The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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September 21, 2013

Why so many gnats? How recent weather patterns led to a breeding frenzy

— Gnats, those tiny, slow-moving insects that fly into one’s eyes, land on a sweaty forehead or buzz around the ears, have been turning up everywhere this year, even when there are no overripe bananas on the counter or onions that have seen their better day.

The summer and early fall have brought scores of complaints about the pesky pests and with good reason, said a Penn State expert who agrees that the gnats are overabundant, even as fall temperatures move in.

It’s all about the spring and summer and the high levels of moisture that were so welcome for the sweet corn, peppers and zucchini, said Greg Hoover, a professor in the department of entomology at Penn State.

“There was an abundance of rainfall in many parts of Pennsylvania,” Hoover told The Tribune-Democrat in a telephone interview from his State College office.

The rainfall puddled in low-lying areas, ponds and wetlands, all excellent areas for the male and female gnats to get together and make more gnats, Hoover said.

“Those are all excellent sites for breeding,” he said.

Black fly, eye gnat, gnat bug, midge – the list is nearly endless. But whatever you call them, few would disagree that the gnats that have been hovering, swooping, irritating and landing on us are annoying.

Some of the gnats bite. They fly into humans’ eyes as they sweat away while working in the garden or into the mouth as we bike or run.

Experts say gnat larvae live in moist environments. The ample rain of the spring and summer has provided those ideal conditions in the saucers of flower pots, old tires, discarded buckets and cans, and those areas prone to draw moisture.

A wet season continues to promote gnat stability because after the eggs are hatched, they thrive on wet soil and dine on fungus and algae.

Considered small flies, gnats are part of the insect suborder Nematocera, are a cousin of the mosquito and fly about in swarms called “ghosts.”

But despite their despicable reputation, gnats are beneficial, entomologists say. They serve as a significant source of food for birds, bats and larger insects and help pollinate flowers.

Kathy Mellott reports on environmental issues for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/kathymellotttd.

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