Gnats can best be described as long-legged, two-winged, small insects, which resemble mosquitoes in appearance. They range in size with an adult gnat measuring anything from 1/8 to 1/10 of an inch. Some species can even grow up to half an inch long.
Although they’re considered weak fliers, gnats are by no means harmless. In fact, when compared to other flies, gnats are one of the peskiest creatures around, especially if they invade your home.
When indoors, gnats will spend most of the time flying around your nose and mouth, and when outdoors, these little creatures will prevent your garden from blooming by stunting the growth of (or completely ruining) your flowers/vegetables.
Table of Contents:
Types of Gnats
All tiny flying insects in the Dipteral suborder Nematocera, especially those in the Anisopodidae, Sciaridae, and Mycetophilidae families, are considered gnats. For this reason, gnats come in multiple types. These include:
Fungus gnats, also called winter gnats are the most common gnat-type within homes. They get their name from the fact that they thrive in damp environments that have decaying matter and feed on microscopic fungi.
Fungus gnats are mostly found in outdoor areas where humidity levels are high or where the soil of an outdoor garden is overwatered or poor at absorbing water.
These types of gnats can also find their way inside your home if you have houseplants or plumbing/roof leaks that have created high moisture spots within the house.
A distinct behavior of fungus gnats is that they are attracted to light. Therefore, you’ll know your home is infested by this type of gnats when you notice tiny-looking flies flying near your windows, light bulb or other source of light.
Known also as eye flies and grass flies, these types of gnats are attracted to the fluids secreted by eyes, nose, or ears of humans and animals. Therefore, you’ll mostly find them hanging out indoors or on farms. These gnats can survive in just about any environment, however, they mostly settle in areas with loose sandy soil.
Buffalo gnats, or black flies as they are commonly known, derive their name from their humpbacked appearance. These gnats appear in late spring and early summer and can thrive anywhere with plenty of flowers, plants, humans, birds, or animals. This is because male buffalo gnats eat nectar while females feed on blood so as to get enough protein to produce eggs.
As the name suggests, sand gnats or sand flies thrive in sandy areas. Therefore, they’re mostly found at beaches, mangrove swamps, coastal lagoons, and tidal flats during warm weather. Sand gnats travel in swarms and are most active during dusk and dawn periods.
Identification: Where Do Gnats Come From?
When the home is suddenly swarmed with flies, the first question most people ask as they’re busy swatting at the insects is where they came from. Well, in the case of gnats, the origin of these flies usually depends on the type of fly you are dealing with.
For instance, fungus gnats are usually found near plants since they lay their eggs in moist soil and feed on the roots of plants. Therefore, if you have any kind of plant in or around your home, fungus gnats will reproduce and fill your home exponentially. Similarly, any other type of non-biting gnat can be found in any freshwater source or a nearby area with damp soil.
Biting gnats, on the other hand, have a much different habitat. When not busy terrorizing you in your own home, the biting species of gnats are usually found in mud, sand, or near decomposing plants.
Lifecycle: How Long Do Gnats Live?
The short life of a gnat can be divided into four stages: egg, larva, pupa adult. First, a female gnat lays hundreds of eggs, which later hatch into larva after 3 or more days depending on the species of the gnat. For example, the hatching process of a buffalo gnat egg can take 4-30 days while the fungus gnat egg hatches into larva after just 3 or 4 days.
To develop, the larva feeds on decaying organic matter, plant roots, or other smaller organisms for about 10 days to 2 weeks. Once fully developed, the larva enters the pupa stage.
The pupa stage lasts for about 1 week to 10 days after which a fully-grown gnat adult emerges. Adult gnats have a fairly short life that lasts for about 1 to 3 weeks. During this time, female gnats lay hundreds of eggs.
Do Gnats Bite? Can They Spread Disease?
If your home is infested with fungus or eye gnats, you’ll be happy to know that biting is not part of the nuisance that the gnats will rein upon your home. However, if you’re dealing with sand or buffalo gnats, you are not as lucky. Female gnats in the buffalo and sand species bite and suck blood from both humans and animals. It’s from this blood that the female gnats get the protein they need to develop eggs.
Unlike mosquitoes which feed by inserting a “snout” into the victim’s skin, female biting gnats use their “mandibles” to cut a hole into the skin. After the cut is made, the female gnats then secrete their saliva, which contains an anti-coagulant chemical into the open wound. The anti-coagulant makes it easier for the gnat to draw blood.
Most of the damage from a gnat bite is caused by the fly’s saliva. The saliva contains allergens that cause red, bumpy, and itchy lesions. This coupled with the severity of the cut made during the bite, sees gnat bites result in a very painful and itchy red welt that is usually accompanied by swelling that will last for several days. The saliva can also transmit several diseases including river blindness, Carisson’s disease, encephalitis, and several viruses and fevers. Victims of gnat bites may also suffer from bacterial infection and allergic reactions to the compounds in the saliva.
Gnats are first noticed when the adult flies are spotted flying around houseplants or converged near a window. By this time, however, it’s probably too late since the female adults will have more than likely laid eggs and therefore any emerged gnats will already be wreaking havoc to plants grown within or around the house. Luckily, there are a number of things that can be done to rid your home of both developing and grown gnats and prevent further infestations.
With the following 2 steps, you’ll be able to effectively reduce the population of gnats in your home.
Step 1: Cut Off Source of Food
As long as gnats have uninhibited exposure to food, they will continue to increase in number. Therefore, the first thing you should do when you notice gnats is to identify and destroy their feeding sources. For the adult gnats, the source of food is likely to be overripe fruit or food that has been left out in the open. So, take all fruit that has been left lying around kitchen countertops or living room table and keep it in the refrigerator to prevent gnats from getting to it. Additionally, throw away all food that is rotting or has gone bad and avoid leaving dirty dishes lying around in the kitchen for extended periods of time.
As for the developing gnats, their source of food is the breeding ground which could be anything from overwatered soil with decaying matter, to swelled wall coverings or peeling paint brought on by moisture, to decaying weeds or dying organic matter. So, identify the breeding area and destroy it.
If it is issues with drainage, then have a plumber come over and fix it. If the breeding source is overwatered soil in a pot/garden, stop watering and allow the top soil to completely dry.
Whatever the breeding site, find it and destroy it or clean and dry it. Once the breeding site is destroyed, the developing gnats will all die allowing you to proceed to the next step.
Step 2: Employ Gnat Elimination Techniques
Destroying the breeding grounds and cutting off food supply only serves to prevent further growth of the flies. Therefore, you will still have to deal with the individual adults you may have seen flying in or around the house.
The following are some effective gnat removal techniques that you can use:
Vacuum Around The Infested Area
It has been proven that vacuuming can kill the adult gnats and their eggs. So, one simple way of ridding your home of gnats is vacuuming around the area where the flies are converged. If you are not sure of where the gnats are coming from, simply vacuum every corner of your house as well as over cracks in walls, floors, window panels, ceilings, etc.
Spray Your Plants and Home
For many years, insect sprays have been effectively used to kill all manner of household pests ranging from mosquitoes to flies. So, there’s no reason why they should not work on gnats. In fact, there are plenty of gnat-killing sprays and pesticides in the market from which to choose. Get one and spray it directly onto the gnats themselves or in the areas where the flies mostly inhabit.
As an alternative, you can make your very own natural, toxic-free gnat spray. The great thing about a homemade spray is that it will kill the gnats without causing damage to plants or irritating those inside the home.
A couple of squirts of lemon-scented dish soap along with water mixed in a spray bottle should be strong enough to kill gnats. A combination of peppermint, cinnamon, and sesame oil will also make an effective, non-toxic gnat spray.
Prepare a Trap
Another simple way of ridding your home of a gnat infestation is making your own gnat trap. Not only is this elimination technique cheap and easy to do, but it can be done in several ways, the best of which is a vinegar trap.
Gnats are extremely attracted to the smell of vinegar, which therefore makes it excellent bait for a trap.
For this trap, you will need some vinegar (apple cider vinegar works best), 3-4 drops of dishwashing liquid (or any type of liquid soap), a small bowl, and enough water to fill the bowl.
Mix the ingredients well, pour the mixture into the bowl, and place the bowl in an area where you see the most gnats. The vinegar serves the purpose of drawing the gnats to the bowl while the soap takes away the water’s surface tension. Therefore, the gnats will literally drown shortly after landing on the liquid mixture.
Other possible traps include:
- Mix red wine and dish soap in a small container. Make 0.5cm holes on a piece of cardboard and place it over the container. The smell of the solution will attract gnats while the cardboard will prevent any gnats that manage to break free from the solution from escaping.
- Add chopped bananas or a banana peel in a jar whose lid has very small holes. Punch the holes such that they will be narrow on the inner side of the lid but slightly larger on the top. The smell of the fruit will draw the gnats in while the small holes will make it difficult for the flies to get out.
- You also have the option of buying a ready-made gnat trap such as the Gnat Stix. Some of the ready-made gnat traps prevent the flies from being a nuisance almost instantly. These sprays are designed to trap gnats moments after emerging from soil. With such traps, you will not have to rely on pesticides to get rid of gnats and you will also get to keep the inside of your home a gnat-free zone.
Invest In An Electric Fly Exploder
Electric fly exploders offer an easy, effective, clean, and convenient way to kill gnats, whereby you can simply sit back and watch the flies drop dead. These electric devices work by emitting ultra violet light sources, which lure a wide range of insects including gnats into an electrically charged metal grid. The metal grid electrocutes insects upon impact and the bodies fall into a removable tray at the bottom of the unit.
The beauty of electric fly exploders is that they can be used to kill gnats in and around the home as the devices come in indoor and outdoor models.
Clear Your Sink Drains
If a fault in the drainage system is the cause of your gnat infestation, you can be sure that some of the flies will have made it to your sink drains and possibly laid some eggs. In order to kill gnats, along with their eggs, try pouring a small amount of ammonia (200 -230ml should be enough) into all sinks in the house. Ammonia has a foul smell that is toxic to both developing and adult gnats and will therefore remove all traces of the gnats.
As an alternative to ammonia, you can pour vegetable/olive oil, diluted bleach, or 2 tablespoons of baking soda followed by a cup of white vinegar down the drain.
If you choose to use ammonia or diluted bleach, allow these liquids to dilute for several hours before using the sink especially if you are dealing with a kitchen sink. This is because ammonia and bleach are both toxic to humans. And as an additional precautionary measure, make sure to wash the sink before using it.
Gnats thrive in moist conditions that have an abundance of decaying matter and fungi. So, the best way to keep these little flies away from your home is to prevent these conditions from developing. This can be done through the following ways:
- Collect all rotting plant debris around your home and throw them as far away from your home as possible
- Get rid of moist grass clippings immediately after using a lawn mower
- Avoid adding excessive amounts of fertilizer when using organic materials similar to manure or blood meal
- Avoid overwatering your plants. A general rule of thumb is to allow the top layer of soil to dry between watering.
- Make sure the soil outside your home drains properly before you start a garden
- Conduct regular garden inspections and watch out for things like mold, fungus, & rotting matter
- Make sure there are no areas with standing water in & out of your home
- Keep birdbaths and all outdoor water fixtures clean
- Watch out for wet wood and other moisty conditions that can attract gnats indoors
- Keep your trash covered at all times
- Ensure that your roof drainage, plumbing, and irrigations systems are operating properly
Although the small size of gnats make them appear a less serious threat as pests, these flies infest areas in swarms and reproduce so quickly that a plant can host all egg, larva, pupa, and adult life stages of the fly in multiple generations at the same time. Therefore, if not dealt with immediately, gnats can easily become a huge problem to any homeowner. That is why you should act quickly and implement any of the above elimination methods, the minute you notice a gnat flying in or around your home.
Alternatively, if you live in an area with a high risk of being swarmed by gnats, make sure to take all necessary precautionary measures to keep these pesky little flies from invading your home.