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Don't get carried away by the gnats
Extension advice
Richard Evans
Richard Evans is UGA Extension Service agent in Bryan County.

I have a confession to make. I am not from coastal Georgia.

Where I grew up the most annoying part of the beautiful spring and hot summer days were the gnats. They would fly in your ears and eyes and just generally bother the stew out of you.

Well, what I (and most of you) wouldn’t give to trade our biting variety for their non-biting cousins. Sadly, life doesn’t work that way and we must make do with what we have.

In Bryan County, we generally deal with what are called biting midges, sand flies/gnats, punkies or no-see-ums. Forgive me if most of you know this, but I’m going to give a brief summary of the life cycle and background of our pest.

Biting midges typically overwinter as larvae and pupate in the spring, which is why we see them emerge in such large numbers in March and April.

The adults lay eggs on mud or sand and about one week later larvae emerge. You actually can see the larvae if you have areas in your yard that accumulate water or are constantly shaded. After feeding and developing for between six months and a year, the larvae pupate and the adults emerge again.

The good news is that biting midges live for only about a month. However, females can take several blood meals and lay several batches of eggs. Males actually feed exclusively on plant juices, not humans, so we only have to contend with the one half of the populations.

Just think, things could be twice as bad as they already are – we actually are lucky! Well, maybe not that lucky.

So what can we do about them now?

There are a few tips and tricks that can be used to help make your yard less appealing to the flies. If you are able to identify an area where you think they are breeding, you can apply boric acid to the surface as a nontoxic treatment.

If the areas you have them are quite sandy, you can apply diatomaceous earth, which is actually edible and would need to be reapplied anytime we have a rain event.

Insecticides can be used but their efficacy won’t be very good. If you do go this route, look for something containing orange oil or linalool. These are organic-type alternatives to the harsh chemicals we use for other insects.

Lastly, if you have ponds or areas that collect stagnant water, keep those areas drained and dry as best you can. These are the best breeding sites for the flies.

All that being said, the best thing you can do is keep yourself covered when you are outside and wear light-colored clothes. If possible avoid outdoor activities during their active periods of dawn and dusk.

Any product containing DEET will serve as an adequate repellent – typically the higher the percentage of DEET the longer it will last on your skin and clothes.

I want to add that electromagnetic devices and ultrasonic devices have been advertised to control these pests. However, there have not been any scientific studies to substantiate these claims.

As of now, there isn’t a magic bullet, but I am on the lookout for traps or baits that might serve as better attractants to the flies than we are. If anything comes up or any research confirms a new trick, I’ll be happy to pass it along.

When pests fly into your home, yard or garden, make a beeline to the University of Georgia Extension Service for help. You can reach us at 912-653-2231 or by email at

We will try to give you good, research-based information on how to shoot down these flying lawn and garden invaders.

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