonstration.

According to Hoback, a cicada killer, or Sphecius speciosus, is a large, solitary wasp common to Oklahoma. It is not an Asian giant hornet, or Vespa mandarinia, which has dominated news headlines and social media recently as a non-native species with a bad reputation.

Hoback addressed the confusion during a classroom presentation.

“The best way to educate students that videos they see online of the ‘worst pain ever’ often are dramatized,” said Hoback, associate professor in OSU’s Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology.

“The sting of a cicada killer is surprisingly mild,” Hoback added. “It feels a little electrical and hot, but not as bad as a regular bee sting, and the pain only lasts about 10 minutes.”

Teaching at OSU for the last six years, Hoback said he stings himself nearly every semester as part of his teaching method.

“Insects are animals, too, but many people fear or dislike insects because they’re afraid of the unknown,” he said. “Doing things like letting myself get stung allows students to better understand the fascinating natural world and begin to ask questions.”

While there have been a handful of Asian giant hornet sightings in Washington state this year, Hoback said thousands of additional potential sightings have been ruled out. 

“The eastern cicada killer is very large and occurs around houses and yards,” Hoback said. “It nests in the ground where there is loose soil. It hunts cicadas and drags them back to its nest.  Some other species look more similar to the Asian giant hornet including the European hornet which occurs in extreme eastern Oklahoma and forms nests in trees, like the Asian giant hornet.

Hoback says it is important to understand how cicada killers are different from the murder hornets. Cicada killers specifically sting cicadas and use them to raise their offspring, while a murder hornet is smaller but attacks many kinds of insects and feeds them to its offspring, he pointed out.

“The Asian giant hornet has a large bright yellow head,” he continued. “The abdomen of the hornet consists of prominent yellow stripes while the cicada killer abdomen is mostly dark with broken yellow patches.”

Entomology and Plant Pathology Department Head Phil Mulder says that Hoback does a tremendous job with his students.

“He uses everything at his disposal to engage the students in his class,” Mulder said. “He is a godsend to our department and to our major. He has helped me grow the major from three students to now nearly 80 students. He definitely goes above and beyond for the students in his classes. He’s truly a great professor.”

Hoback stated, “It’s good to keep an eye out for these things, because identifying them quickly can help state agencies prevent damage to habitats. But we still haven’t had a sighting in Oklahoma of the Asian giant hornet and hopefully it stays that way.”

To learn more, visit Additional information and news content are available at Oklahoma State University Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

Associate Professor Wyatt Hoback keeps his students interested by bringing live specimens to class for them to observe as he intentionally lets the insect sting his arm as part of his demonstration. (Photo by Todd Johnson, Agricultural Communications Services)
In this picture, ‘A’ is the murder hornet, ‘B’ the European hornet, and ‘C’ is the cicada killer.” OSU Website photo

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