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Mosquitoes vs. Gnats vs. Midges vs. Fruit Flies

Small winged black insects indoors and out may all look alike, but it’s important to identify them so you can effectively treat a pest problem if you have one. How much do you know about mosquitos, gnats, midges and fruit flies? They are all dipteran flies, but they have key differences. Let’s look at the main characteristics that set each of these flying bugs apart.

Mosquitoes

These disease-spreading pests have distinctive slender, elongated bodies. Females of most species need protein, which they get from bloodsucking, to produce fertile eggs. Their larvae feed on algae, and during the pupal stage, they tend to swim and can be quite active.

Female mosquitoes are the ones that suck blood.

The length of a mosquito’s life cycle (from egg to larva to pupa to adult) differs depending on the species and the conditions, but most usually last from four days to as much as a month.1

Mosquitoes are known to transmit serious diseases, such as West Nile virus and Zika, as they require blood to feed. The mosquito's saliva can also cause minor reactions such as itchy bumps and subsequent skin infections in humans and other animals.

Gnats

“Gnat” is an unscientific umbrella term that applies to several species of small flies, including midges, black flies and fruit flies, among others.

Most larvae are free-living, or able to move about on their own, and some are aquatic. Some feed on plants, and some are carnivorous.

Midges

Midges are a group of very small two-winged flies that resemble mosquitoes. While most species of midges do not use blood as a food source, some do, like Ceratopogonidae, a family of biting midges. Their habits depend greatly on the species, but they can generally be found in ponds or streams.2

Males are feathery and may breed in water or manure, and their life span can be slightly over a month.

Notice, midges do not have a proboscis, which how mosquitoes suck blood.

Fruit Flies

The name “fruit flies” comes from their larvae, which feed on fruit. Many species are known to cause damage to fruit crops as the larvae tunnel into the fruit, making it unfit for human consumption.

Not only are adult fruit flies attracted to the sweetness of the fruits and vegetables, the larva they lay actually feed off of it.

They go through three different stages during their life cycle before reaching full maturity, which starts the moment the female places the egg in a fruit or another sweet substance. Under optimal conditions, they live 50 days on average.3

Once Identified, How to Get Rid of These Pesky Insects?

If you are having issues with one or more of the insects mentioned above, head over to our Natural Mosquito Repellent page for products specifically designed to help prevent these pesky insects. Or check out our all-natural No-See-Um Spray, which is not only designed to deter no-see-ums, but will also work for the other insects identified above.


  1.  EPA, “Mosquito Life Cycle,” January 27, 2021, https://www.epa.gov/mosquitocontrol/mosquito-life-cycle.
  2. C. Roxanne Connelly, “Common Name: Biting Midges, No-See-Ums; Scientific Name: Culicoides spp. (Insecta: Diptera: Ceratopogonidae),” EENY-349, Featured Creatures, University of Florida Entomology, https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/aquatic/biting_midges.htm.
  3. Nancy J. Linford, Ceyda Bilgir, Jennifer Ro and Scott D. Pletcher, “Measurement of Lifespan in Drosophila melanogaster,” Journal of Visualized Experiments 71(2013): 50068, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3582515/.