There’s nothing quite like a summer evening, from the sweet smell of fresh cut grass to afternoons spent grilling poolside and late nights by the fire pit. There truly isn’t a thing that can spoil such a night–except maybe that relentless buzzing in your ear. 

You can swat all you want, drench yourself in bug spray, or light up a whole pallet of citronella candles, but the bugs just seem to keep on coming. By the time you head inside to wrap things up for the evening, you can already feel the itch and sting of your newly acquired bug bites flaring up. Some are small, some are large, some are itchy, and some sting, but they’re all from the same type of bug, right? 

In reality, there are quite a few small, winged insects with a taste for blood. The two insects most commonly found nibbling on exposed arms and legs in the spring and summer months are gnats and spring mosquitoes. While we’re all familiar with both, what are the differences between these two biting arthropods? 

In this article, we’ll explore the aesthetic and behavioral differences between gnats and mosquitoes, why each bite humans, and why the resulting bumps are so uncomfortable.  

How Can You Tell The Difference Between Mosquitoes and Gnats? 

While often sharing similar behavioral habits, Gnats and mosquitoes are quite different aesthetically from one another. Both gnats and mosquitos are members of the Culicidae superfamily of insects, under the order Diptera. These arthropods are recognizable by their small size and two wings, making them easy to mistake for one another. 

Gnats come in different shapes and sizes, though they all have common traits that make them readily identifiable. Gnats are small flies, featuring a similar body shape and appearance to common house flies, only far smaller and thinner. These insects are often gray or black in color and are regularly found hovering in massive swarms in the summertime. 

While traditional gnats are slightly larger in size, biting gnats and no-see-ums are so small that they’re often difficult to see, with adults reaching no more than 1/16 of an inch in length. Fortunately, figuring out how to get rid of gnats outside will help eliminate all sorts of gnats so that you don’t have to worry about distinguishing between different kinds. 

Mosquitos are traditionally easier to place, featuring long, slender bodies, long legs, and a proboscis used to pierce the skin. While traditionally larger overall than gnats, mosquitos are thinner and daintier. These small insects come in a variety of colors and color combinations, including:

  • Black
  • Brown
  • Gray
  • Silver
  • White  

Do Both Mosquitos and Gnats Bite? 

The simple answer to this question is yes, both mosquitos and gnats are known to bite humans; however, only certain sexes of mosquitoes and gnats bite, and only particular species of gnats go after humans. 

When you think of small, biting insects, the first one that comes to your mind is likely the mosquito; why is that? Nearly all species of mosquitoes bite, leaving you with the familiar itchy welts after a long, warm evening by the water; however, only female mosquitoes ingest blood. 

All male and most female mosquitoes are primarily herbivores, seeking nectar, honeydew, and plant and fruit juices. Female mosquitoes typically only bite humans and other animals when requiring ample protein to nourish their eggs. 

Gnats are relatively similar; however, a large number of the species don’t bother humans. The most common gnats you’ll find buzzing around your home are 

  • Fruit flies,
  • Drain flies 
  • Fungus gnats, or phorid flies 

These gnats are traditionally considered nuisance pests since they don’t pose a real problem to your home or health. However, these species of gnats can often be found replicating in large numbers during the summer months, covering windows, kitchens, and other areas where food and damp breeding areas are found. These gnats don’t bite humans, though several other species do, such as:

  • Biting midges
  • Black flies
  • No-see-ums. 

Like mosquitoes, the males of all species of biting gnats don’t actually bite, preferring to feed on fruits, vegetables, and decomposed plant matter. Female gnats are primarily herbivores as well, only biting humans and other animals when they require additional protein to lay eggs. 

Why Do They Bite? 

As mentioned previously, biting gnats and mosquitoes are primarily herbivores, with all males and females sharing a primary diet of plant material like fruits, vegetables, and nectar. Only when females require the added protein found in blood to lay eggs do they exclusively pursue humans and other animals. 

welts from a mosquito bite

Are Bites Just An Allergic Reaction To the Bug Itself? 

Yes and no, depending on the insect and the extent of your allergic reaction towards them.

In most cases, the welts from a mosquito bite are definitely caused by an allergic reaction; however, this reaction isn’t to the bug itself. Your body doesn’t react to the physical instrument in your skin: the mosquito’s proboscis. The proboscis is so thin and sharp that the physical act of it piercing the skin is nearly unnoticeable; so what produces the familiar itchy and stinging welt? 

When a mosquito bites, it initially uses its proboscis not to draw blood but to inject its own saliva into your skin. Mosquito saliva features strong anti-hemostatic qualities, acting as an anticoagulant to prevent the formation of blood clots which would easily plug the microscopic hole in your skin. This anticoagulant allows the mosquito to draw blood indefinitely. 

The visceral, itching sensation and associated lump is actually your body’s reaction to the mosquito’s saliva, rather than a physical injury from its proboscis. Your body recognizes the associated proteins in the saliva as a foreign body, releasing histamines to attack. The histamines localize around the bite, resulting in inflammation and, thus, itching.

Like most other allergic reactions, with greater exposure comes lesser reactions as your body gets accustomed to the particular compound. However, as soon as you’re in a new area with different mosquito species, reactions become far more severe due to a slight variation in saliva. 

Gnat bites produce similar allergic reactions. When a gnat bites your skin, they release an anticoagulant similar to that found in mosquito saliva. This anticoagulant has a similar effect of reducing blood clots and also produces a histamine release and allergic reaction. But gnats don’t feature proboscis-like mosquitos, so how do they bite? 

Biting gnats use their sharp mouthparts to scrape, cut, and irritate the skin, causing far more physical damage to your flesh than mosquitos. As a result, gnat bites are often more painful and itchier. 

Between mosquitoes and gnats, what are the primary differences? In actuality, these little arthropods have more similarities than differences. Both insects are members of the Culicidae superfamily, under the order Diptera. They both have members that draw blood from humans, and both result in itchy, painful welts on your skin. 

Size-wise, gnats are typically smaller than mosquitos, though both feature long and slender bodies. Gnats are more commonly found in your home or in massive clouds swarming the open air, whereas mosquitos will travel individually in search of food. However, both can carry disease, and both are a nuisance. 

While one features a scrape-and-cut approach to drawing blood, the other uses its proboscis; though does it really make a difference when they’re biting you?

If you’re facing either infestation, do your best to eliminate any standing water or food sources; if necessary, don’t hesitate to ring a certified pest control specialist. The Pest Rangers can help you counter any indoor and outdoor infestation, helping you enjoy those calm summer nights. 

Pest Issues? Contact The Pest Rangers Today.