Abundance of gnats creates summertime headache

Abundance of gnats creates summertime headache

Can’t go outside without the pesky little flies also known as gnats surrounding your head and flying into your eyes?

The Valley Breeze spoke with insect specialists to find out why there seems to be such an an abundance of gnats in Rhode Island this year.

URI entomology research associate Andrew Radin described the abundance of gnats this year as a “fluky cyclical thing.”

“There’s nothing weird about it. Sometimes there is an emergence all at once,” Radin said.

University of Rhode Island professor of insect identification Steven Alm said there are several flying insects identified as gnats in southern New England.

He said the “approved common name” of gnats includes black flies, midges, fungus flies, deerflies and no-see-ums. Depending on the species, the insect may focus on flying toward the head, while others go down for the ankles. While not all gnats bite, all are nuisances, he said.

“We don’t know why they go to certain parts of the body,” Alm said.

He said different types of gnats come out at different times of the year. Hence the seemingly endless supply of the little flies despite having a short life cycle.

There are various species of gnats, said Radin, so the abundance this summer is most likely from different species maturing from larva and coming out to mate. He said life cycles vary from species to species.

Usually, he said, short-lived species reproduce in large numbers. His educated guess is that more than one species is maturing rather than one species producing more than one generation this year.

Radin said the most active season for gnats is often late June and into July. He said earlier wet weather could be the cause for the continued occurrence of the pesky bugs. Many gnat larvae are aquatic, Radin said, and propagate in areas near bodies of water.

Radin said to be careful not to try to wipe out the gnats in the neighborhood. He said gnats are very important to the ecosystem. Water life feeds off the gnats and larvae, which in turn feed the fowl, who in turn feed larger animals.

“All these creatures make up the ecosystem. It’s all part of a very complex web. If we start removing them, all of these things could get altered,” Radin said.

Treating bodies of water, specifically, is harmful to the environment, Radin said.

“We’re the ones that are invading. They were here first,” he said.

While Radin suggests a grin-and-bear-it approach to the little flies, Kara Maggiacomo, owner of the Mosquito Squad, said there are ways to remove the bugs from unwanted areas.

She said she’s seen an abundance of fungus gnats, a non-biting flying insect that develops in fertile, moist soil.

Maggiacomo said a hot and wet July produced the perfect environment for breeding.

Maggiacomo offered a few suggestions on how to decrease the gnat population in a yard. She said always let grass completely dry out between watering and clean up and put leaf debris and clipping on the curb. She said leaving moist trimmings or throwing clippings in a pile out back creates an incubator for fly development.

She said stopping gnats from invading your space is a fight against nature, and one that isn’t easily won. Gnats aren’t bothered by bug repellant, she said. Lavender and citronella also don’t work in keeping them away.

Worst of all, Maggiacomo said many of the gnats are attracted to water, and will fly toward sweating people in the heat of the summer.

“Gnats are a continuous flier, so trying to get them in the air is pretty much out,” Maggiacomo said.

She said the best bet is to try to stop them at all life cycles. Steps to accomplish this include drying out mulch beds, dumping standing water, and raking up and removing weeds. In other words, “typical yard maintenance.”

She also recommended an oscillating fan on outdoor decks to prevent gnats from coming around.

“That will help with any flying insects in general,” she said.