Mosquitoes flying around

Fruit Flies vs Gnats: What’s the Difference?

May 03, 2023

By Daniel Baldwin, BCE, CCFS, CP-FS

Both gnats and fruit flies are common household pests that cause many of the same frustrations and issues for homeowners. They have similar features and habits that make it easy to misidentify them. Although these small flying pests share many traits, they’re quite different and should be addressed uniquely. Use this guide to discover the main differences between fruit flies and gnats so you can tackle your pest problem the right way.

What’s the difference between fruit flies and gnats? 

When comparing fruit flies vs. gnats, watch their behavior and discover where the pests live. Gnats nest in the soil of gardens or indoor potted plants and feed on organic matter, while fruit fly adults eat overripe fruits or rotting foods in trash cans. If the infestation source is difficult to locate, you can use their distinct features to tell the difference instead.

What does a fruit fly look like?

Fruit flies are tiny flying insects measuring about ⅛ of an inch long. Fruit flies are brown in color, ranging from tan to almost black. They have rounded silhouettes, like a mini version of a common housefly. They also have big, red eyes and transparent wings that extend past their backside. Their wings overlap and lay directly across their back when they land.

Close up of a fruit fly on a blurred background
Fruit Fly

What does a gnat look like?

Fungus gnats are very similar in size to fruit gnats but have a dark gray-to-black tone. They feature dangling legs and long bodies that make them look like miniature mosquitoes. Fungus gnats have small heads and eyes that are too small to see easily. Their wings range from see-through to translucent gray. Their larvae have small, black heads and thin white or see-through bodies.

Close up of a fungus gnat on a green background

Where do fruit flies and gnats come from?

Fruit flies are most often found in homes with over-ripened fruits or vegetables. Adults can fly in from the outside through open windows or screens with large gaps, or they can enter your home on infested produce from the store. Fruit flies are attracted to anything sticky and sweet. This means even if you eliminate ripe produce, if they find another source like your open trash can, a spill under your fridge, or the underside of your toddler’s high chair, they’re likely to stick around.

Fungus gnats lay their eggs in organic material like compost, mulch, and potting soil. After the larvae eat the organic matter for about two weeks, they emerge as mature flying gnats and repeat the process. Gnats are attracted to moisture, so if they locate a steady source of moisture, such as a kitchen drain, soil, or an unsealed garbage can, an infestation can arise at a rapid speed.

Can you get rid of fruit flies and gnats the same way?

Since both fungus gnats and fruit flies reproduce rapidly, it’s important to address the problem fast. Besides being annoying, fruit flies can spread diseases through contaminated food, and gnats can damage house plants at their roots. Because these two pests pose their own issues to your home, control requires different methods.

If you’re dealing with fruit flies, remember to wash your produce when you get home and store your fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator. Empty your kitchen trash can as often as needed and immediately clean up any spills in or around it. Thoroughly clean splatters, especially sticky, sweet foods and drinks like soda, alcohol, or fruit juices. Eliminating their sources of food and water will usually cause them to move on and try to find a new home.

When you’ve got gnats in the house, you’ll need to check your house plants, particularly the soil and roots. It can help to switch out your potting soil to remove any possibility of eggs from hatching. Avoid overwatering your plants and ensure the planters can easily drain excess moisture. It can also help to mix some cinnamon into your soil to prevent infestations, as it acts as a natural fungicide, making your houseplants less appealing.

Pest control services

If you’re struggling with gnats or fruit flies (or other flying pests), call Hawx Pest Control. With proven methods, qualified technicians, and the best products and services available, Hawx is the undisputed leader in pest control solutions. We use a three-fold process to address infestations thoroughly and create a custom treatment plan to suit your needs. Call us today for a free estimate to get your pest problem under control.

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