Gnats vs Fruit Flies: 4 Key Differences

Written by August Buck
Published: February 15, 2022
Image Credit Henrik Larsson/Shutterstock.com
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When it comes to comparing gnats vs fruit flies, you may be wondering what their differences are so that you can tell them apart. Both of these pests are commonly found in homes around the world, but these two bugs are very different once you understand how to tell them apart. Given the fact that they live in very different habitats or environments, this may be one of the easiest ways for you to tell the differences between them.

In this article, we will address some of the primary things that separate these two bugs from each other, as well as how you can tell them apart in detail. Not only will this article be helpful in terms of identifying a variety of pests, you can learn their behavior so that you can control them should you have a gnat or fruit fly problem. Let’s get started! 

Comparing Gnats vs Fruit Flies

gnats vs fruit flies
Fruit flies are different in appearance from gnats, often lighter in color with red eyes visible.

A-Z-Animals.com

GnatsFruit Flies
SpeciesNematoceraDrosophilidae
Lifespan5-10 days7-18 days
HabitatOften found in potting soil or other organic materialsFound near rotting food or unclean areas, such as kitchen drains or trash cans
Size1/8th-1/4th of an inch1/8th of an inch
AppearanceDark or black in color; long legs and body with weak flight patternTan, gray, or black in color; shaped like a traditional fly with large red eyes

The Main Differences Between Gnats vs Fruit Flies

gnats vs fruit flies
Gnats belong to the Nematocera family, while fruit flies belong to the Drosophilidae family.

Henrik Larsson/Shutterstock.com

There are many key differences between gnats vs fruit flies. For example, gnats belong to the Nematocera family, while fruit flies belong to the Drosophilidae family. Fruit flies are different in appearance from gnats, often lighter in color with red eyes visible. Finally, gnats and fruit flies have different habitats and locations that they prefer to be part of. Gnats prefer to live around soil and organic materials while fruit flies are often found near rotting or unclean areas. 

Let’s go over some of these differences in more detail now.

Gnats vs Fruit Flies: Species Classification

One of the main differences between gnats and fruit flies lies in their species classification. Gnats are from the Nematocera family, while fruit flies are from the Drosophilidae family. While this difference may not necessarily help you tell these two insects apart, it is a key difference between them. No matter how similarly these bugs look upon first glance, they are not related. 

gnats vs fruit flies
 Gnats differ from fruit flies in that they do not have visible eyes, like fruit flies do.

iStock.com/Tomasz Klejdysz

Gnats vs Fruit Flies: Appearance

A key difference when it comes to gnats vs fruit flies is found in their appearance. Even though both of these bugs are roughly 1/4 of an inch in length, they look very different, even to the naked eye. Gnats are usually dark gray or black in color, while fruit flies range in color from tan to black. But there are more differences in their overall appearance than this. 

Given their species classifications, gnats and fruit flies look like their fellow insect species found under the same family name. For example, gnats belong to the same family as mosquitoes, and their body illustrates this. They have long dangling legs and thin wings, often flying in a similar pattern to a mosquito.

Fruit flies are classified in the same family as the standard house fly, and have a body that resembles this, making them very different from gnats. Gnats also differ from fruit flies in that they do not have visible eyes, like fruit flies do. You will know a fruit fly by its trademark large red eyes, very similar to other species of fly

Gnats vs Fruit Flies: Habitat

gnats vs fruit flies
Fruit flies can be found near particularly smelly areas of your home, such as trash cans and drains, while gnats prefer to hover around areas of organic matter, such as plants and soil.

Henrik Larsson/Shutterstock.com

Another difference between gnats and fruit flies is their preferred habitat and surroundings. Fruit flies can be found near particularly smelly areas of your home, such as trash cans and drains, while gnats prefer to hover around areas of organic matter, such as plants and soil. 

This is an important distinction to make, as their habitats often determine whether or not you will have an infestation of gnats or fruit flies. For example, if you notice that your favorite house plant is being swarmed by gnats, you may need to take some time and care for its soil to prevent further gnats from being born. The same goes for fruit flies, as you may be experiencing difficulties with rotten garbage or compost. The last thing you want to do is encourage fruit flies or gnats to stick around your home! 

While gnats feed on organic plant material, fruit flies are a little more creative in their preferred diet and habitat. Fruit flies will seek out any type of rotting food, including unattractive slime found in your garbage can or sink drain. Gnats tend to stick close to plants, and fruit flies hover near your rotting produce!

Gnats vs Fruit Flies: Lifespan

gnats vs fruit flies
Gnats live an average of 5 to 10 days, while fruit flies live at least a week, if not closer to 20 days.

iStock.com/hoja_viva

A final difference between these two insects lies in their life span. Gnats live an average of 5 to 10 days, while fruit flies live at least a week, if not closer to 20 days. You will likely want to know how long you can expect these insects to live if they are flying around your home, as very few people enjoy the presence of a gnat or fruit fly.

Thankfully, neither of these insects live very long in the grand scheme of things. However, this short amount of time is enough for them to breed and create more of their own kind, so dealing with an infestation sooner rather than later is always a good idea.

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About the Author

I am a non-binary freelance writer working full-time in Oregon. Graduating Southern Oregon University with a BFA in Theatre and a specialization in creative writing, I have an invested interest in a variety of topics, particularly Pacific Northwest history. When I'm not writing personally or professionally, you can find me camping along the Oregon coast with my high school sweetheart and Chihuahua mix, or in my home kitchen, perfecting recipes in a gleaming cast iron skillet.