Have you ever wondered just what that small flying insect is that’s buzzing round your face? One of the most annoying things is getting bitten by an insect but not knowing exactly what it is that’s bitten you – especially when some insects have much more painful bites than you might expect given their size. Some of these small biting insects are no-see-ums which are often known as biting midges, while others that are extremely common are called gnats.
Both are found virtually all around the world in many different habitats, although particularly around slow-moving water, but just what are the differences between the two? Join us as we discover everything you need to know about no-see-ums vs gnats!
Comparing Gnats vs No-See-Ums
Gnat is a loose descriptive term rather than a scientific one and is used to describe a group of tiny flies. Gnats are generally described as being any species in the Nematocera suborder. No-see-ums are tiny flies from the family group Ceratopogonidae of which there are around 5,000 species worldwide. However, no-see-ums actually fulfil the aforementioned criteria to be classed as a gnat. Despite this, there are many, many other species which are also classed as gnats, meaning that there are still a few differences that we can use to distinguish them by.
|Size||0.04 – 0.5 inches long||0.04 – 0.12 inches long|
|Color||Yellowish-orange, tan, grey, black||Grey|
|Wings||Not always covered with hair||Covered with hair|
|Mouthpart||Depends on species – can have a cutting edge or can be softer||Saw-like cutting edge|
|Diet||Algae, fruit, fungus, compost, decaying organic matter, flower nectar, blood (females only)||Larvae – algae, fungi, plant matter|
Adult – mammal, reptile, or insect blood (females only), flower nectar
|Predators||Frogs, birds, reptiles, mammals, insects, spiders, fish, carnivorous plants||Larger insects, birds, carnivorous plants|
|Lifespan||1 week – 2 months||2 – 7 weeks|
The 5 Key Differences Between No-See-Ums and Gnats
No-See-Um vs Gnat: Size
Although no-see-ums are actually just a specific type of gnat, they are one of the smallest gnats around. No-see-ums are usually between 0.04 and 0.12 inches long, while gnats in general can be anything from 0.04 all the way up to 0.5 inches long.
No-See-Um vs Gnat: Color
Another difference between gnats and no-see-ums is their color. Although many species of gnats are grey to black, gnats can also be tan or yellowish-orange color. However, no-see-ums are always grey.
No-See-Um vs Gnat: Wings
Despite being tiny and difficult to see, the wings of no-see-ums are actually covered with dense hair. If you look really closely then the wings often look as though they have got tiny patterns all over them. However, these are actually usually just the pigmentation of their hair. However, in contrast not all gnats have hair-covered wings. Whether they have hair on their wings or not comes down to what species they are.
No-See-Um vs Gnat: Diet
Despite no-see-ums being a type of gnat, they don’t always share the exact same diet. This is because the diet of a gnat largely depends on what species it is and whether it’s a biting gnat or not. No-see-ums are biting gnats and the females must consume a blood meal before they can lay their eggs. However, not every species of gnat needs, or does, consume blood as part of their diet. Many other gnats are predominantly herbivores and eat a lot of fruit. They also consume algae, fungus, nectar, and decaying plant matter.
Although the diet of adult no-see-ums and gnats can differ, there is little difference between the diet of the larvae. No-see-um larvae feed on algae, fungus, and plant matter – all of which other gnat larvae also consume. However, some species of gnat larvae hatch in fruit and vegetables and when this happens the larvae generally feed on those until they become adults. In these cases, the gnat larvae are actually often classed as a pest due to the damage that they can do to the fruit – often more damage than the adults! In some cases, gnat larvae might not even eat at all during that stage – it just depends on what species it is.
No-See-Um vs Gnat: Mouthpart
To follow on from their diet, the mouthpart of no-see-ums and gnats can also be different depending on the species. As we’ve just mentioned, no-see-ums are a biting gnat and the females must consume a blood meal. Therefore, no-see-ums have a specialized mouthpart which enables them to pierce the skin and suck up blood. No-see-ums have a reputation for having incredibly painful bites and when we learn about their mouth it’s easy to see why! No-see-ums have a specialized mouthpart which has a saw-like cutting edge on their mandibles. They use this to cut the skin open and then they inject saliva underneath which causes the blood to pool there and causes a raised bump. They then suck up the blood using their proboscis.
Although some gnats do have a mouthpart which is the same as no-see-ums, others which are not biting gnats do not. Some gnats – particularly fungus gnats – have a mouthpart which is reduced in size and much softer. This means that they cannot physically bite the way that no-see-ums do.
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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Are gnat bites and no-see-um bites the same?
Yes, as no-see-ums are a type of gnat their bites are largely the same. Their bites are generally raised red bumps gathered together in clusters.
What time of day are no-see-ums and gnats active?
No-see-ums and gnats are both most active during the hours of dawn and dusk.
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