Mosquitoes vs. Gnats – How to Tell these Insects Apart

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Since they belong to the same suborder, gnats and mosquitoes have many similarities, including the way they look. This leads many people to mistakenly switch their identities from time to time.

However, gnats are not even close to how destructive mosquitoes are. So, they’re often given a bad reputation even if most of them only eat plants and fungi. It’s easy to mistake a gnat for a mosquito and kill it. But remember, some gnats are beneficial to the environment. So when it comes to mosquitoes vs. gnats, you should know the difference between the two.

Mosquitoes vs. Gnats – How to Tell these Insects Apart

If you don’t look at them carefully, you might confuse mosquitoes for gnats. CC Image courtesy of Pixabay and Erik Burton on Flickr

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Differences in Appearance

Individually, mosquitoes and gnats have specific body parts that make each of them unique.

For mosquitoes, they’re recognized because of their stripes. Whether they’re brown or black, most of them always have those characteristic stripes on their abdomen, legs and/or wings.

They also have elongated bodies and feather-like antennae that have multiple hairs protruding out of them. And their wings are long, stretched-out and teardrop shaped, streamlined for their elongated bodies.

Meanwhile, gnats have more varied appearances. Each kind has a different look that’s exclusive to its own species. Some, for example, look just like mosquitoes with their elongated bodies and stripe patterns. While others look more like ant swarmers. They have circular abdomens and rounder heads and wings that make them very dissimilar to the disease-carrying insect.

Differences in Feeding Habits

If you can’t differentiate these bugs from their appearance, you can always examine what they eat.

Male mosquitoes eat plant sap, nectar, honeydew and even fruit while their female counterparts seek out blood. Female mosquitoes use their antennae, maxillary palpus and complex eyes to track down hosts and feed on their blood. With the help of these body parts, they’re able to find a warm-blooded host even if its pitch black.

Mosquitoes also have varied feeding schedules. There are species that only look for food during daytime while there are some that feed exclusively at night.

Meanwhile, gnats feed on many things. They consume plants and other insects. Some larvae eat roots, stems and leaf galls when they’re positioned in a host plant while other species live off mushrooms and potted plant roots to survive.

Blood, on the other hand, is a rare cuisine in the gnat’s menu. That’s because there are only a handful of species that feed on it. The black fly, in particular, is a specific kind that targets animal and human blood. And just like mosquitoes, they, too, spread diseases.

Differences in Behavior


While gnats and mosquitoes differ in what they eat, they also have some dissimilarities in their behavior.

On example is when they perch on an object. According to Look and Learn, you can tell them apart by how they position themselves when they’re not flying. Like all other insects, gnats hold their bodies parallel to the surface they’re resting on. But mosquitoes do something different. They raise their bodies up with their tail in the air, a unique behavior that you can actually see up close when one lands somewhere on your body.

Another behavioral difference can be seen during mating. Gnats mate with large groups known as ghosts. This is when fertile gnats act like termite swarmers and do a sort of mating dance to reproduce. Mosquitoes, on the other hand, prefer to do their business with just one male and female.

Differences in Bites

While mosquitoes cause extremely itchy flat welts, their bites disappear within a few minutes, growing flatter and bigger until they don’t itch anymore.

As for gnats, the Buffalo gnats or black flies are the most common biters. They leave behind red and tiny bumps that resemble bed bug bites. There are also times that these insects leave much bigger and much darker blood-clotted bumps that look like they’ve been pricked by something sharp. That’s because instead of just injecting straw-like mouths into the skin, gnats surgically slice through it using the microscopic cutters in their mouths. They then feed from that wound, causing a blood loss that’s more severe and more painful than that of a mosquito’s bite.

So that’s it. Those are the biggest differences that you can see between gnats and mosquitoes. Do remember though that most gnats are harmless, and the non-bloodsucking ones will only bite you if you’ve provoked them.

We hope that this mosquitoes vs. gnats guide will help you identify the two better. And if you have other problems with mosquitoes, check out our post here.

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