Eye Gnat

They’re called eye gnats.

These tiny flies don’t bite or sting.

But eye gnats do have a habit — a need, really — that causes human beings great annoyance.

Eye gnats feed on bodily fluids present in and around the eyes, ears and nostrils of people and animals. We’re talking about tears, mucus, sweat — fluids that are present in tiny amounts, but enough for a tiny fly to sip.

It doesn’t seem like much to live on, even by insect standards. But the eye gnats somehow make do.

Because their dietary habits bring eye gnats right up to and onto the human face, they pose a minor safety hazard in two specific situations:

One is, a person gets a gnat stuck in her eye. This can cause discomfort, blurred vision due to watering eyes, and distraction from visual tasks.

The easiest preventive step for this one is to wear face-hugging sunglasses or dedicated protective eyewear, in situations where eye gnats are common.

When they’ve had to remove gnats from their own eyes, BugWeek Web Team members have had good success with a single square of toilet paper, folded gently into a soft, flexible point, then wielded VERY carefully, wiping the gnat toward the outside corner of the eye.

The second hazard you might experience is a gnat going up your nose during an inhalation, and not making the trip back down.

Again, discomfort can result — plus a coughing fit, if the gnat lands on the wrong surface in your upper respiratory system.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much a person can do to cut the risk of a gnat up the nose, except to wear a surgical mask or ventilator mask.

This extreme measure is not a BugWeek Web Team recommendation; it’s just the only way we can think of that would keep gnats out of your nose. Since these insects are present in low numbers in most situations, the mask would probably end up being a bigger nuisance than the eye gnats themselves.

As you’ve probably seen in news footage, some people around the world do routinely wear a filtering mask when venturing outdoors. But that’s generally done to reduce the chance of inhaling airborne particles or pathogens, not to keep gnats out.

One other icky thing that eye gnats do — they land at open wounds. What Florida child, past or present, hasn’t had to shoo away a little cloud of eye gnats from a skinned knee? Talk about adding insult to injury.

Two species of eye gnat are prominent in Florida. They are Liohippelates pusio and Liohippelates bishoppi.

But of course you need a microscope to look at either one in the first place, let alone tell them apart.

Eye gnats have a maximum length of about one-sixteenth of an inch.

Nonetheless, they are flies — among the smallest flies in Florida — and are thus members of the Diptera order of insects, the true flies.

Eye gnats are part of the family Chloropidae, a specific, smaller division of the Diptera order.

They tend to be common in areas with sandy soil. And try getting away from sandy soil in Florida.

So, sometimes we have to put up with eye gnats.

They’re just part of life in the Sunshine State.

Read more about these pint-sized pests in this Featured Creatures document prepared by the UF/IFAS entomology department.