Gnats more than buggy problem

Published 12:17 am Monday, April 26, 2010

VIDALIA — Spring brings warm weather, flower blooms, new life and buffalo gnats.

And while buffalo gnats are annoying to humans, they can be deadly to poultry, from backyard chickens to commercial bird-raising operations.

“In the last week, (the gnats) have started getting heavy again,” Adams County Extension Service Director David Carter said. “Last year they were really bad. We lost more than 1,000 birds — poultry and birds of prey — to buffalo gnats.”

The threat the gnats pose to poultry is unique due to the birds’ anatomy.

“The gnats get in their face, and the birds breathe them in and suffocate,” Carter said.

It’s also not unheard of for the birds to die of a toxic shock caused by the insect’s bites, Carter said.

“There is more than one way they can kill birds, and both are painful,” he said.

The gnats are actually black flies, and Carter said that unlike mosquitoes, buffalo gnats have a general resistance to DEET-based insect repellents.

They’re also harder to kill at the egg and larval levels than mosquitoes.

“They breed and lay their eggs under water where it is moving a bit, and the only way to control them is when our water temperature levels get up to a certain temperature, that’s the only biological control,” Carter said.

“With mosquitoes, you can just dump out standing water, but buffalo gnats don’t lay their eggs on top of standing water.”

The bugs can be controlled with a permethrin spray, and Carter said some poultry producers spray their birds’ beaks to protect them.

However, to achieve maximum effectiveness, the spray will have to be applied to the area several times throughout the day.

“A lot of the bigger farms will have equipment in the barn to spray a few times, but as the average homeowner you will probably have to go out there and spray,” Carter said. “There is nothing convenient about spraying for buffalo gnats.”

It’s also a good idea to have fans to keep the air circulating around the birds, and before applying permethrin, make sure it is labeled for poultry use, he said.

While the gnats may irritate other livestock, Carter said you should just look for blistering or swelling caused by gnat bites, but that the gnats will mostly just be a nuisance to the animals.

And even though they’re annoying now, the gnats won’t be here forever. They start to die when the running water temperature reaches 75 degrees.