Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet

Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet


1991 Kenny Road, Columbus, Ohio 43210-1090

Fungus Gnats


William F. Lyon

Common Name Scientific Name
Darkwinged Fungus Gnat Sciara spp.
Fungus Gnats Orfelia spp.
Darkwinged Fungus Gnat
Adult, Larva

Fungus gnats occasionally become a nuisance indoors when adults emerge in large numbers as mosquito-like insects from potted plants or flower boxes containing damp soil rich in humus. Adults are attracted to lights and are often first noticed at windows. Larvae or maggots, which feed in soil high in orangic matter, can injure the roots of bedding plants, African violets, carnations, cyclamens, geraniums, poinsettias and foliage plants. Plant symptoms may appear as sudden wilting, loss of vigor, poor growth, yellowing and foliage loss. Some are serious pests in mushroom houses. Fungus gnats inhabit fungi or dead plant materials and are harmless to humans and animals.


Adult fungus gnats are about 1/8 to 1/10 inch (2.5 mm) long, grayish to black, slender, mosquito-like, and delicate with long legs, antennae and one pair of wings. Identification can be made by the vein patterns in the wings. Darkwinged fungus gnat adults have eyes that meet above the base of the antennae. Eggs are hardly visible, oval, smooth, shiny white and semi-transparent. Larvae or maggots are legless, thread-like, white, shiny blackheaded, up to 1/4 inch (5.5 mm) long and transparent so food in the gut can be seen through the body wall. Pupae occur in silk-like cocoons in the soil.

Life Cycle and Habits

Fungus gnats reproduce in moist, shaded areas in decaying organic matter such as leaf litter. The life cycle is about four weeks, with continuous reproduction in homes or greenhouses where warm temperatures are maintained. Broods overlap, with all life stages present during the breeding season. Larvae not only feed on fungi and decaying organic matter, but on living plant tissue, particularly root hairs and small feeder roots. Brown scars may appear on the chewed roots. The underground parts of the stem may be injured and root hairs eaten off. Damage occurs most often in greenhouses or plant beds.

Adults live about 7 to 10 days and deposit eggs on the moist soil surface or in soil cracks. Females lay up to 100 to 300 eggs in batches of 2 to 30 each in decaying organic matter. Eggs hatch in 4 to 6 days; larvae feed for 12 to 14 days. The pupal stage is about 5 to 6 days. There are many overlapping generations throughout the year.

Control Measures


Inspect plants carefully before purchase for signs of insect infestation. Always use sterile potting soil to prevent introduction of fungus gnats. Overwatering, water leaks and poor drainage may result in buildup of fungus gnats. Allowing the soil to dry as much as possible, without injury to the plants, is effective in killing many maggots. Houseplants taken outside during warm weather may become infested with insects before being brought back indoors. Inspect plants carefully and discard if heavily infested and unable to save. Remove all old plant material and debris in and around the home. Practice good sanitation. Electrocutor-light fly traps will attract and kill many adults at night.


Use yellow sticky cards (traps) for adult fungus gnat detection. Place traps just above the plants at a frequency of one per 500 to 1,000 square feet. Replace when covered with insects. Check traps 2 to 3 times each week.


Adult fungus gnats are killed easily with pyrethrins spray or aerosols labelled for "gnats" or "flying insects." Repeat applications several times if necessary. Commercial mushroom growers may get control with diazinon, methoxychlor or naled (Dibrom), whereas commercial greenhouse growers can use Bacillus Thuringiensis Berliner var. israelensis (Gnatrol, Vectobac). Licensed pesticide applicators can apply a restricted use pesticide, namely oxamyl (Vydate). Always read the label and follow directions and safety precautions.

This publication contains pesticide recommendations that are subject to change at any time. These recommendations are provided only as a guide. It is always the pesticide applicator's responsibility, by law, to read and follow all current label directions for the specific pesticide being used. Due to constantly changing labels and product registration, some of the recommendations given in this writing may no longer be legal by the time you read them. If any information in these recommendations disagrees with the label, the recommendation must be disregarded. No endorsement is intended for products mentioned, nor is criticism meant for products not mentioned. The author, The Ohio State University and Ohio State University Extension assume no liability resulting from the use of these recommendations.

All educational programs conducted by Ohio State University Extension are available to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis without regard to race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, gender, age, disability or Vietnam-era veteran status.

Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Ag. Adm. and Director, OSU Extension.

TDD No. 800-589-8292 (Ohio only) or 614-292-6181

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