A Moment of Science

How To Meet An Eligible Gnat

Have you ever walked into a swarm of insects and then found yourself unable to shake the swarm? Learn why these little buggers are so hard to escape.

gnats swarming

Photo: dapawprint (Flickr)

Gnats swarming around a fence.

Have you ever walked into a swarm of insects–gnats, mosquitoes, or one of their many cousins–and then found yourself unable to shake the swarm? You fake left, go right, but the little buggers still hover above. As if it that weren’t bad enough, did you know your head had just become the happening scene, where every hip gnat wants to be–in other words, the insect world’s equivalent of a singles bar?

Swarm

That’s right, swarms are places for the sexes to meet and greet. The first time an entomologist reported the purpose of swarms was in 1906. Frederick Knab wrote that he’d netted 901 mosquitoes from a swarm, but only 4 were females!

Here’s how Knab explained it: males gather around some landmark–a cornstalk, perhaps the head of an unsuspecting human–and wait for eligible females. When a female enters the swarm, the males immediately pick up her flight tone, which is different from theirs. Coupled with one lucky guy, she flies to some protected place to mate.

Laying Eggs

After their interlude, the female goes to lay her eggs, but the male returns to the swarm, on the outside chance that he’ll get lucky once more. That’s why Knab netted so many more males than females.

Sometimes, these gatherings get quite large. In Germany, in 1807, people saw a huge cloud of smoke billowing over a church. So they called in the fire brigade, only to realize that the dark cloud was actually a swarm of gnats who’d picked the church steeple as their rendezvous.

Stay Connected

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from A Moment of Science:

Support for Indiana Public Media Comes From

About A Moment of Science

Search A Moment of Science