ALBANY — Nobody likes them, even those who are quick with a waving hand, or with the talent to send them sailing with a focused stream of breath.
Gnats are bothersome whenever you find them, though now through September, they hit their grand finale. That’s because they live and thrive in the moist, sandy soil of Southwest Georgia, and their homes may have been disturbed by agricultural equipment, said Will Hudson, an entomologist at the University of Georgia.
The presence of gnats in south Georgia can be something of a shock for those who haven’t grown up here. Take a drive just north of Columbus, Macon or Augusta and “poof,” no more gnats. That’s because the rascals breed only in Georgia’s Coastal Plain, a nearly flat-lying region of sediment and sedimentary rocks south of the “fall line,” extending down through the Florida panhandle.
“They get all in your face when you’re outside, but they mix OK with appetizers,” said Diane Goff, a wedding coordinator with Way’s House of Flowers on Dawson Road.
Goff thinks the pests might be “getting immune” to the sprays and repellents used against them.
“They (the sprays) just seem to work less and less,” she said.
“At least they don’t bite,” added Norma Mason, owner of Way’s House of Flowers. “When I lived in South Carolina, the gnats there didn’t swarm around you so much, but they would bite.”
A lot of people are tired of gnats and would like to see them go. Hudson has a suggestion.
“Move north,” he said. “If I knew what to do about the gnats, I’d be a very rich man. Don’t think it hasn’t been studied.”
South Georgia gnats belong to a family of flies known as Chloropidae, Hudson said. They are sometimes referred to as “eye gnats” because of the moisture they seek from human and animal eyes.
The flies develop in this particular soil as maggots, living on decaying organic matter such as dead leaves and other plant material until they emerge as adult gnats, ready and eager to irritate people and livestock.
Hudson’s willingness to be “very rich” not withstanding, he wouldn’t eradicate all the gnats, even if he could.
“They (the gnats) have a function in the world,” he said. “For one thing, they help rid the soil of the things we don’t need. You think you’re removing something to help yourself, only to find you’ve made a serious mistake. Most of the time we find out we didn’t understand things as well as we thought we did.”
Daniel Fletcher, assistant manager at ABC Plant Nursery in Albany, says the gnats are worse during early morning “before it heats up,” and come back around about 4.
“They swarm all over you,” he says “I use a spray. It works for mosquitoes but not much for gnats. This is the worst year yet.”
Brian Wright, a sales associate at Bennetts Farm Supply, thinks he has some answers — sort of. The “Georgia Gnat Hat,” for $11.99 isn’t the latest French fashion, but a simple woven net which can be worn like a hat, then pulled over the face.
As a backup, Wright suggests daily deployment of “Swamp Gator,” at $11.99 a bottle. Swamp Gator claims to repel flying insects, including gnats, without the use of DEET, the active ingredient in OFF and most other repellents.
“People say it works,” Wright said.
Wright went on to offer his personal strategy to avoid the south Georgia surge.
“I don’t go outside much,” he said.