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They're coming for you, South Mississippi: How to fight the gnats

In the spring and summer battle for Florida's beaches and swamps, the tiny sand gnat has no equal. This sand fly, also known as sand gnat, no-see-ums and punkies, shown in a file photo, is  mainly an afternoon predator seen around inland Florida and, in addition to the scraps they commonly feed on at the beaches, they appear to have placed a  new item on their menus.
In the spring and summer battle for Florida's beaches and swamps, the tiny sand gnat has no equal. This sand fly, also known as sand gnat, no-see-ums and punkies, shown in a file photo, is mainly an afternoon predator seen around inland Florida and, in addition to the scraps they commonly feed on at the beaches, they appear to have placed a new item on their menus. UNIV OF FLORIDA VIA TAMPA TIBUNE

What’s Mississippi buzzing about? Well, it’s not mosquitoes — yet.

It’s the invasion of the black fly — often called the buffalo gnat or turkey gnat.

And it’s enough to get your attention if bitten. Red welts are common, and the desire to scratch can be intense — for days. Fever, nausea and allergic dermatitis are also possible.

Heavy rains and flooding this year, in particular, have proved extremely conducive to the little devils along the Pearl River in central Mississippi, according to the Mississippi State University Extension Service. But, gnat outbreaks are being reported by media outlets in several states says the Clarion Ledger. University extension services are getting more than their usual number of inquiries, too.

(Here’s an interesting tidbit from one such extension service in Arkansas: A severe outbreak of buffalo gnats in 1931 caused the death of more than 1,000 mules along the lower Mississippi River. Arkansas doesn’t play around when it comes to striking fear in the hearts and minds of its residents.)

Of course, there’s no need to emphasize what formidable foes these gnats can be. You’re already likely convinced if you’ve read this far.

Hot weather — usually above 80 degrees — will eventually take care of the problem, though it’s sure to bring another host of complaints (remember, mosquitoes are waiting in the, ahem, wings).

So what keeps gnats away?

  • Advice — is plentiful from pest-fighting brochures to social media sites and neighborhood message boards. Here are some of the most popular (and interesting) tips:

  • Vanilla extract: Dab it around the wrists, neck and head area; if you don’t mind smelling like a freshly baked dessert, soak a rag with vanilla and rub it on. Upside: It’s cheap.

  • Buggins Natural Insect Repellent (a Deet-free spray): A 4-ounce spray can cost up to $6. People swear by it, and some stores around metro Jackson have sold out. If you’re desperate, you can always try two-day shipping. (Or beg or barter.)

  • Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard Plus: This is the specialized bug repellant version of Avon’s classic bath oil, which some of us used as bug spray in the ’90s.

  • Victoria Secret Amber Perfume: Really?

  • Vinegar in some form or fashion is a common go-to. (Maybe offset the smell with some of that perfume?)

  • Bounce dryer sheets: Some folks swear by these. But here’s the rub — others say they don’t work.

  • Sugar water, vinegar, dish soap: We’re not talking fruit flies in the kitchen. There are all kinds of recipes for those. But who knows, maybe somebody’s grandma has a moonshine-level recipe out there to take on the buffalo brand of bug.

  • Long sleeves, pants, stay covered up or better yet, stay indoors: OK, this one is no fun. The weather is beautiful! Those who have a screened-in porch are in luck. Just the same, the long sleeves and pants mantra will cover most of the bases (and limbs). The drawback? Buffalo gnats are keen on the head and neck areas, too.

  • No dark clothing: Buffalo gnats are attracted to the dark side, so keep it light.

  • Watch the clock: Buffalo gnats are daytime biters.

  • Don’t hold your breath: Typical bug sprays and foggers don’t seem to be very effective.

What if you get bitten?

  • Suffer (no, don’t! If a serious allergic reaction or complication occurs, don’t play around — seek medical help).

  • Apply a cold pack to reduce swelling.

  • Try calamine lotion or a baking soda and water mix.

  • Benadryl. You knew that was coming.

What about pets?

Dogs and cats are susceptible to bites, too, especially around bare skin areas of the belly, inside the ears and on the bridge of the nose.

It’s best to do some research and talk to your veterinarian about prevention and treatment. Some sprays are available specifically for pets, but it’s recommended to stay away from any over-the-counter sprays containing pyrethrins, which can be dangerous to cats.

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