Residents shouldn’t panic about house visitors

2012-12-10 00:00

READERS might have recently noticed newcomers to their homes in the form of small, dark flying insects, and in some instances even swarms of them.

The insects are flies, commonly called dark-winged fungus gnats (belonging to the fly family Sciaridae).

The first thing most people associate small dark flies with are biting midges and mosquitoes, but these little guys are not much more than a nuisance, said Burgert Muller, a curator in the department of natural sciences at the KwaZulu-Natal Museum.

He said that the gnats have a complete metamorphic life cycle, meaning they develop from eggs to larvae to pupae to adults.

And it is the larvae, or maggots, that do most of the feeding.

The adults do not bite at all and are completely harmless to people and animals.

They live just long enough to mate and lay their eggs, typically in moist to wet soil, where the eggs hatch and larvae feed on fungi in the soil.

The flies are also typically associated with potted plants, and are especially fond of over-watered and over-fertilised plants as all the moisture and nitrogen in the soil aid in fungal growth and the decay of organic matter.

The maggots will also feed on seedlings, and dying or rotting plant tissue such as roots or even a leaf on the soil surface if there are not sufficient fungi in the vicinity.

Muller said that the recent rain in Pietermaritzburg has created the perfect conditions for the flies to develop and emerge, and residents can expect to see them visiting (sometimes in large numbers).

However, their numbers should dwindle as the season progresses and the rain lessens, but until then people should remember that they are harmless and might, at most, cause some annoyance.

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