Summertime brings warm weather and welcome sunshine. Unfortunately, it also means the return of pesky, flying insects.
Clouds of tiny black insects may seem to follow you, swarming around your face as you stroll along a wooded trail.
Wispy mosquito-like insects flock to your back porch light after dusk. Mosquito bites turn a relaxing fishing trip into misery.
How much do you know about gnats and mosquitoes? Have you ever paid attention to those bothersome bugs before you swatted them away? Should you try to kill them, or are they actually helpful to the environment?
Let’s take a closer look at each one to see how alike (or different) they really are.
|Family||Examples: Tipulidae (crane flies), Simuliidae (black flies), Chloropidae (eye gnats)||Culicidae|
|Appearance||Varies, depending on species, Tend to have circular abdomens and rounder heads||Long thin bodies, Feather-like antennae, Striped abdomen, legs, and wings, Long thin wings|
|Lifecycle||4 - 5 weeks||30 - 40 days|
|Diet||Most eat plants, decomposing plants, fungi||Males: Plant sap, nectar, fruits, vegetables|
|Bites||Most do not bite, A few species do bite (Females only)||Only females bite|
Are gnats Mosquitoes?
The term “gnat” is not just one type of insect, but is actually a general name for several species of tiny, flying insects.
Because of this, gnats can vary in appearance and characteristics. They belong to the order Diptera, otherwise known as the “true flies.” This means they have a single pair of wings, a mobile head, and mouths designed for piercing and sucking.
Most are found outdoors in moist areas, mud, and near decomposing plants. They mainly prefer to eat plants and fungi.
Gnats usually mate in swarms or clouds. They lay their eggs in wet soil or still water. Remaining in this wet environment, the eggs will progress through the developmental stages of larva and pupa, until finally, as an adult, it will fly away. The entire lifecycle averages around four to five weeks.
Do Gnats bite?
There are biting and non-biting gnats. Here are a few examples of common gnat species:
- Black flies (also called buffalo gnats) – Only the females bite. They require protein from the blood to be able to lay eggs.
- Non-biting midges – They resemble mosquitoes and are attracted to light.
- Fungus gnats – These gnats are usually found indoors or in greenhouses. They prefer potted plants; especially those that are over-watered.
- Crane flies – These look like large, wispy mosquitoes.
- Eye gnats – This species will swarm around the face and eyes of humans and animals. They do not bite, but they feed on secretions found on the host’s body. Because of this, they can spread disease.
What about the Mosquito?
Worldwide, there are over 3500 species of mosquitoes. Most species have stripes on their abdomen, legs, and wings. They have slender bodies, feather-like antennae, and long, thin wings; this places them in the order Diptera as well.
Male mosquitoes feed on plant sap, nectar, fruits, and vegetables, while females seek after blood.
While gnats generally mate in swarms, mosquitoes usually reproduce one on one.
Mosquitoes prefer a wet, watery environment because they also lay their eggs in still water. From egg to adult, the lifecycle of a mosquito averages around 40 days.
Difference between Gnat bites and Mosquito bites
Biting gnats, such as black flies and biting midges need blood to effectively reproduce. Females have a jagged, saw-like mouth that pierces the skin. After making the cut, they feed on the wound, sometimes causing intense pain, itching, and swelling.
Bites may look like tiny, red bumps or larger, darker-colored bites.
Mosquitoes, on the other hand, do not actually “bite” the skin. When female mosquitoes are ready to lay eggs, they use chemical, visual, and heat sensors to find a host.
Then they insert a needle-like snout into the host’s body, inject saliva into the skin to prevent the host’s blood from clotting, and proceed to suck out the blood.
Mosquito bites are usually a small, flat welt. They can be itchy, red, and swollen, but often disappear quickly.
Some people have a sensitivity to insect bites; in this case, their bites may look much more severe and pronounced.
So, are Gnats and mosquitoes the same?
The answer is a bit complicated.
Scientifically speaking, they do have similarities. Both are classified in the order Diptera and suborder Nematocera. This means they are both “flies” and both have long, slender bodies and thin, segmented antenna. Some gnats look very much like large mosquitoes.
They prefer similar environments and both complete most of their development in or near water.
But the similarities end there.
Many gnats are helpful to the environment. They feed on decomposing plants and are an important part of aquatic food chains. Although they can be a nuisance, only a select few will bite and potentially spread disease.
On the other hand, mosquitoes have earned the title of the deadliest animal family in the world due to their direct role in transmitting extremely devastating diseases. Malaria, yellow fever, West Nile virus, Zika virus, and many others are commonly spread by bites from infected mosquitoes.
Other insects bite. Why are Mosquitoes so deadly?
The reason mosquitoes are much more prone to spread disease is that they do not just suck blood; they also inject saliva into their host. This injection may provide disease-causing microorganisms a direct path to the host’s bloodstream.
Awareness is key
The next time you find yourself blindly swatting away those obnoxious little insects, take a moment to investigate the culprit; not all flying insects are bad!