A friend recently commented that she had been bitten on the ankles by a mosquito. She thought she spotted a couple of mosquitoes dancing on her wheelie bin. Bearing in mind the frosty temperatures we’re currently experiencing I was a little dubious. A few minutes later I tuned into a radio programme discussing the different biting insects which may have bitten the presenter. Fleas, flies and winter gnats were scrutinised. Curious about what form a winter gnat takes I looked it up and discovered this stunning image by Brian Valentine. With their six spindly legs they can easily be mistaken for a mosquito.
Winter gnats are usually about six to eight millimetres in length with long transparent wings. A winter gnat has only one visible pair of wings, rather than the two pairs of a wasp. The second pair of wings, technically known as halteres, are tiny and beat rapidly during flight, providing stability.
I can’t find any reference to them biting, or having biting mouthparts. However, there’s a lot of folk on the internet claim to have been bitten by them. Could it be that a winter gnat is unfairly mistaken for something more sinister like a painfully biting horse fly or deer fly?
Winter gnats are very common in England. The adults emerge from larvae that live in rotting vegetation such decaying leaves. Fungus gnats can live in the soggy leaves of a houseplant. The larvae can injure the roots of bedding plants and damage stored food such as potatoes.
Winter gnats are abundant throughout the year but are more prevalent in the autumn and winter. They are fond of woodlands and open water and are an important food source for birds, plus fish are not impartial to a snack either. In the winter the male winter gnats gather in large swarms and dance up and down to attract females. The females lay their eggs in decaying wood or other rotten matter and emerge in the spring.
If you have been bitten by a winter gnat, please let us know – we’re curious!
Thanks to Brian Valentine (Lord V) for the amazing photograph posted on Flickr.