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Nuisance Buffalo Gnats swarm community by Nellie Brown

Posted on Wednesday, June 12, 2013 at 8:51 am

Buffalo Gnats are possibly one of the most annoying flying insects hitting the Elsberry community. These species of insects have been known to kill poultry and cause developmental problems in livestock animals.

They are possibly one of the biggest annoyances throughout the area. They come out of nowhere and instantly turn unprepared victims into swatting ballerinas. They are known as buffalo gnats and not only are they annoying but they are seemingly impossible to repel.

Buffalo gnats are part of the Black Fly family and are well known to farmers and pretty much anyone that likes to have fun in the woods. Although, buffalo gnats are labeled as gnats, they are in fact a fly, as they only have one pair of wings and the larval stage of the species is aquatic; mostly areas that have fast flowing streams. When these larval mature, which is typically during the spring season, they begin to hunt for meat. The females are blood suckers, as they need a blood meal in order to lay eggs; much like a mosquito. Males are nectar hunters.

“This is really what makes them such a nuisance,” explains Nellie Brown, owner of Nellie Brown Consulting in Elsberry and a Master’s Degree holder of Zoology specializing in entomology with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology. “Females will hunt nectar also, but they need the extra protein in order to reproduce, at which point the cycle starts all over again.”

Buffalo Gnats typically have a one year life cycle and can wreak havoc on livestock animals, poultry and even humans who may be allergic to them. According to Brown, they are more of a nuisance pest than a killing one, although they have been known to kill farm poultry by means of Asphyxiation.

“Obviously for a lot of people and for animals, the bite of the females, when they inject their saliva, has an anticoagulant that produces an allergic reaction,” said Brown. “Most of the time the reaction is localized to the bite area. However, for some people, chickens, livestock, etc. it can cause anaphylaxis shock, similar to what happens to people that are allergic to bee stings.”

A typical bite is smaller than a mosquito bite, but is just as itchy. So what could possibly be done about these fly kingdom ruffians? How could one possibly protect themselves from something so diabolical? Well for livestock animals and farm poultry birds, buffalo gnats are not big on enclosed dark areas. By simply screening in the animals areas, like chicken coops and pens, could be one good way to detour them from their strategic attacks.

“They are day dwellers,” said Brown. “If you have an area that is dark, enclosed with a screen or what not, you would not see them in nearly as high of numbers – for that area.”

Buffalo gnats are more murderous to poultry than any other species of animals. Poultry birds, like chickens, can catch parasite diseases, they can literally asphyxiate from the large number of gnats will fly into their beaks and openings and a number of other tragic occurrences. As far as large numbers go, Buffalo Gnats have also been known to create stampedes amongst livestock animals, as well as highly irritated areas and skin damage. However, they have no direct hatred for plants or crops; a plus for corn growers.

Swarms, like shown above, can cause Asphyxiation in poultry by flying into their beaks and clogging their throats, either by inflammation or just high numbers.

“Statistically, they are more consequential to animals such as chickens than they are to cattle,” said Brown. “That’s not to say they won’t hurt cattle in some way, because they could impact their growth or development, they are just more of a burden for chickens or poultry than anything else.”

Another way to help farmers with their possible Buffalo Gnat problem, for those who may not want to purchase a bunch of screen, is by trying to heard the animals to shaded areas or by using a fan, as Buffalo Gnats do not like air movement. However, what about for the people? How do residents protect themselves?

While some people may swear by using a vanilla spray or some other homemade remedy, there are a number of scientifically proven remedies out there as well.

“Deet is one of the oldest insect repellents out there,” said Brown. “IR3535 and Picaridin are two new repellents that have hit the market. These are also proven by the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, however, they do not last as long as Deet.”

Two other proven labels of repellent are permethrin, which can be used on clothing, structures, livestock and poultry, but should not be used directly on human skin. Pyrethrin is the other, which are a pair of natural organic compounds normally derived from Chrysanthemum cinerariifolium (Chrysanthemum Flowers.)

“This one has an immediate knock down effect,” said Brown. “It’s organic and safe to use, but only lasts about 24 hours.”

Now there are a few home remedy methods that have proven to work for some and not for others. One of the more common remedies is simply using a citronella candle or spray. Eucalyptus is another.

“A lot of these home remedies repellents are a hit or they are a miss,” said Brown. “It’s one of those things that if it works for you then, great, keep using it.”

But there is one home remedy that has found much success in the battle of the blood suckers – vanilla.

“I have had a great amount of success with vanilla,” tells Brown. “My preferred method is using a vanilla lotion, but another way is by making a spray on application. Basically by taking a teaspoon of vanilla and adding it to a cup or a quart of water a person could make a spray remedy. Keep in mind though; an old bottle of vanilla might not have as potent of an effect as a new one.”

One final idea some people may want to try is using Callicarpenal, a terpenoid that has been isolated from plants of the genus callicarpa or “Beauty plant.”

“It’s an attractive plant with purple berries on it,” said Brown. “There was an old folk remedy that said farmers would take these berries, mash them up and shove it under the harness of their mule, especially on the rump. As the mules or horses would be working the juices from the berries would seep out and coat the animals to protect them from these kinds of insects. Farmers would even rub some of the berries on themselves as well.”

Callicarpenal was discovered by scientists at the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service. During their research on old folk remedies they discovered, in some cases, this remedy could be more effective than Deet. It is also works as a repellent for ticks and fire ants.

These single winged vampires are also not fans of light colors, such as whites, creams, light tans, so on and so on. Although there are a number of remedies out there for these kinds of insects, there are just some people who may smell so sweet, it wouldn’t matter what they use, they’re just going to get bit.

For more information about Nellie Brown Consulting or treatment recommendations, even training, call 217-577-3459.

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