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A gnat // is any of many species of tiny flying insects in the dipterid suborder Nematocera, especially those in the families Mycetophilidae, Anisopodidae and Sciaridae. They can be both biting and non-biting. Most often they fly in large numbers, called clouds. "Gnat" is a loose descriptive category rather than a phylogenetic or other technical term, so there is no scientific consensus on what constitutes a gnat.
University of Kentucky entomologists consider only non-biting flies to be gnats, while the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln classify fungus gnats in addition to non-biting flies as gnats. Certain universities also distinguish eye gnats: the Smithsonian Institution describes them as “non-biting flies, no bigger than a few grains of salt, ... attracted to fluids secreted by your eyes”.
Gnat larvae are mostly free-living, and some are aquatic. Many feed on plants, though some are carnivorous. Larval plant feeders (such as the Hessian fly larva) cause root, stem, or leaf galls to be formed by the host plant. Some species of fungus gnats (families Mycetophilidae and Sciaridae) are pests of mushrooms and roots of potted plants in homes and greenhouses.
The University of Georgia claims that there exists a biting kind of gnats, which is a black fly (buffalo gnat). The scientists compare the painful and vicious bite of the black fly with the fire ant bite. Meanwhile, the North Carolina State University entomologists explain that a widely spread type of biting flies, called biting midges, also belongs to the gnat species: “Biting midges (Culicoides sp.) are small, sometimes barely visible, blood-sucking flies more commonly known in many areas as biting gnats, sand flies, biting midges, punkies or “no-see-ums”.
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Gnat.|