A-z - Animals


small insect facts

Usually near water or moist soil
Insects, spiders, reptiles, frogs, mammals, fish and birds
favorite food
Fruits, leaves, vegetables, fungi and other organic matter
common name

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The term gnat generally refers to a group of small flies that bite and harass humans (although it can also include some non-biting insects). It's difficult to give a precise scientific definition to gnat, as it's more of a loose casual term than a taxonomic term. They don't fit neatly into a genus or family. Having said that, there are a few things that unite them. This article covers some interesting facts about the habitat, diet, life cycle and appearance of this tiny insect.

3 Incredible Little Insect Facts!

  • Gnats have a four-stage life cycle: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. When mating season arrives, males sometimes gather in large groups, called ghosts, and hover over fields or streets at dusk. After mating, the female lays her eggs in water (and, for some species, on land as well). Larvae are usually free-roaming and aquatic. It can take several weeks for them to turn into pupae and then into adults. The entire life cycle may only take a month, sometimes even two months.
  • Some non-biting species are excellent pollinators. When they finish eating the sweet part of a flower, they pick up the pollen and carry it to another plant, where it is fertilized.
  • Some fungal gnats from New Zealand have the ability to glow in the dark as larvae. They hang upside down from the ceiling of their burrows and create long sticky threads to lure unsuspecting prey.

Gnat species, types and scientific names

As stated in the introduction, gnats are not a taxonomic classification, but a very loose informal group. Gnats are commonly divided into families, including wood gnats (Anisopodidae) and fungal gnats (Mycetophilidae and Keroplatidae). Some scientists also include black flies and midges in the definition. All these families belong to the suborder Nematodes. Subheadings are classifications below orders but above families. Mosquitoes and crane flies also belong to the same suborder, but are not considered gnats. They are all part of the order Diptera.

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Appearance: How to Identify Small Insects

Gnats are usually small insects with long legs and only one pair of wings. They have small heads, bulbous thoraxes, long, usually black or brown abdomens, and tend to have rather slender, almost mosquito-like bodies compared to standard flies. Most species are no more than an inch long, and some are only a fraction of an inch. Biting species have hard mouthparts to pierce the skin, while non-biting species have softer mouthparts. Compared to adults, larvae have a long, worm-like body and lack wings at all.

Close up of small sandfly gnat on green leaf.
Close up of a small sandfly gnat on a green leaf.

©Ezume Images/Shutterstock.com

Small Insects and Fruit Flies

Fruit flies are smaller members of the fly family that feed on rotting fruit and vegetables. They tend to proliferate in meat, spilled soda, or alcohol. They look more like typical houseflies. While some sites list them as a type of gnat, this may not be quite true as they belong to different groups. However, both can be a nuisance pest in your home. Of course, neither fruit flies nor gnats live that long.

Habitat: Where to Find Gnats

These insects are found in nearly every ecosystem around the world except the extreme north and south. They tend to live near water or moist soil, but some don't.

Diet: What Do Gnats Eat?

Depending on whether they are biting or non-biting gnats, they can eat a variety of different foods. Many species are either herbivores or omnivores.

What eats small insects?

Gnats are preyed upon by a variety of different animals, including frogs, reptiles, small mammals, birds, fish, spiders, and other insects. They have little defense against predators other than their ability to fly, but they are generally not strong fliers.

What do mosquitoes eat?

Most gnats typically feed on plant material, including fruit, stems, and leaves, as well as small amounts of other organic matter and sometimes even meat, but some species or groups specialize in feeding on specific types of food. Fungal gnats eat mushrooms and other fungi. Eye lice, although usually harmless, are attracted to the fluid secreted by the eye. Biting gnats typically suck blood from animals to provide them with enough nutrients to lay their eggs, but otherwise feed on plants when they're not caring for their young. There are all sorts of interesting facts about their feeding behavior.

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Prevention: How to Get Rid of Gnats

Depending on the species, gnats are often considered an annoyance to humans. Some bite through the skin to draw blood; others eat crops or lay eggs near plants. Gnats are also generally attracted to moisture and organic matter, so they can easily find their way into the trash or into your home if you're not careful. In worst-case scenarios, the biting gnats can transmit parasites and diseases to humans. While some species are benign, you should generally take an infestation seriously.

In order to get rid of them, you should take some steps. You need to eliminate or reduce sources of standing water in your yard and home. Dispose of any rotting or decaying food immediately, and keep trash cans away from your home. Repair any holes in doors and windows to keep them out. Some gnats are also attracted to light at night, so keep lights off to keep them from congregating in your home. Finally, you should regularly clean bathrooms, kitchens, and other wet areas. If gnats are still present in your home or property, then you may want to consider using some kind of insecticide or spray to control the population. All of these strategies may need to be employed simultaneously to ensure maximum prevention.

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Gnat FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What are gnats?

Gnats are small flying insects in the order Diptera (order Fly). Although there is no clear scientific definition, this insect can be identified by certain physical characteristics.

What is the pronunciation of this name?

Pronunciation is very simple. Because the first letter is silent, it's basically pronounced nat. The pronunciation rhymes with bat or cat.

Are gnats dangerous?

Gnat bites can cause pain, itching, and swelling at the bite site. They also rarely spread disease. Non-biting gnats are almost completely harmless to humans, but some species do attack or damage crops.

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How many legs does a mosquito have?

Like all insects, mosquitoes have six legs. The legs are usually very long and thin.

How do you get rid of gnats?

The best way to prevent it is to remove or clean up any stale food and standing water or moisture in your home. Chemical treatments, sprays, or traps can also kill any bugs already in the home. Check to make sure the chemicals in the spray are specifically designed to kill these insects.

How to make a gnat trap?

Many experts recommend mixing about two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, a tablespoon of sugar, and some dish soap in a small bowl with half a cup of water. This should attract and then trap insects in the bowl.

What do gnats look like?

It usually looks like a small, elongated fly. It has long legs, a small head, two wings and a thin body.

What do mosquito eggs look like?

Eggs look very different depending on the species, but they tend to be small and yellow or white.

When does mosquito season end?

Gnats generally reach their peak activity in spring and summer. They tend to be less active in fall and winter as temperatures drop.

What are gnats attracted to?

Some species are attracted to large amounts of moisture and rotting fruit and vegetables. Bite species can usually sense people through body temperature and carbon dioxide.

Why are gnats so annoying?

Some species bite and drink blood. Many of them also damage crops and plants.

Do mosquitoes fly in the dark?

Gnats are usually attracted to light, but, yes, they can fly in the dark.

What is the Difference Between Gnats and Fruit Flies?

Gnats prefer different habitats than fruit flies, and they also look different. See all their differences here.

How are no-see-ums different from gnats?

Gnats and no-see-ums are both small flies of the family Ceratopogonidae, but no-see-ums are a special type of gnat. They vary in size, color, wings, diet and mouthparts.

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  1. Encyclopedia Britannica, available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/gnat
  2. Orkin, available here: https://www.orkin.com/pests/flies/gnats
  3. Orkin, available here: https://www.orkin.com/pests/flies/fruit-flies/fruit-flies-vs-gnats