Fruit Fly (right)
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Gnats are generally plant-sucking insects, though some are aquatic, and a few are actually carnivorous. The common gnat is the Culex pipiens species, though several species fall into the gnat category, even mosquitoes. For the most part, any type of tiny flying insect can be referred to as a gnat. Their antennae are long and hair-like. When mating, they can appear in swarms, but mostly at dusk. And, they can bite! One thing for sure, they can certainly be an aggravation.
The common "gnat" referred to in our houses is usually the fruit fly. He exists on decaying organic material in our house plants. He thrives on the soil of our overwatered potted plants, not only in our homes, but also in greenhouses and office buildings. Decaying fruit and vegetables are another of their food sources.
On the positive side, gnats do help to pollinate flowers. Their lives are at risk from being consumed by larger insects, birds, and bats. Thus, as you can see, they serve an important function in the natural food chain.