We’ve all seen gnats around the home. And probably while on vacation. Do gnats bite humans? Yes, some do.
These bugs can bite humans and cause damage that requires medical help, especially while traveling abroad. Here are some of the common biting gnats and what to do about a gnat bite. And tips to avoid gnat bites.
Do Gnats Bite?
While not all gnats bit humans, some do. You need to identify the insect to both find out if it’s a gnat and if it’s one of the kinds that can bite you.
Male gnats do not bite because they eat plants and plant nectar, but female gnats can bite both individually and in small or large groups.
The females will use their teeth to puncture their skin and then suck on your blood, which moves through their digestive tract. Female gnats need blood to feed their eggs.
Biting gnats are usually quite small and have two large wings on their back. They will also have six legs.
Do gnats bite dogs, cats, and other pets?
Gnats will bite your pet dog and cat. And gnats will also feed on livestock. It’s important to take measures to protect them from gnats, especially in areas where there are large populations
What Gnats Bite Humans? 3 Types
There are several types of gnats that bite humans, including biting midges, black flies, and sandflies.
1. Biting Midges (No-see-ums)
Biting midges are also known as flying teeth, sand gnats, and punkies. These gnats are small enough that you may not see them unless they move in a swarm and measure less than 1/8 inch long.
Biting midges are usually soft gray and become dark red after they feed. Unlike other bugs that always bite humans, sand gnats prefer eating after sunset and early in the morning before the sun rises.
When there is less wind and high humidity, they can feed for extended periods.
2. Black Flies (Black Gnats and Turkey Gnats)
Black flies are among the more common biting gnats found in the United States. They range in size from 1/5 inches to ¼ inches long and have a thick body with short antennae and legs.
Also known as turkey flies, turkey gnats, buffalo gnats, and black gnats, black flies get their name because they are dark black.
You may find these gnats both in your home and outside, especially around livestock.
Worldwide, there are more than 1,700 species of black flies. In North America, there are 255 species in 11 genera.
Disease Vectors: There are no black flies in the U.S. known to transmit disease. In parts of Africa and Central and South America, Onchocerca volvulus is known to cause onchocerciasis or “river blindness”.
3. Sandflies (Phlebotomus)
Sandflies are another type of gnat that feeds off humans. Though they are around the same size as biting midges, sand flies have long and thin legs along with humpbacks.
They can range in color from gray or brown to golden and have large wings. You can easily identify these flies when they are resting because their wings will form a V-shape on their backs.
Sandflies usually do not come out when it is windy because they aren’t strong enough to fly in windy conditions.
Disease Vectors: In Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia Minor, Phlebotomus are known vectors of phleboviruses. These include the three-day fever and Toscana virus (TOSV).
What Are Gnats?
Gnat is a common name for small, winged insects. They often form clouds of large numbers of each species. They can be biting or non-biting.
What Do Gnat Bites Look Like?
Mosquitoes are a common biting insect that often leaves behind a bite mark. Gnats are unique because they do not bite through your skin the way mosquitoes do.
This insect has four sharp areas inside its mouths called cutters. They use the cutters to cut open your skin and then insert their mouth to drink your blood.
Biting gnats also produce an anti-clotting venom that they release as soon as they bite. This venom keeps your blood from clotting and allows them to drink longer.
Though the symptoms you experience depend on the type of gnat that bit you, you can expect to see a tiny red spot on your skin.
This spot can also resemble a pinprick. It will usually lead to both itching and inflammation.
Where Do Gnats Bite Humans?
Unlike mosquitoes that can go under your clothing to bite you, gnats focus on exposed areas of your skin. You’ll usually find bites on your arms and legs.
They can also bite your head and face if you don’t wear a hat. As long as any area of your skin is exposed, you’re at risk of gnat bites.
What Does a Gnat Bite Feel Like?
As gnats produce anti-clotting venom, you may not realize you suffered a bite until hours later.
The sensation that you feel depends on how your body responds to the bite. Some find that the bite causes inflammation and itching that makes them want to scratch their skin.
Others experience a minor reaction that causes a little swelling, which goes away within a few hours. If you have a more intense reaction, the bite mark can turn into a blister that fills with puss.
Here are 5 ways to treat gnat bites via Healthline.
Do Gnats Carry Diseases?
In the United States, gnats don’t commonly carry diseases that they can transmit to humans. But there are exceptions. And I’m many parts of the world, gnats cause significant illness.
There are cases of gnats passing conjunctivitis to both humans and animals. Better known as pink eye, this condition causes one or both eyes to turn bright pink to red in color. You can pass the disease to others if you rub your eyes without washing your hands. Pink eye also causes your eye to feel itchy and lead to watering.
Biting midges can also spread Blue Tongue around livestock. This condition causes many symptoms and leads to the death of those animals, but Blue Tongue does not affect humans.
And as mentioned above, sandflies are known to be vectors for certain viruses in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.
And sand flies can transmit leishmaniasis. This is a concern in tropical and subtropical parts of North and East Africa. Also the Americas (South and Central) and occasionally in the southern United States. It can also occur in Southern Europe and South and Central Asia.
There are different types of leishmaniasis, including cutaneous, mucocutaneous, and visceral.
In Central and South America, and equatorial Africa, black flies can transmit the parasitic nematode worm, Onchocerca volvulus. This is known to cause onchocerciasis or “river blindness”.
Learn more about other small black, biting bugs.
How Can You Avoid Gnat Bites? 8 Tips
Gnat bites can happen when you’re on vacation or just relaxing in your backyard. An easy way to avoid those bites is when you take care of standing water.
Gnats use different bodies of water as watering holes and will bite humans that are nearby.
You should remove any puddles or sitting water or stay inside until they dry. When you travel, try to avoid marshes and other areas filled with water.
No matter how much time you plan to spend outside, cover as much of your skin as possible. Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. It’s also helpful to cover your head and face.
If it’s hot outside, consider using a bug spray designed to repel biting insects.
You can also wear clothing in lighter colors as biting gnats prefer dark colors.
You should also invest in some window screens for your home. And only stay at hotels and lodges with screened windows. These screens come in different sizes and are easy to install. Some are even adjustable to help you get the right fit for your window frame. While you can leave the window open to let in a breeze, the screen will keep the gnats from getting inside.
An electric bug zapper is also handy because the light attracts a range of bugs. As soon as they touch the light, the zapper will kill them.
Many people aren’t comfortable using bug repellents that contain a lot of chemicals, but you can make one from natural ingredients that will help you avoid gnat bites.
Lemon Eucalyptus Oil Recipe: Some people claim that lemon eucalyptus oil works almost as well as DEET sprays do. And it might be suitable for kids and others who cannot use chemical sprays.
Use oil or vodka as a carrier. Mix two ounces of distilled water with one ounce of your carrier and up to 75 drops of the oil. Shake the bottle well before you apply the mixture to your exposed skin.
Learn more about using essential oils as gnat repellent.
Learn more about carpenter ant bites.
More about biting insects: Do Flying Ants Bite? 6 Things to Know
When you spend a lot of time outside, you might wonder, do gnats bite? This pesky little bugs fly around and can cause so many problems that you spend summer locked in your home.
While gnats can bite, their bites aren’t typically a big deal to humans and are more lethal to livestock and other animals. Learning how to avoid gnat bites is the best way to protect yourself.
- About the Author
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Bryan Haines is a co-founder and writer at The Buginator. And is working to make it the best resource for taking back the outdoors from biting, stinging pests.
He also blogs about travel at Storyteller.Travel and photography at Click Like This. Bryan is a partner at Storyteller Media, a publishing company he runs with his wife, Dena.