Look Children! The Gnats Are Back!


Gary Larsen had a family favorite cartoon when our kids were small. The lumpish father glances out the window and finds the entire neighborhood covered with gooey slugs–a celebrated event in Larsen’s twisted cartoon household.

I will admit, we don’t get so excited every year when we celebrate our own seasonal repeat performance not quite as pleasing as the swallows returning to Capistrano: the hatching of the gnats. And we’re not talking just a few.

Yesterday’s images gave you a tight shot that, at 1/15th of a second exposure, revealed the zigzaggy pattern as each tiny insect lifted and dropped in the warm afternoon sun. (I think this is a mating dance of sorts.)

Today’s picture shows the swarm in context. (Click image to enlarge) The next day there was no repeat performance. Had there been, I was going to slow the shutter speed even more with the camera on the tripod to create even longer flight trails.

For some reason, they really liked the bright verticals of the garden posts and were many times more dense there than even five feet back. Ann was mowing grass on the other side of the creek while I was taking these pictures (happily no one drove past to wonder “what th’ heck?”) and she was not bothered by them at all.

By the way, this particular insect (that I assume hatches from our creeks) does not bite, does not buzz your ears and doesn’t seem at all interested at getting indoors–in contrast to the bloom of Asian Ladybird Beetles that erupted yesterday as expected a few days after our first frost in October.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Last week I was driving down the road near our house when I passed through a virtual bug curtain. I thought I could see a swarm of small black bugs as I crested the hill, but wasn’t sure that’s what it was, they were so small. But as I drove through them, I could hear the sounds of hundreds of them hitting the windshield quite clearly. It was like driving through one of those bead curtains, and it wasn’t a very thick mass of them, but it stretched across the roadway. Almost as quickly as I was in, I was out again. I’ve never had that happen before.

  2. Down here in southwest Georgia we have the kind of gnats that swarm around your face and get in your ears and mouth. Ugh! You can tell a true native by the way they can blow them out of their face. Newcomers will swat at them!

  3. HI Fred. Your photographs are amazing. I want to jump in them. Not the gnat one, though. I am traveling to VA in October as my husband owns a vary “plastic ” time share there. I really would like to see a more organic VA. We live in the Catskill mountains, near lots of homegrown music and art in Woodstock. We like folk , old timey, bluegrass music and good beer. I have been all over the “web” looking for that in VA. Can you help me? Looking at your photos, I can’t wait to be there. Sally