(04/17/20) BATON ROUGE, La. — One of the small pleasures people are trying to enjoy during this COVID-19 crisis is the spring weather. But an influx of gnats is making it increasingly more difficult to even do this.
These pests are known by several different names, including turkey gnats or buffalo gnats. They are members of the black fly family and usually start to show up in early spring.
Boyd Causey lives in West Feliciana Parish, and he is battling an infestation for the second consecutive year.
“I finally bought netting to wear to keep them out of my face,” Causey said. “Last year, we were able to sit underneath the carport to avoid them somewhat. This year, there is no safe place.”
Another factor adding to people’s misery is the gnats are active throughout the day, unlike mosquitoes that are most active early in the morning and near dusk.
While their bites can be annoying, the gnats are not a major pathogen transmitter to humans as compared with mosquitoes, according to LSU AgCenter medical entomologist Kristen Healy.
“Turkey gnat bites are really irritating to people,” Healy said. “Our biggest concern is simuliotoxicosis in birds.”
This condition can be a concern for people who own poultry. In 2010, more than 200 birds died in 17 parishes across the state. Experts blamed the deaths on strikes from black flies.
There have been documented cases where the gnat infestation was so intense that it caused asphyxiation in livestock.
Sebe Brown, an LSU AgCenter entomologist at Dean Lee Research and Extension Center in Alexandria, said black flies tend to avoid enclosed or roofed areas such as carports and barns. Eluding them in open areas is nearly impossible, however.
“Products that have either DEET or Picaridin can provide a limited amount of protection from gnats,” Brown said of popular insect repellents. “They are very good for mosquitoes. There’s just no silver bullet for gnats.”
Some people have used products containing naturally-derived ingredients such as citrus or vanilla, which may contain some repellent properties. Brown said no scientific research supports these types of products offering protection from the biting pests.
Adult populations exist for about a month, hatched from eggs laid the previous spring. Female gnats lay between 100 and 600 eggs.
Like mosquitoes, adult gnats feed on blood. Some gnat species will swarm around livestock and people, cutting the skin of their host and feeding on the blood, Brown said.
For livestock, repellant products containing permethrin or insecticidal ear tags, smoldering fires, such as hay bales, that produce dense smoke and providing shelters may reduce exposure to the gnats.
Permethrin or any pyrethroid-class products should not be used on cats, Brown said.
While not many people are looking forward to the dog days of summer, heat will provide relief from gnats. Once daytime high temperatures consistently stay above 80 degrees, the interaction with gnats will diminish.
A close-up of a buffalo gnat. These animals are members of the black fly family and are a nuisance during early spring. Once temperatures get consistently above 80 degrees, their numbers will diminish. (Photo courtesy of Mississippi State Extension Service)
This is a close-up of a black fly, which is commonly referred to as a gnat. These pests are numerous in early spring, and repellants that offer protection from mosquitoes are not effective against black flies. (Photo courtesy of Oklahoma State Entomology Department)