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'Just Kind Of Creepy': Gnat Invasion Hits Windham County

Aaron Brooke-deBock
While mosquito and tick counts are up around other parts of Vermont, Windham County is experiencing an outbreak of fungus gnats.

A researcher at Middlebury College says the tick population has doubled, and in Rutland county the mosquito count is up by 30 percent. But down in southern Vermont there's an historic infestation of fungus gnats.

These tiny  insects are swarming inside people's homes, finding the tiniest openings in screens and dying by the dozens inside of lamp fixtures.

Jonathan Morse lives in Marlboro and like a lot of people in Windham County, his house is being invaded by gnats.

Morse has been around a while. He's dealt with icy roads, and Tropical Storm Irene and the usual ticks, mosquitoes and black flies that share this corner of Vermont with him.

But he says it's been hard getting used to the gnat infestation.

"If my wife and I are in bed reading at night, and we have the windows open, the ceiling will be black with the insects," Morse says. "And when we turn off the lights, they drop down on to us. You can feel them lighting on your skin as they drop down off the ceiling. It's very disconcerting."

Fungus gnats are tiny, somewhere between a black fly and a mosquito.

They don't bite or swarm, but when there are hundreds of them gathered on your wall, you notice.

Fungus gnats lay their eggs in the soil near rotting plant matter, so they usually show up near house plants or inside greenhouses, according to Margaret Skinner, an entomologist at the University of Vermont.

Skinner says the gnats are always around, but they usually show up in relatively small numbers.

"I have not ever received calls from people being inundated, in their homes, by fungus gnats," she says. "What's different this time is that there's so many of them."

"You can feel them lighting on your skin as they drop down off the ceiling. It's very disconcerting." - Jonathan Morse, Marlboro resident

Skinner has been getting a lot of calls from people in southeastern Vermont. So far she hasn't heard of any major outbreaks in other parts of the state.

She says the wet weather might be a factor in the outbreak, though we've had other wet summers. And she's not sure why they're only showing up in the southeastern corner of the state.

Skinner spends all of her time at work thinking about insects, and there isn't too much she's seen or dealt with that surprises her.

But she says she understands how this particular outbreak might be hard to deal with.

"I know people are kind of freaked out about it, and with good reason," Skinner says. "It's just kind of creepy to have all of these flying things around."

People around Windham County have been commiserating through social media, and the war stories are impressive.

Credit Josh Engle
This photo from Brattleboro shows a porch light full of dead gnats.

Josh Engle lives in Brattleboro and he says he went to bed recently and left the porch light on.

"And the next morning the first thing I noticed was that there was a funny burning smell in the air, like someone had burnt eggs," Engle says. "And I went out to the lamp and it was three or four inches full of bugs. So I took a photo, because that's what you do, and I posted it."

There are posts sharing remedies, and observations, such as that they smell like burnt ash when you squish them.

And for a lot of people, they say it's nice to know that they weren't the only them who experienced the great gnat invasion of 2017.


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