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Flickering and Fluttering Fungus Gnats

Picture of adult fungus gnat. Photo by Texas A&M University:

Adult fungus gnats can be found in almost all plantings. They are primarily a pest insect in greenhouses, but they can become a problem in houses in the winter. Houseplants may become infested with fungus gnats during warmer weather and then are brought indoors, which allows them to continue developing indoors. Adult fungus gnats are 1/8 to 1/10 inches in length, grayish black in color, slender bodied with long legs and antennae. They also are identified by the vein pattern on their wings, since they have a Y-shaped wing vein. Fungus gnats are typically weak fliers, so they usually remain near the potted plant or rest on foliage or growing media.

Fungus gnats undergo complete development: egg, larva, pupa and adult. Female fungus gnats lay tiny, oval semi-transparent eggs in moist organic debris. Fungus gnat larvae are legless, elongate, white to clear in color, with shiny black heads. They eat organic mulch, compost, root hairs, and fungi. The larvae can damage roots of plants, causing wilting, poor growth and loss of foliage. Pupation occurs in the soil in silk-like cocoons. The complete lifecycle from egg to adult usually occurs in about 4 weeks, and they continue to reproduce throughout the year, especially in controlled environments such as greenhouses or homes.

Some Suggestions for Control Measures:

Some Prevention Methods

  • Inspect plants before purchasing and use sterile potting soil.

  • Allow soil to dry for several days to kill some larvae, since overwatering, poor drainage and water leaks can result in a large population of fungus gnats. If the top layer of the soil becomes dry the larvae will die and the females will not lay eggs in the soil.

  • Discard plant, if heavily infested as to avoid infesting other plants.

Some Biological Controls

  • Some larvae predators include Steinernema spp. nematodes, Hypoaspis spp. mites that can be applied to the soil.

  • Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti) can be applied to the soil to control larvae.

Some Chemical Controls

  • Larvae can be controlled by many chemical drenches, including the chemicals azadirachtin, fenoxycarb and imidacloprid.

  • Adult fungus gnats can be controlled by foliar treatments, including the chemicals bifenthrin, permethrin, resmethrin, and neem oils.

Wet Weather Could Mean Springtail Outbreaks

Photo of a springtail, Order Collembola. Photo by Dr. Bart Drees,
Professor and Extension Entomologist, Texas A&M University.

With all the rain and snow, we might see an outbreak of springtails in all areas. Large numbers of springtails usually occur together on water surfaces such as in puddles, ponds and swimming pools, especially the "water springtail", Podura aquatica (Linnaeus). When these springtails occur in large numbers and search for a new location, they can enter homes and invade kitchens and bathrooms. They tend to crawl up the sides of houses and enter them through gaps between bricks or around doors and windows. They usually die quickly after entering a home, due to low humidity and lack of food. However, springtails can live a longer time in indoor potted plants or in buildings with a high level of humidity.

Springtails are small, about 0.04 to 0.2 inches in length and they are wingless. They vary in color ranging from black to gray to white, yellow, lavender, red, green or gold, depending on species. Some springtails are even patterned and some are iridescent or metallic. Springtails get their common name from a forked structure called a furcula on the end of their abdomen, which allows them to catapult forward when they are disturbed. This allows them to be able to jump 3 to 4 inches in some cases. Springtails develop through incomplete metamorphosis, having an egg, nymph and adult stages. This means there is little difference in the appearance of the nymph and adult forms, except in size. They are able to have multiple generations a year.

Sometimes springtails are misidentified as fleas, since they can occur in homes and jump. However springtails are round and soft bodied, instead of dark brown and flattened like fleas. Springtails also have normal sized hind legs, whereas fleas have enlarged hind legs to allow them to jump.

Springtails feed bacteria, fungi, lichens, algae and decaying vegetation. Some species feed on carrion, and a few carnivorous species eat other springtails and small invertebrates. In addition, some species feed on plant roots or on tender young plants, occasionally damaging potted or greenhouse plants. However, they are harmless to man and animals.

Populations of springtails tend to rise and fall depending on temperature, moisture and food availability. They tend to flourish in shady areas, that are rich in decaying leaves and humus, but they can be found in urban lawns

Some Control Options:

To reduce the population of springtails outdoors, reduce watering turfgrass or irrigate no more than once a week. Be sure to water the soil deeply each time, about 1 inch penetration.

To reduce springtail invasions indoors, seal all cracks and crevices with caulk or expanding foam. Also check weather stripping around doors and windows and replace when needed. Also rake leaves and mulches 1 foot away from foundations, so springtail populations do not increase around structures.

Insecticides can be applied around the perimeter of the foundation, including areas around windows or doors, under siding and in openings in brick or wood walls. Insecticides containing such chemicals as permethrin, bifenthrin or cyfluthrin can be used.

If springtail infestations continue to occur indoors, it may be due to populations living in potted plants or moist areas in walls or storage areas. They will tend to infest areas that are moist and have fungal growth. This includes areas such as toilet bowl tanks, wet insulation, drains, moist basements and damp walls. To control indoor infestations, the damp, organic matter must be removed. Then the springtails can be vacuumed and insecticides can be applied as a spot treatment.

Beware of Booklice Lurking in Structures

Photo of adult booklouse. Photo by Dr. Bart Drees,
Professor and Extension Entomologist, Texas A&M University.

As more homeowners are indoors during the cold weather, they might come across a small crawling insect called a booklouse (Liposcelis spp.). Despite being called 'lice', booklice are not harmful to people or pets. They get their common name from their association with books or paper. Adult booklice are 1/32 to ¼ inches in length, wingless and creamy-white in color. They have soft bodies, chewing mouthparts, and long thread-like antennae. Nymphs look like adults, only smaller in size. Their lifecycle from egg to adult occurs in about 3 to 4 weeks.

Most booklice require a relative humidity of at least 50-60%, due to loss of moisture through their exoskeletons. High humidity is also necessary for the growth of their primary food source, mold.

They invade by means of stored goods, groceries, cartons, or on paper. Booklice feed most commonly on molds as well as fungi, grains, and other starchy material, including glue from book bindings. When found indoors, they are found in such places as moldy books and paper, damp places, sweating pipes, new plaster and sheetrock, damp spillage, or wooden pallets. They can live and reproduce in wall voids, storage trunks, groceries, rugs, paper, cartons, rope fibers, closets and cabinets.

They do considerable damage in museum collections, libraries, stored products and food processing plants, when they are found in large numbers. The presence of psocid bodies in house dust is also believed to contribute to asthma attacks. Large populations of psocids does warrant control for these insects.

Some Options For Control:

Reduce moisture, since psocids usually do not survive when humidity falls below 50%. A dehumidifier or fan is effective in reducing moisture. Also repair any moisture problems and store boxes, bags, books, and papers off the floor to reduce contact with moisture. Clean the infested areas thoroughly, and dry items with a cloth or in the sun. Also open windows and doors and turn off any humidifiers, in order to reduce humidity indoors. Sometimes faulty air conditioner systems promote damp, humid conditions, so they should be repaired.

Locate breeding sites such as upholstered furniture, moldy wood, old mattresses, damp papers or books and then remove, treat or discard the items. Also discard infested food or treat it by heating (place in oven at 180°F or for 30 minutes) or freezing (placing in freezer at 0°F for 4 days). Household insecticides containing such chemicals as pyrethrins, rotenone, allethrin, are labeled for crawling insects or booklouse control and can be used for spot-treating areas of infestations.

Mention of commercial products is for educational purposes only and does not represent endorsement by Texas Cooperative Extension or The Texas A&M University System. Insecticide label registrations are subject to change, and changes may have occurred since this publication was printed. The pesticide user is always responsible for applying products in accordance with label directions. Always read and carefully follow the instructions on the container label.

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