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Buffalo Gnats


Summary: Female buffalo gnats are known for biting humans and animals in order to suck their blood. They can cause a lot of damage to livestock or people who are allergic to buffalo gnats.


Insecticide foggers will knock down adult buffalo gnats, but they will return because they have a very short breeding period. The foggers will provide tempory relief, but if that's what you seek you can find the foggers by clicking here.

The buffalo gnat, also known as the black fly or turkey gnat, is a tiny creature that measures no more than 5 mm. Even though it is called the black fly, it may also be gray, brown, or even some shades of orange. It has a humpback, which is how its name originated. The buffalo gnat has clear wings, big eyes, and antennae with eleven segments.

Areas with streams or rivers provide an excellent atmosphere for the buffalo gnat. Because its eggs live in water, the reproduction rate in moist areas is high, including climates with heavy precipitation. The buffalo gnat is commonly found in wooded areas, as well as arctic areas. Canada is a popular buffalo


gnat hangout.

The life cycle of the buffalo gnat is unique. Eggs are laid hundreds at a time and they develop in flowing water. Females often drop their eggs into the water from the air or lay the eggs directly onto aquatic plants. Fortunately, buffalo gnats cannot survive in still water like ponds. When they develop into larvae they find a stable surface on stones or vegetation. They have a small structure similar to a suction cup, attached to their abdomen that allows them to stick to surfaces. For up to two weeks they grow and eat to gain energy. Once strong enough, they fly. The adult buffalo gnat emerge from the water, sometimes through a bubble of air, and are immediately ready to fly. They typically live for another three weeks.

Instances of human and animal suffering from buffalo gnats has been recorded throughout history. Female buffalo gnats have teeth that can cut human skin. They need nectar and blood to survive, so they will bite at humans any chance they can get. (Males only need nectar to survive and cannot bite.) In tropical areas and places with warm, moist climates, buffalo gnats can cause diseases in humans, such as river blindness. They are also known to attack cattle. Consequences of buffalo gnat bites for animals include extreme weight loss, anaphylactic shock, and death. Turkeys and other types of poultry may have parasites or diseases after being bitten by buffalo gnats. Like mosquitoes, buffalo gnats can be carriers of encephalitis. Oddly, the cleaner the water in rivers and streams is, the higher the population of buffalo gnats tends to be.

Some states will spray insecticide over the ground to decrease the number of buffalo gnats. This treatment has proven to help eliminate the pests. If you experience a buffalo gnat infestation, do not try to treat with insecticide. Report the infestation to state health officials who are trained in eliminated

River Blindness

buffalo gnats.

Buffalo gnats are daytime bitters. Once the sun comes up, look out. Typically, they won't go indoors because of the lack of sunshine. So, either stay inside or consider the following tips to avoid buffalo gnats.

  • Wear bug spray when doing water activities, such as canoeing or fishing. Reapply every two hours.
  • Wear hats with mesh nets that can extend over your face when you are near water.
  • You may want to postpone outdoor activities near bodies of water until after the buffalo gnat season ends.
  • If you have a steadily moving stream in your yard, try to get rid of as much vegetation from it as possible.
  • Some people have found that there are less buffalo gnats at higher altitudes. So if you plan on camping, mountainous areas may be a safe place to do so.
  • Wear light-colored clothing with long sleeves to cover up as much skin as possible.
  • Wait until sunset to go near flowing water because the temperature will be cooler, making it less likely for buffalo gnats to be flying about.

How to Handle Bites from Buffalo Gnats:

  • Apply corticosteroids or soothing lotions to the bite location.
  • Take an antihistamine if itching or swelling develops.
  • If allergic reactions become severe, consult a doctor or other health professional immediately.

Ask Rick A Question


04 Apr 2012, 20:48
I found the mosquito head nets at Walmart for $2. They sell out of them fast this time of year.
08 Apr 2012, 11:31
I have been using the buggins spray for the last 2 yrs. works pretty good for bout 2-3 hrs, less time if you sweat more. permetherin does pretty good for chickens. have found alot of more helpful things on here. thx alot.
River Walker
23 Apr 2012, 02:25
I walk many miles along a trail next to the Arkansas River in central Arkansas. The buffalo gnats (black flies) are tenacious and relentless. DEET (Cutter Sportsmen 40) will keep them from actually biting, BUT they will still light and annoy the heck out of you. The Banana Boat sunscreen (I use Sport 15) keeps them from even lighting! It only lasts a few hours, so be sure to carry it with you for reapplication. The Coleman head-net (Wal-Mart) is best but you look stupid and people laugh. I recommend the Banana Boat AND a headnet if you are really serious about avoiding the huge welts and terrible itching.
23 Apr 2012, 03:00
LOL, yep we look pretty darn silly with our headnets but it's the only way to go. My horse has one too and she looks like a martian. Will have to try the Banana Boat. Wonder what's in it that repels them? I'll have to make it into a liquid so I can spray it.
Angie for Central Illinois
25 Apr 2012, 21:06
Thanks for everyone's input. We live in Central Illinois and these darn bugs are horrible, we have chickens and haven't lost any yet but I feel we are going to. We are going to try the powder that was mentioned and hope that works for us. We have been spraying their house with vanilla and water mixture for now but going to try more ideas! Thanks again!
Trudy Mercer
30 Apr 2012, 10:43
I don't know if this is a myth or not but when I was younger I was told to take either vitamin B-1 or B-12 to repel the gnats and mosquitoes. Either it worked or I got lucky. I'm highly allergic and swell up horribly. I've started back on the vitamin B complex since I can't remember the specific number I used to take. We'll see!
03 May 2012, 15:50
My husband and live in Texas and both recently bitten by Buffalo Gnats. He was bitten on the eyelid and the eye was swollen closed for two days. I was bitten on the face near the ear. Severe itching and swelling and then a large blister on my face. Yes, we both went to the doctor - steroid shot and antibotics. My husband has now developed a large swelling and sore below the eye which will probably turn to a blister. We were at at outdoor wedding near the Brazos River. No more outdoor weddings! We have lived on a ranch for over 30 years and have never experienced this gnat.
30 Jul 2012, 09:29
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Nancy Whitsett
23 Apr 2013, 11:30
I live in Nothern Nevada and was bitten by a black gant yesterday don't know if it was a buffalo gant, but as I speak my right eye is swollen shut and the rightside of my face has no feeling and has spread to the other side of my face this morning, I callesd the emergency room and was advised to take benadryl and cold compress. So far nothing has taken the swelling down it has only gotten worst. I will seek help from a Doctor today. I will invest in a net and the banana boat sport 50. Never heard of then in Nevada.
Kris Noe
28 Apr 2013, 09:36
I live in Northern Nevada also, and this season is one of the worst yet for the gants. You can't even go outside without being covered in them. We've tried the sprays, going to try some of the other idea's mention. Can't live your life locked up in your house just because of the flying pests.
01 May 2013, 11:59
Are buffalo gnats and sandflies similar in appearance? I have lesions that look like they might be from Leishmaniasis. I started getting them when I lived in Georgia near the ocean. I have had these sores for a year and a half and no doctor can figure out what is causing them. If it wasn't for google image search which i did today I wouldn't have even known myself it could be this. I have small children and this can potentially be fatal if it is inside too. I need to know what to tell docs to look for cause they can't seem to figure it out on their own. Any answers would be a great help.
09 May 2013, 15:55
This sounds crazy but Banana Boat sun screen works extremely well.
17 May 2013, 19:13
I am highly allergic to their bites. I have had great success with the Thermacell insect repellent devices. I spring hunt and fish a lot and most times it is around water. Once the water hits 70 degrees the devils hatch and the war is on. Give the Thermacells a try. No spray is involved and the smell is very tolerable.
03 Jun 2013, 10:46
We moved here to Hattiesburg Mississippi a few years ago, excited about getting into the whole country life, bought horses, a tractor, the whole nine yards. We've been fighting these demonic gnats ever since! Nothing works, we've tried everything suggested here, none of it really works very well. Pennsylvania seems to have an effective program, here's the website. Wish Mississippi would do someting like this! 74
07 Jun 2013, 11:13
We have been having infestations of gnats last week and I've been hearing of many chickens dying due to them suffocating from gnats going up their noses. Someone told me to use Absorbin Jr or Skin So Soft from Avon to ward them off except they said most places are all sold out of the Absorbin. Glad I have a supploy of SSS right now.
07 Jun 2013, 11:32
They are bad this year in Central Illinois. If I want to work in the yard I just mix imitation vanilla extract with water (enough to darken the water some), then wipe it on exposed skin with a rag. Keeps them away for several hours. They don't even light or fly near....
17 Oct 2013, 19:33
Buffalo gnats arrived in this (upper) southern California valley in 2001. Since then, they've steadily multiplied, this year being far worse than last. One bite will kill a turkey, swarms kill off livestock & pets, and yes, people have been killed by the bites as well. While most "officials" don't know (or knowingly conceal) that a buffalo gnat insert larvae into the skin, which in turn hatch into a tiny worm (app 1.5 cm), that in turn propagates, spreading throughout the body. When the immune system is good, the body fights off the intruders within 3-6 months. When the immune system in weak, they live on, multiplying. The only doctors that can help people (after the fact) are (some knowledgeable) NMD's (Naturopathic doctors) or Homeopathic doctors. Essential oils help to dissuade the gnats from biting (Rose Geranium tops the list at present), however, building up the immune system with the proper nutrients is needed. The problem in England has also been horrendous, however, unlike the US, they've dealt with it with incredible intelligence...using a strain of probiotics that kill the larvae in the streams...avoiding harm to wildlife or humans.
13 May 2014, 14:29
I live in Southwestern Indiana, these buggers got imported a few years ago after Hurricane Ike rolled up through the Midwest. We never had them before that. If I could find where they breed around here I'd eradicate it, but we have no creek nearby, just in the middle of a forest.

I've heard reports of neighbors losing poultry, especially younger birds, due to blood loss and toxicity of the bites. My own turkeys and chickens hide in their dark chicken house till sundown, which seems to help.

The only thing we've found that works is pure imitation vanilla in a spray bottle. It's funny to go around town to the farm supply stores and various business and seeing big burly men smelling like cupcakes. But it's the vanillin in things that makes them bugger off for hours at a time.

GFS/Sams sells gallon jugs of imitation vanilla, pour it into a spray bottle, set it for the finest mist, spray it into the air and walk through the mist making sure to cover most of your head/neck. Spraying your flock with vanilla also helps, but they don't seem to appreciate the practice much.
kathy wood
20 May 2014, 07:51
I visit Lake Village Arkansas and they are awful. The bites swell to about ping-pong ball size. after the first day or two when it is really swollen I use cortaid, cortizone cream. It will pull out the swelling at night. Vanilla is the only thing we have found that works. Really ruins a weekend at the lake.
Mary Lou
28 May 2014, 07:39
There is a formula called "Bug Soothe" they make it in Columbus Jct, Iowa dont know how far it is available but works extroadinary on Buffalo Gnats and some on Mosquitoes an all natural product and doesnt smell bad. In green bottle may be available on internet. I use on self, dogs, cats and chickens Good luck
Mary Lou
28 May 2014, 07:44
Bug Soother is available at Amazon on line
03 Jun 2014, 15:38
This is going to sound crazy but my wife has Vanilla Lace body spray from Victoria's Secret. It seems to really keep the bugs away - even better than the straight vanilla.
06 Jun 2014, 08:06
Real vanilla extract works to keep them away.
12 Jun 2014, 19:48
09 Jul 2014, 10:53
We live by a running creek and the buffalo usually come out in late April for 5 or 6 weeks. They are very annoying as you already know and their bite is like a bee sting. We use Skin so Soft from AVON. It repels mosquitos and Deer flies as well. Little oily and floral smell but works great.
22 Sep 2014, 19:32
Well maybe this year is different, or they've evolved because:

This year they're breeding in my drains (I had to get biological goop to clear the drains of all debris).

This year they were attracted to ammonia and water on a plate and drowned in it.

This year they were attracted to UV lamps which just got them closer to the sticky traps and made the sticky traps much more effective. I just bought the replacement bulbs and used my own lamp instead of paying thru the nose for a full setup.

This year they were repelled by both DEET and Skin So Soft, just like every other year (can't understand why people say that deet doesn't work, works for me but I always buy 25% or 30%).

This year they didn't go away after 4-6 weeks, not outside or inside. So "grinning and bearing" it didn't work.

This is all because I like fresh air and open a window every day for a few minutes at least, regardless of AC, usually in the morning. The previous owners had the storm windows down all year round. Now I know why.
22 Sep 2014, 19:41
I appreciate Elizabeth's comments. I found that scalding hot water stopped the itching of the bites. It had to be "white hot" though, so don't try that on kids. I do the same to poison ivy. I assume that kills any larvae that's maybe present. As far as any other parasitic junk that may happen, I guess I can always buy ivermectin from Amazon, and so could you. Just be careful dosing it. The dose you get is for a cow, not for you, so don't OD, research it first.
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