What are gnat bites? … Most importantly, what are gnats?

Gnats are the tiny flies that appear in large numbers, particularly at dawn and dusk. Known commonly as biting midges, gnats are closely related to mosquitos. Wherever there is damp soil or a body of water, you are bound to find gnats. Generally, gnats are quite annoying as they get in your eyes, mouth, and face. Plus, female gnats tend to bite to get protein for reproduction.

Gnat Bites

Gnat biting skinGnats are the tiny flies that appear in large numbers, particularly at dawn and dusk. Known commonly as biting midges, gnats are closely related to mosquitos. Wherever there is damp soil or a body of water, you are bound to find gnats. Generally, gnats are quite annoying as they get in your eyes, mouth, and face. Plus, female gnats tend to bite to get protein for reproduction.

What are gnats?

Gnat bites close upGnats are the members of diverse species of annoying pests which constitute the Mycetophilidae, Anisopodidae, and Sciaridae families of insect nomenclature. Gnats have a fine resemblance with mosquitoes; however, most gnat species are not linked with any potential disease. They are attracted to damp places such as rivers, streams, damp soil, rotten fruits and vegetables, decaying matter, garbage, and sewage. They breed in large mating swarms and comprise of biting as well as non-biting species.

Gnats are classified into various types based on their morphology, habitat, and the substrate they feed on. There are numerous kinds of gnats comprising a shorter lifecycle. The types of gnats include fruit flies, drain flies, fungus gnats, and common household insects. Other types of gnats also include gall gnat, sand gnat, buffalo gnat, and eye gnat.
Gnats are small insects that possess 2 wings, considerably big legs, and strong bushy antennae. They are of grey or black color in most cases; however, they may appear in tan, dark brown or yellowish color depending upon the species they belong to.
By appearance, gnats are often mistaken for mosquitoes. You will often find them flying in swarms for mating purposes. Adult gnats often have a hump-shaped back which makes it easy to differentiate gnats from mosquitos. Biting gnats also have a proboscis which they use to bite while non-biting gnats don’t have a proboscis.
Gnats are minute sized insects approximately 2.5 mm long. They may range from 1/8 to 1/10 of an inch in length.

• Habitat

Gnats breed in summers at a much higher rate due to the moist and damp atmospheric conditions. They are generally found on soils, fungi, fruits, and vegetables. They can be found feeding on decaying matter, plants, other insects, or even on blood. Once again, the preferred habitat of a gnat depends on the species it belongs to which is why some species prefer the decomposing food in garbage bins while others are attracted to the soil of houseplants.

• Lifecycle

Gnats have a shorter lifecycle of 2 – 3 weeks, which includes 4 stages, just like other insects: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. When the males and females mate in the swarm, females lay the eggs in water, mud or soil. Eggs hatch into larvae in the presence of the required optimum environment. The gnats at the larval stage are known to be maggots. Maggots grow into pupae, which further develop into adults that lay eggs and undergo the same stages of the lifecycle.

Do gnats bite?

gnat bite side viewConsidering the feeding habits, gnats are divided into two categories; biting and non-biting. However, they do not sting. Male gnats do not bite as they do not reproduce; they just feed on plant sap and nectar. Meanwhile, female gnats suck blood in order to get energized to lay up to 400 eggs over the next few days. Furthermore, they require the blood protein to accelerate their reproduction process. Carbon dioxide, perspiration, and dark colored objects stimulate their prey-hunting process which is why they try to get in our mouth and nose.
Gnats usually prey for human or livestock blood, biting them on the face, arms, feet or any other uncovered or exposed area of skin.

 Black GnatsEye GnatsSand GnatsFungus Gnats
Do they biteYesNoYesNo
AppearanceShiny greyish -black body, wings lacking scales, and short legs
Shiny dark brown bodies with orange-brownish legs
Yellow to reddish brown body color with hairy V-shaped wings
Blackish or greyish body, segmented antennae, and Y - shaped wings
Size2 – 5 mm long
1.5 – 3.5 mm long
1.5 – 5 mm long
2 – 5 mm long
HabitatLakes or streams, mud
Grass, sandy, many habitats
Sand, lagoons, swamps
Mushrooms and plants

Do gnat bites transmit diseases?

Gnat biteGnats are most often considered a nuisance since they are annoying and can damage homes too. However, gnats also pose a threat to human health as they transport pathogens from their development sites. For instance, fruit flies tend to contaminate food while fungus gnats harm potted plants and make them a developmental site where they multiply and create an unclean environment.

The female of some of the species like the black gnat feed on blood. As a result, they are known to carry parasites and spread various diseases including river blindness to livestock and humans.

Types of gnats

As mentioned earlier, the gnat is a broad term which encompasses various kinds of flies. Following are a few types of gnats.

Black Gnats

Black gnats, also known as black flies or buffalo gnats, are minute black colored flies sizing approximately one-eighth of an inch. They have a short 3-week lifecycle in which they feed and grow on tree trunks, mud, lakes, and streams, as well as sewage and other decomposed material. They are most prominent in early summers or late springs. They are known to have a humpbacked appearance with a greyish black body.

Generally, buffalo gnats, mostly the females are found swarming around birds, humans, and animals. The female gnats feed on blood to get protein for reproduction. Their bites are painful and cause allergic reactions, causing the bite to swell and itch. They are also known to cause river blindness. Black gnats are attracted to dark moving objects, carbon dioxide, and perspiration as this helps them identify their prey.

Black gnats are found near streams or lakes as they prefer to lay eggs near fast-running, clean water. Adult gnats can even fly to up to 10 miles for blood. Female gnats lay hundreds of eggs that are orange or yellow in color. The eggs can hatch within 30 days.

Eye Gnats

Eye gnats are prone to be attracted toward eyes, ears, and nose and their fluid, in both animals and humans. They are also known as grass flies because they are mostly found on grass though they are adapted to different habitats. Their biological family is Chloropidae. Eye gnats have shiny reddish-brown bodies with no hair. They are known to cause conjunctivitis (pink eye) in humans. Moreover, they are also said to spread streptococcal skin infection bacteria and rabies virus.

Eye gnats prefer living in areas that have loose sandy soil; however, they can thrive in various environments. Eye gnats have a lifecycle that is divided into four stages, and the eggs change into larvae in just 10 days.

Sand Gnats

Sand gnats are named so as they are mostly found in sandy areas and are known by many names like sandflea, no-see-ums, and nipper. These are biting flies and belong to the family Psychodidae. They have a sand-like brown color with a hairy body and black colored compound eyes. They are characterized by hairy antennae and V-shaped wings. Sand flies appear in warmer climates, mostly in sand, swamps, and lagoons. Flying is not their strong pursuit.

Sand flies are capable of causing various skin infections and diseases like leishmaniasis and pappacti fever. Compared to mosquito bites, the bites of sand gnats are much larger. Sand gnats cause reddish bumpy bites marked with itching and swelling. Among all the gnat types, they take the most time to develop and mature.

Fungus Gnats

Fungus gnats or winter gnats belong to the non-biting family of flies called Sciaridae. They have blackish-grey bodies with segmented antennae and Y-shaped wings. They are associated with a moist and humid environment which supports the growth of fungi. Thus, they often feed on mushrooms, plants and overwatered soils, acting as carriers of mushroom spores. They are inclined to be attracted to light, which is why they can be mostly found buzzing at windows.

Since fungus gnats are attracted to places with high humidity levels, you will often find them in ordinary houseplants where the water is unable to drain properly, or the soil is overwatered. Such places create a favorable environment for gnats to thrive. You might also find gnats in moisture conditions that are created by plumbing leaks or roof leaks. The lifecycle of fungus gnats is also divided into four stages. Some species of the fungus gnats that are in their larval stages feed on the plant roots which results in the diminished growth of plants.

Symptoms of gnat bite

Human gnat biteWhen the gnats bite, they don’t break the skin as fleas and mosquitoes do. Instead, they used a body part names cutters present in their mouth to slice your skin. The slice then provides them access to your blood which they survive on. Some types of gnats also inject an anti-clotting agent when they slice open the skin. As a result, your wound doesn’t clot quickly, and gnats enjoy an uninterrupted meal.

Gnat bites are small and resemble a simple pinprick. In fact, some people might even notice a small red spot at the bite site. You will commonly notice swelling around the bite which results in skin irritation. Plus, if the bite is infected, then it might swell larger and even contain pus.

Some people are also allergic to gnat bites. As a result, they can experience extreme swelling and life-threatening symptoms.
Typically, gnat bites are quite itchy. However, most people experience a painful sensation instead of an itching one. As the bite starts to swell, the itching gets more intense. Due to scratching, gnat bites become easily infected which only intensifies swelling.
Other symptoms of gnat bites include nausea, high fever, the appearance of blood in the bitten area, and difficulty in breathing.


Medical treatmentGnat bites can be treated by using the following safety measures:

• Wash your skin

Wash the infected area with soap to alleviate itching. Since biting gnats use razor-sharp blades to tear your skin, they leave behind a small, open wound. Therefore, you need to clean the area on and around the bitten part using water or mild soap. Then, using a paper towel or washcloth, you can remove the excess moisture.

• Use antiseptics to disinfect bitten areas

Gnats are known to carry bacteria from different things like rotten food. Thus, you must ensure that you thoroughly swab the bitten area with a cotton ball dipped in antiseptic. You can also tape the cotton to the wound so that the antiseptic soaks into the wound.
Antiseptics like Dettol, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, and iodine are ideal for wound cleaning.

• Get pain relief

Anti-itch ointments are a great way to attain immediate relief. These include creams and lotions like hydrocortisone creams and calamine lotion. These ointments contain soothing ingredients like aloe, oat complex, hydrocortisone, and vitamin E.
If pain persists, consult your doctor for a painkiller. In case of an emergency like puss initiation from the wound, abnormal swelling or severe allergic reaction, visit your doctor.

Natural remedies for gnat bites

Image of natural remedies

Home-based natural remedies or medications come handy, especially in emergency situations. They have the best effect without any side effects or further reactions, significantly healing the gnat bitten areas. Some effective natural remedies you can use for gnat bites are:

Essential oils
Use essential oils as they lower the inflammation and itching of the skin, especially the burning sensation experienced on bitten areas. They should be diluted with regular carrier oils like coconut, olive, garlic or jojoba oils to reduce their potency. Moreover, essential oils also moisturize and smooth your skin. Essential oils you can use for gnat bites include peppermint, eucalyptus, basil, and lemon balm oils.
Apple cider vinegar
Apply apple cider vinegar to the bitten area as it functions as an antiseptic as well as an anti-inflammatory agent. It restores the natural pH of the bug bite, hence healing the skin. It relieves the pain, redness, and swelling caused by gnat bites. It might even help with the itching too! To apply apple cider vinegar to the bite, simply dip a cotton ball in it and place it on the bitten area until it starts to feel better.
If the irritation persists or if the swelling becomes unbearable, then apply ice to the bite for 15-20 minutes as it would help soothe the swelling. Applying ice will also leave the numb which will bring down the burning-like sensation thus alleviating itching.
However, you should be extremely careful that you don’t apply the ice to your skin directly. Make sure you keep the ice pack between a towel. Plus, you should not let the ice pack stay on the wound for more than twenty minutes.

How to prevent gnat bites?

Direct contact with gnats can be eliminated by using the following safety strategies:

• Get rid of dirty dishes and food particles
Image of dirty dishes
Environmental hygiene and regular trash management are important to keep gnats at bay. Since gnats breed in standing water or decaying food, you need to treat, dump or drain out the said things to minimize the possibility of gnat exposure.

Store your fruits in the refrigerator rather than placing it on the dining table or kitchen counters. Remember, gnats are highly attracted to food items that are present in open containers as well as to dirty dishes that are left in the skin. Therefore, make sure you keep the countertops washed and dried and ensure that the dishes are put away. In this way, you can avoid colonies of gnats.

• Use gnat repellents and traps
Spray bottle closeup
Gnats are most active at dawn and dusk, so it is better to avoid unnecessary outdoor activities at these times. Seal off any unnecessary openings in your house that lead to the entry of gnats. Gnats are more likely to be found in damp areas, therefore, ensure an adequate supply of sunshine at your house.

Insecticides and pesticides should be sprayed to your home plants to relieve them of gnat attacks. Use chemical based repellents to keep gnats away. DEET-based or Picaridin-based gnat repellents are ideal to use.
Grow gnat repellent plants like Geranium flowers, lemon thyme, lavender or Mexican marigolds that have strong natural scents to prevent gnats from attacking.

Use of nets is a short-term but handy solution to prevent gnat bites. Alternatively, you can also install gnat traps at your house. Different sized sticky traps or tapes can also be used to prevent the build-up of gnats.

• Remove standing water
Image of standing water
Gnats tend to collect in places where there is standing water. Once you pinpoint the source of gnats, you can prevent them from swarming and breeding, thus reducing the chances of being bitten.
Remove the gardening items that collect rainwater like flowerpots and buckets. Make sure you eliminate all storm drains and clogged gutters as they attract gnats. Lastly, make sure you cover the swimming pool, if you have one, with a large tarp or a pool cover when it is not in use.