Gnats are gnawing on us this year

Published 12:01 am Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sometimes nicknames can be off a little; other times they’re directly on target.

We’ve all met some bear of a person who answers to “Tiny” or someone with a baldpate who is called “Curly.”

But one of the increasingly prevalent visitors to Southwest Mississippi this time of year has a spot-on nickname — the buffalo gnat.

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Like their namesake the diminutive bloodsuckers pack quite a wallop and leave their marks on both humans and animals alike.

Presumably people started calling them buffalo gnats because they look much larger than a traditional gnat or maybe it was their painful bites.

One thing is certain: The tiny aerial invaders are downright at war with our heads, necks and any other exposed piece of flesh they can find this time of year.

It’s an unfortunate collision of good weather and good insect breeding season that causes the big gnats to show up at the very time when our weather is the most beautiful and tolerable until fall.

In a month or so when the temperatures truly start to broil, the gnats wisely will go away.

Technically, scientists would say they’re not actually gnats at all, but instead black flies, members of the insect family Simuliidae.

Regardless of their official species, the little suckers have made a big impact in our area over the last few years — one tiny and painful bit at a time.

One of the little boogers nailed me on the back of the neck a week ago and the tiny, itchy knot remains.

The annoying little guys have been around these parts for quite a while, but they seem to be increasing in number over the last few years. Some people say the problem is the increasingly high seasonal floodwater of the Mississippi River.

Unlike mosquitoes that lay eggs only in still water, black flies can lay eggs in moving water, meaning as the river reached near record levels recently and subsequently backed up creeks and streams that are a tributary of the river. That apparently led to a bumper crop of buffalo gnats this year.

For anyone who has been outdoors lately, they’re likely to either lament their own annoyance with the buffalo gnats or give you some homegrown concoction sure to drive them away.

I bumped into local banker Wade Heatherly Saturday at Natchez Market. Seeing his golfing attire, I asked if he’d been golfing and how he’d done.

“More like I’ve been fighting the gnats,” he said.

That sentiment abounds and is the subject of many conversations lately.

As annoying as these guys are for humans seeking to enjoy beautiful spring weather to do some gardening, watch a baseball game or play a round of golf, the buffalo gnats’ greatest threat to humans is just driving us a little mad and forcing us to head indoors.

A gnat-free refuge is usually just inside almost any enclosed structure. The little insects apparently rarely go inside.

For chickens and perhaps other birds, the gnats can be deadly. Reportedly the gnats can clog the birds’ airways causing suffocation.

Their maddening attacks on human ears and faces can bring out the worst in nearly anyone.

We’re taught not to hate things, but it’s downright difficult to have much of any other feeling for the incessant insects than to just despise them and pray for weather that brings the temperatures into the 90s. Insect experts say that is the only thing that will drive them away.

All of this kind of makes you look forward to mosquito season, doesn’t it? Gnat’s no joke.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or