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Experts: Gnats are bad this year for Southwest Mississippi

 

NATCHEZ — Yes, the gnats are bad this year, a couple of the area’s leading bug specialists say.

“All of my life, I’ve never seen them worse than they have been in the past 10 years,” said Ricky Smith, who along with his wife, Wanda, owns Bug Busters, 5152 U.S. 84 Vidalia, La.

Ricky has a degree in biology and Wanda has a degree in zoology, and they have practiced pest control for 30 years and are licensed to practice in Mississippi and Louisiana.

Gnats, Ricky said, breed in running water and Natchez is on the banks of the largest running river in North America, the Mississippi River.

“We have had the five highest stages of the river in the past 10 years,” Ricky said, adding that as a scientist, he believes flood control programs have added to the higher river stages. “The higher water for longer periods of time has resulted in more gnats.”

Gnats are annoying and irritating. Some people have worse reactions to gnat bites than other people do, ranging from mild, localized swelling and itching to anaphylactic shock in the most extreme cases based on individual’s tolerance.

Gnats are actually very small black flies of the family Simuliidae, and the type currently invading Natchez are Buffalo Gnats. More than 100 species of black flies exist in the United States and many more species throughout the world. Black flies are the third most important arthropod vector of disease worldwide, Wanda said.

In the United States, they can also plague livestock, mammals and perhaps worst of all birds.

Bug Busters, the Smiths say, is successful at controlling mosquitoes on clients’ properties, but gnats are tougher to control, they said.

Gnats are strong fliers and can travel long distances, which makes gnats hard to control, while mosquitoes are weak fliers and stay in the same locations, such as around bushes and shrubs, which makes mosquitoes easier to control.

The good news is that successful mosquito control can be beneficial to helping control gnats but that requires a monthly application to the yard and shrubs on property. If done correctly, the mosquito control can help eliminate up to 70 percent of the gnats.

“The sad answer is there is very little relief we can give you as far as spraying yards,” Wanda said, in regards to controlling the gnat population because of the sheer numbers of gnats, their mobility, the proximity of the Mississippi River and that gnats have no clearly defined habitat boundaries. “The best thing to do is keep them off of you.”

Wanda acknowledged there are many homemade remedies.

A recent Facebook post by Gena Nelson Garrity read:

“So who is experiencing the nightmare of the dreaded gnats and what have you used to ward them off? I have used dryer sheets, vanilla extract, and skin so soft! Suggestions please!”

Her post quickly garnered more than 30 responses with people offering their own solutions, including Avon Vanilla, Vick’s Vapor Rub and Victoria’s Secret Amber Romance.

Wanda and Ricky acknowledged vanilla scented perfumes or vanilla extract diluted with water applied to exposed skin tend to help keep gnats off, and Bug Busters sells a product called Cactus Juice that seems to work for some people. Regardless, they recommend people wear long sleeves and long pants and netting when out to protect exposed skin.

Gnats, they say, are only active in the daylight hours and in temperatures between 70 and 90 degrees, so the good news is when temperatures climb above 90 in the weeks ahead, the gnats will go away.