COLUMN: How to survive gnats

Michele Olson
Jones County Naturalist

It’s hard not to notice the recent hatch of gnats! It seems like these gnats are everywhere – in backyards, gardens, golf courses, parking lots, swimming pools, and fishing holes. It’s sometimes difficult to keep sane with their persistent bombardment on our heads. I’ve had the common questions of “How do I survive this year’s gnats?” We can only do the “gnat dance” for so long… 


Following is a revision of my 2014 article on gnats. 


One of the two types of gnats that are so bothersome right now is the fungus gnat, nonbiting gnats attracted to our eyes, noses, and mouths. These gnats are very annoying and persistent. They complete their life cycle in moist soil and are able to produce two generations per year thus persisting for over a month. We’ve had plenty of moist soil – thus lots of gnats. 


Buffalo gnats, also called black flies, are the “biters.” These are the gnats that appear hump-backed – like a buffalo. Female buffalo gnats need a blood meal for reproduction and are attracted to the carbon dioxide we exhale while breathing. A substance in their saliva causes itchy, irritated and swollen areas at the site of the bite. In some individuals swelling can be severe. Buffalo gnats lay their eggs in water and luckily only produce one generation per year. Thus you will only need to put up with the main hatch for 2-3 weeks in your area. Hopefully we are nearing the end! 


Gnats are a natural part of the food chain and do feed many species of birds, insects, and amphibians but they can also be deadly to some species including poultry, hatchling and nestling birds, and baby wild mammals who cannot escape them. Many chicken and turkey farmers have losses every year due to gnats. This year at Central Park we have had nestlings and adult birds die from gnat bites and suffocation. 


There is no magic solution to gnats – insect repellants made for mosquitoes do little to repel gnats. Those spending a lot of time in the out-of-doors may want to invest in insect head netting worn over your hat, light colored long sleeved shirts, and long pants. Gnats seem to be attracted to dark colors – avoid them if possible. Home remedies and sprays have been used to varying degrees of success including; vanilla sprays, diluted peppermint, eucalyptus or rosemary oil, skin-so-soft, and a variety of other home remedies. Bug Soother, an Iowa product, is available locally at many area stores and contains lemongrass oil and vanilla. Windy days are also helpful at keeping the gnats at bay. 


For many of us it’s just a waiting game. Unfortunately, after the gnats are gone, we can look forward to the mighty mosquito!


Subscriber Login