Campbell Vaughn: Where did these gnats come from?

People ask why are gnats in Augusta? So I began researching.

 

UGA has some amazing entomologists and when I reached out to get some answers, they instructed me to catch some and send them in to get positively identified. That is where the fun began.

If you haven’t been swatting at these little pests for the past six weeks, then you are missing out on how hard these guys are to swat. And catching one without mangling it is also super difficult.

So while on a yard visit to my longtime friend Robin Barfield, I recruited her to help me catch some gnats. Robin is from Early County, so I figured she would be familiar with gnats. I got a paper plate, added some Pam spray and we ventured out in her backyard. After about 15 minutes, we got our quota of about seven gnats. I took the samples to the office, put them in a container and sent them off to get analyzed. The verdict was eye gnats. The name seemed very appropriate. So my question back to our bug specialist was, “We don’t have gnats in Augusta and now we do. Why? And how soon will they go away?”

I didn’t like their answer.

The gnats came because we didn’t have a winter and they will stay until we do. And the rains have helped provide prime breeding habitat as well.

“Gnats” is a common name for a large number of small, non-biting flies. Many species look like mosquitoes and may form annoying swarms or clouds . The immature stages develop in water in pools, containers, ponds, clogged rain gutters, or in some cases, wet soil or seepage areas. Most feed on living or decaying plant matter and are an important part of aquatic food chains. Many species can survive in very stagnant or polluted water. Gnats are attracted to light and may be a nuisance, landing on people, entering homes, businesses or my truck inside windshield. These tiny flies do not feed. They only live long enough to mate, lay eggs, annoy me at the pool and die. Eggs are laid in masses in the water or on aquatic vegetation. The life cycle usually takes about four to five weeks. There may be several generations during the summer, but these insects usually disappear with the onset of dry weather. Fortunately, problems are usually temporary and intermittent.

There are no good alternatives for control of the adults, other than some pressurized aerosol sprays containing pyrethrins. These are impractical for treating anything other than small areas. These products only kill insects that are directly hit by spray particles and there is no lasting or residual effect. More gnats will quickly enter the area after the spray has settled.

The gnats rest on vegetation and in the grass during the day, so an application of Sevin (carbaryl) spray may reduce numbers somewhat. Long-term control requires trying to eliminate breeding sites, wet areas or standing water. Often, however, this is not practical. Water should not be treated with any insecticide in an attempt to control gnats.

I am hoping our mosquitoes might find gnats tastier than me and cure our gnat problem. Or maybe I should just hope for a cold winter.

Reach Campbell Vaughn, the UGA Agriculture and Natural Resource agent for Richmond County, by e-mailing augusta@uga.edu.

 

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