Sitting outdoors on a June evening should be a pleasant experience. But anyone venturing outside this year will likely quickly retreat back indoors, chased by hordes of gnats.
Gnats seem to be everywhere, probably due to the heavy rains that Iowa experienced throughout spring. Although most people call them “buffalo gnats,” the insects swirling around could be from one of many species. Some gnats bite. Others don’t bite but pester by landing on the ears and crawling into the nose and eyes.
Gnats are true flies of the order Diptera, meaning they have two wings. Most hatch from eggs laid in damp vegetation. The wetter the spring the more numerous the insects. Some species feed on plants while others prefer a blood meal. Perhaps the most notorious biter is the black fly, which is more common in New England than Iowa. Its larvae live in flowing water.
It’s nearly impossible to keep all swarming gnats away but several techniques may help reduce their numbers. Repellents might work. Gnats seem to ignore some types of repellent while other formulations are more effective. Some people are convinced that homemade repellents are the most effective. If one repellent doesn’t work try another.
A simple fan keeps them away. Gnats don’t like wind and prefer pestering people on calm evenings. Small fans are quiet, create wind and run on batteries normally used for cordless drills and saws. They are easy to bring outside and don’t need to be plugged in. Sitting in the fan’s breeze keeps most of the pesky bugs at bay.
Another way to keep some gnat species away seems odd but works. Many gnats don’t like to fly under things. They’ll swarm around a person sitting on an open backyard deck but won’t venture under a broad overhang. Other species may disregard the overhang and attack, but moving to a covered porch may reduce gnat attacks. Even sitting under an umbrella can reduce swarming.
Combining repellents, artificial wind and overhangs may make being outdoors on an otherwise delightful June evening pleasant. If not, a screened in porch is a foolproof solution for foiling swarming gnats.
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• Marion Patterson is an instructor at Kirkwood Community College. Rich Patterson is the former executive director of Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids. They blog at Windingpathways.com.