So one day you go into your kitchen and you find out that you have company. Your presence stirs up the flight of a bunch of tiny flying insects.
Some are black.
Some have bright red eyes and stripes.
Where did the gnats come from? Are they just passing through or are they here to stay? It’s hard to give a definitive answer, but if you are seeing lots of gnats in your home, there is a good chance they will not leave on their own.
Read on for a more detailed answer.
They’re Gnat What You Think
The name “gnat” is reserved for a specific species of small flying insects. But just about anything tiny with wings is referred to as such.
Gnats are small and black or dark brown insects with thin wings. To the untrained eye, they look like tiny flies, but what you’re looking at are actually full-grown adult insects.
There are two basic types of gnats, the kind that bite and the kind that don’t. The ones that usually set up camp in your home with you are the ones that don’t bite.
Species of Gnats Encountered by Homeowners
Fungus gnats are tiny and black, and they’re attracted to plants and decaying organic material.
Fruit flies are easy to spot because of their red eyes. They’re small and brown and typically have stripes on their abdomen. They are particularly fond of ripe or rotten fruit and vegetables.
Phorid flies have a similar appearance to fruit flies but they have black eyes and they walk in a zigzag motion.
Drain flies resemble tiny moths. Some people call them moth flies. As the name suggests, they have an affinity for setting up home in drains.
These aren’t the bugs that you will probably deal with inside your own home, but this short list illustrates how broad of a term gnat is used in the insect world.
If you live in the United States and you found yourself attacked by dozens of small insects that try to get in your ears, then congratulations. You’ve met the Buffalo Gnat.
The name is earned from their humpback appearance. But they’re actually Black Flies. They’re bloodsuckers and they’re trying to get to blood vessels that are close to the surface.
Eye Gnats are just as irritating as their name sounds. The adult female will doggedly attempt get into eyes and wounds, which behavior distinguishes these gnats from any other small flies that don’t care to get into the eyes of other animals.
While they’re attracted to animals to feed, they cannot make wounds to feed on blood, and this also sets them apart from the many other small flies that do bite, such as biting midges and black flies.
They might kamikaze headlong into your eyes, but they’re not capable of biting. Their mouthparts only allow them to sponge up moisture.
In some rare cases, they are capable of transmitting diseases.
What Causes Gnats to Come Into Your Home?
Gnats are tiny creatures, smaller than most mosquitoes. So it’s no stretch of the imagination to say that gnats can easily pass through your house without you noticing. It’s not so much a question of how is it that they’re getting inside your house as it is a question of why they’ve decided to settle down and live with you.
Gnats are attracted to moisture and decaying organic material, which is why you’ll notice more gnats during the warm season. The smell of ripe or rotten fruit will attract gnats that are searching for food in a place to proliferate.
If you haven’t taken out the trash for several days or you’ve got fruit that’s rotting, those are flags for gnats to stop their search for a good home.
Even if you keep a clean home, the presence of moisture can be enough to attract certain species of gnats. Fungus gnats, for example, are perfectly comfortable living in soil. If you have a lot of house plants, you have a lot of potential homes for them.
Aside from rotting fruit and table scraps, fruit flies also have an affinity for alcohol. Old beer cans and wine bottles will signal them to come hither.
What Causes Gnats to Leave?
Part of the good news is that you’re not dealing with a terribly resilient house guest. Unless the infestation is absolutely insane, it can be as simple as removing what attracted them.
Since fungus gnats reproduce and live in the soil alongside your indoor houseplants, (and yes they’re more than happy to feast on any fungi or fuzzy mold that might form in the soil), a little upkeep on your plants might be called for.
Is there any dead plant matter in the pot, such as dead leaves? Dispose of them promptly. If either fungi or mold are to be found, replace the pot interior components, the soil, or both. If the root of the plant itself is rotted, it may be in your best interest to replace the whole plant.
Fruit flies might be the easiest to evict. If there’s any rotten or overripe fruit in the kitchen, find it and throw it away.
Fruit flies can easily make a life in a garbage can, so tie the garbage bag so that it’s airtight. Properly close the trash can to keep them from getting inside the trash can and establishing a colony. Wherever the smell of trash is, that’s where fruit flies will go.
Phorid flies might be trickier just because their presence indicates that you have a moisture problem. And such problems can be invisible. These gnats can only breed where there’s water or dampness, such as in drains or anywhere else in your home there may be a leak.
Take the time to wipe down the exterior of your pipes and also set aside the funds to fix any leaks. Fill and cover any openings and crevices that aren’t part of the home’s design.
Drain flies or moth flies can reproduce in just 48 hours, so don’t be surprised if you go from having no gnats in your house to having a full-blown infestation. But with a little diligence, you can stop moth flies with basic products or pantry items around the house and take preemptive measures to stop them in the future.
You’ll discourage moth flies when you eliminate moist, slimy environments that encourage them to lay their eggs. This calls for getting rid of any wet mops and mop buckets, any elements of compost that might be in the house, storm drains with standing water, wet areas around the garbage, barns, or birdbaths.
Are Gnats Harmful to Humans?
Fruit flies can be a potential hazard to humans, but not in the ways you might imagine. They certainly don’t bite and they don’t sting. I mean, their food consists of rotting fruit and vegetable matter.
So they aren’t going to bite you and suck your blood, but since their food is decaying organic material then their little feet are Petri dishes of germs. Whatever they land on gets exposed to the germs that they carry.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you’re going to catch the plague if you find fruit flies in your home. But it does mean that you shouldn’t let them enjoy a long-term tenancy.
Fungus gnats might be the most harmless little creatures on this list. They don’t bite and they don’t carry diseases and they don’t feast on anything with a high concentration of germs. So at their worst, fungus gnats are merely a nuisance, swarming up in great numbers when you come around.
The danger the fungus gnats do pose, however, is towards your house plants. When the larva hatch, they don’t discriminate between decaying organic material and the roots of your plants. There’s also the slim chance that they could spread a group of plant pathogens that cause “damping off” in seedlings.
Phorid flies are dangerous the same way that the common household fly is dangerous: they don’t discriminate about what they eat, consuming feces and laying their eggs on it.
What makes these gnats more of a health hazard is they’re small enough to get into hospitals, restaurants, and food processing facilities. They’re known for contaminating food and food prep areas and have been responsible for more than one wound developing maggots.
Drain flies are not harmful to humans. As gross as it is that they consume and nest in sewage and bacteria, they are not disease-carrying insects. There’s no reason to believe that they pose any harm to your health. They’re more of a bother than anything else. Just don’t get careless and let them reproduce, seeing how a single drain fly can lay 300 eggs in a 48-hour period.
There’s the offhand chance that they could pose a risk to your drains. Between their prolific numbers and their egg-laying, there’s a chance that they could end up clogging a pipe.
Are Gnats Harmful to Pets?
Phorid flies are a clear and present danger to your pets. If your pet has an open wound, they can lay eggs in it and cause your pet to develop an infection in their blood, and these kinds of infections are nothing to take lightly.
They can threaten the health of the pet, especially if the animal is older and has a weekend immune system. It might be a problem that your pet might not be able to fight off and could call for expensive antibiotics.
Fruit flies, moth flies, and fungus gnats do not pose any measurable threat to your furbabies.
Well okay, there is a small exception. But it applies to only a few corners of the world.
If you happen to live in Portugal, Bosnia, Herzegovina, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary, there’s a chance that a fruit fly could expose your pet to a parasite that attacks the eye.
Dogs seem to be the most prone to it, although technically any creature with eyes are vulnerable to the parasite.
Fruit flies will get their moisture however they can get it, even if it means trying to drink the tears of an animal. If a fruit fly happens to be carrying a larva of the parasite, that’s when it’s dropped off.
The symptoms of eyeworm include red and sore eyes, swollen eyes, mucus around the eye, excessive watering in the eyes, eye ulcers, and visual impairment. In some cases, you might be able to see the worm on the eye. It’s not pretty.
Should I Call an Exterminator?
In theory, a gnat infestation could become so severe that a call to the exterminator could be justified. But that would represent an insect presence of an enormous magnitude. As in wall-to-wall roosting throughout the entire house, to the point that you couldn’t step anywhere, sit anywhere, or lay your hands anywhere without coming into contact with any of these tiny insects.
If things were to truly reach that point, calling an exterminator would be treating the symptom and not the condition. Priority should be given to eliminating what has drawn the gnats and allowed them to flourish in the first place.
Unless your kitchen is full of decaying vegetables and fruit or has an abundance of standing water that never dries up because of unusually bad leaks, a gnat infestation should never become so severe that you need to call for outside help.
Many exterminators will offer free advice on how to eliminate the problem rather than take your hard-earned money for such a simple problem.
Getting Rid of Gnats Without Calling an Exterminator
Consider using sticky traps. Sticky traps are good for anything that flies, and gnats are no exception. Garden centers and nurseries have them readily available. The yellow traps can be cut to size and placed closer to where your gnat friends like to hang out.
You can mix a repellent at home that can be sprayed on gnats. In a spray bottle of your choosing, combine a few drops of dish detergent, 1 tbsp. of vinegar per cup of water, and 1 tbsp of baking soda per cup of water. Spray it wherever gnats are hanging out, like around your houseplants, in the bathroom, and so forth.
If you’re feeling especially aggressive, you can upgrade the spray into a gnat killer. You mix a tsp of dish detergent, ½ cup each both of isopropyl alcohol and water and put it all into a spray or spritz bottle. Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes. Oh wait… nevermind.
Apple cider vinegar is a key ingredient in making a gnat death pit. Combining the vinegar with small amounts of dish detergent and sugar will create an aroma that gnats can’t resist but that they also won’t survive. It would be good to change the trap out every couple of days to keep the luring aroma potent.
You can also create traps that cause the gnats to trap and kill themselves. Gnats have a talent for getting into it in closed spaces but not being able to get out. So all you need is some rotting fruit and place it in container such as a jar or bowl and then cover it with plastic wrap.
It’s as easy as puncturing the plastic wrap with a sewing needle or a pin. The fruit causes the gnats to find their way into the trap through the holes, but for some reason, they’re not smart enough to find their way out.
The gnats that you’re dealing with might not have an appetite for rotting fruit, such as in the case of moth flies. Then all you need is diluted bleach. A cup of watered-down bleach poured into the drains will effectively lower their numbers.
You can also set up a poor man’s bug zapper. All you need is a candle some darkness and some patience. Set up a candle. Realistically, any candle will do. Light the candle and turn off the lights. In just a few seconds, the gnats will start to fly towards the flame where they will immolate themselves.
BTI is a naturally occurring fungus that is kryptonite to gnat larvae. You can apply it over your potted plants repeatedly for gnat control. It’s non-toxic to humans and can be purchased at most nurseries.
Gnatsta La Vista…
If you suddenly find yourself accompanied by any one of these species of gnats, don’t fret. A little diligence and a little cleanup will go a long way towards eliminating the problem without having to spend a great deal of money.
Like any living thing, their presence will be discouraged if they are deprived of food, water, and shelter. If you’re not in the habit of taking the trash out daily, doing so will eliminate a big source of all three of those essentials.
You might even quietly thank your winged pests for alerting you to leaks and hidden defects you might have never found on your own.
You shouldn’t have to worry about eliminating them from the outdoor area, since they are another instance of nature’s sanitation workers. The rotting fruit that leaves your kitchen gets turned into compost and nourishing soil once it leaves your home, thanks partially to gnats.
It will be sufficient to eliminate the presence from your home instead.
See below for more on gnats & co.
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