What Are Gnats?

What is that tiny bug that keeps buzzing around your eyes, nose and ears? The one that’s so annoying you think you just might lose your mind. It could be flies or mosquitoes, but this one is even smaller. If that’s the case, it may be those pesky little gnats. So, what are gnats? A closer look will help answer the question.

Gnats 101. Gnats are small flies in the suborder Nematocera that includes midges, crane flies and mosquitoes. They are often confused with many other types of flying insects. Because of their small size, they are commonly referred to as ‟no-see-ums.” Some of the more common species include fungus gnats, black gnats, drain flies, midges, sand flies and fruit flies.

Gnat anatomy. Gnats are considered ‟true” insects because they have three body segments (the head, thorax and abdomen), six legs and either one or two pairs of wings. Most species have long legs in comparison to the size of their body, and although they have wings, most are weak fliers. They have mouthparts that are defined by one of three categories – sucking, lapping or piercing. Some gnats bite and feed on blood, while some feed on other insects or plant material.

Bad behavior. Like them or not, gnats serve a valuable role in nature. They are an important food source for birds, bats and other insects. Some species also pollinate flowers. On the other hand, some species spread disease and carry parasites.

Fungus gnats. This insect is a common indoor pest that is typically found in or around over-watered potted plants. Fungus gnats are tiny flies, less than one-half of an inch in length, and are mostly black in color. They have long legs and long, thin wings. These flies thrive in temperatures of 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. They reproduce in decaying organic matter that is moist and shaded.

Drain flies. Sometimes known as the moth fly, these insects are small, less than one-fourth of an inch in length, with a hairy body and wings that give them a ‟furry” appearance. The adults have long antennae and broad wings that are shaped like a leaf. They are usually found in bathrooms, kitchens and other damp environments. Appropriately named, these flies lay their eggs inside of sink drains. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on bacteria inside the pipes where organic matter, such as hair, tends to collect.

Midges. These flying insects closely resemble mosquitoes. However, they have a much shorter snout and the wings are feathered on the females and bushy on the males. They are soft-bodied and range in length from one-thirty second of an inch to 1 inch. They tend to congregate in large swarms near ponds, lakes or slow moving streams. Midges are attracted to light and often found around porch lights or streetlights. The swarms can be so large that they can be a traffic hazard.

Sand flies. Sand flies are golden, brown or gray, depending on the species. They are very small flying insects – only about one-sixteenth of an inch in length – but don’t let their small size fool you. These flies possess a painful bite that feels more like a sting. Their bite can cause redness and swelling in the affected area. Sand flies are native to tropical or subtropical regions of the world. Females have piercing mouthparts and feed on the blood of mammals. There are six species found in the United States, none of which are known to carry disease. In other parts of the world, however, they have been known to transmit a virus known as sand fly fever. This virus is similar to dengue, but is very rarely fatal.

Black gnats. Although there is not an insect that is actually classified as a black gnat, many people may use this term to describe a variety of flying insects. Phorid flies, black flies and fungus gnats are just a few of the either black or dark-colored flies that could be misidentified in this way.

No matter what types of gnats are bothering you, there is a solution to the problem. Call Terminix® today and let them help you find the answers.