A small, pesky insect has invaded homes and yards of Franklin Parish residents.
The simulium meridionals or turkey gnat or buffalo gnats buzz around people often causing distress while some people suffer allergic reactions to their stings.
Adults of most species are similar, with small dark gray or black bodies that are one-fifteenth to one-twelfth of an inch (1.5-2.0 mm) in length. The thorax is prominent and rounded from the side view, with the head tucked in a slightly downward orientation. This gives them a humpbacked appearance, which has led to the common name of the family, “buffalo gnats.”
Larvae are aquatic and are always attached to a solid substrate, such as aquatic vegetation or organic or man-made debris. The bodies are tubular, up to one-tenth of an inch (2.5 mm) in length. The most prominent features are a pair of fanlike extensions on either side of the head that extend into the water column.
In Louisiana, the adults begin emerging during mid-April, initially as males that congregate in small swarms to await the arrival of females. Females begin emerging a few days later.
Adults are day active (diurnal) and are most active on clear, calm spring days when temperatures do not exceed 80 F for most of the day. Activity diminishes by dusk. After mating, female turkey gnats require a blood meal for egg development and exhibit a strong preference for birds.
The most effective means of preventing simulotoxicosis is to monitor severity of spring emergences of turkey gnats and protect birds from exposure until the emergence runs its course, which is typically several weeks to over a month in duration.
Keeping domestic fowl and pet birds in screened enclosures of a smaller mesh size (i.e., less than one-fifteenth of an inch; 1.5 mm) than the adult turkey gnats will minimize impacts. Birds that are restricted in enclosed areas outdoors are particularly susceptible.
Free range poultry are usually able to escape severe impacts from turkey gnats by moving around but should be monitored carefully and may exhibit increased activity and stress levels when turkey gnats are present.
People who are outdoors during the period may use appropriate repellents, such as strong DEET formulations, following label directions carefully.
Anecdotal data suggests that vanilla extract and some cosmetic formulations can be effective for temporary relief during heavy outbreaks of black flies, but these are untested and should be used with caution and a good dose of skepticism.
Control of larval populations is not a viable option because of the widespread availability of suitable flowing water in larval habitats in Louisiana and most other areas where this species occurs. Contamination of these water sources and other aquatic habitats may occur if larval control is attempted.