Chicago, IL

What's the deal with all the gnats, Chicago?

Jennifer Geer

Your answers on how to repel them, and do we know why there are so many this year?

(CHICAGO) Social media has been abuzz with reports of gnat swarms in Chicago, especially near the lakefront. One Twitter user posted, "I'm abandoning Chicago the gnats have won."

While it's normal to see gnats in the spring, Chicago seems to have been inundated with an unusual amount of these nonbiting, but annoying, pests in the past week.

Even the experts can agree the swarms of gnats are "unusually large."

"It's not the end of the world."

Allen Lawrance, associate curator of entomology at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, spoke to NBC Chicago to reassure the public that although Chicago is experiencing a widespread emergence of gnats, it is still a "natural phenomenon." Reassuringly, Lawrance said, "it's not the end of the world times or anything like that."

Do they bite?

No. As annoying as the bugs can be, thankfully, they aren't as pesky as mosquitoes and cause no harm to humans. These gnats are known as "non-biting flies" or "chironomid midges." They feed on nectar and sugary materials.

Why the large swarms?

The midges lay eggs on the surface of the water. The eggs sink to the bottom until they hatch as larvae and burrow into the mud. Once they transform into pupae, they swim to the top, emerge as gnats, and begin mating in swarms.

The exact reason the swarms are bigger than usual this year remains unclear. Lawrance told NBC that it could be due to several factors, including the cooler weather and perhaps a lack of predators and disease. They live for 3 to 11 days, and cooler weather slows their metabolism, keeping them alive longer.

They are beneficial

As irritating as they are, these bugs are a food source for birds, fish, and predatory aquatic insects. In their larval stage, they clean the lake bottom by eating organic debris.

Is vanilla the solution?

A natural solution to keeping the hordes at bay can be found in vanilla extract. According to Hunker, you can mix one tablespoon of vanilla extract with water in a spray bottle. Swish it around and spray it wherever you don't want gnats, even on yourself.

Alternatively, if you don't want to go the DIY route, WROK News Talk suggests this vanilla body spray on sale for $5.98 at Walmart.

You may want to keep your vanilla bottle handy for later on this summer when the gnats will have died down, but the mosquitoes will emerge. Vanilla is also known as a natural mosquito repellent.

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Jennifer covers lifestyle content and local news for the Chicago area. New articles published each weekday.

Chicago, IL
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