Bull knats are not only an incredible nuisance, but they can also be dangerous to people, pets, and wildlife.
These annoying pests produce painful bites that can draw blood, and they often attack in swarms. Like mosquitoes, bull knats can even spread diseases, though luckily they are not known to spread serious diseases to humans.
Still, these small biting flies are no laughing matter. Are you looking for how to get rid of bull knats? Then you’ve come to the right place. Today, we are talking all about the bull knat, what it is, how to identify it, and how to prevent those painful bites.
What Is A Bull Knat?
Bull gnats go by many names, though they are not true gnats.
Also known as buffalo gnats, bull gnats, black flies, or turkey gnats, bull knats are small, blood-sucking flies. Named for the hunch in their back, bull knats can come in a variety of colors including black, grey, tan, and sometimes even hues of green.
These pests are common throughout many regions of the Northern United States and Canada, though reports have been rising that these pests are becoming more popular in the Southern United States as of late.
Bull knats are most common during the spring when they are mating and female bull knats are seeking a blood host. Like mosquitoes, only female bull knats bite. They use their scissor-like mouthparts to cut into their host’s skin and their tongue then laps up the blood. The bites are quite painful and can lead to itching, stinging, swelling, and sometimes even infection.
These pests have an interesting life cycle, going through four stages including egg, larvae, pupae, and adult. Though they don’t have a very long life once they reach adulthood, eggs of bull knats are capable of overwintering and it is thought that bull knats have one generation each year.
While they do only have one generation a year, this generation can be massive. A single female bull knat is capable of laying between 150 to 500 eggs in her lifetime.
She lays these eggs near fresh, running water like in streams where these eggs eventually hatch. The larvae then cling to rocks or other materials below the water’s surface, where they feed on bacteria as it passes by.
Bull knats are highly attracted to running water, though they have been known to travel more than 10 miles in search of a blood host to feed. Female bull knats in particular rely on the iron in the blood to provide her with the nutrients she needs to produce her eggs.
Most bull knat bites occur near running water, though you can be bitten most anywhere these pests are willing to travel. Luckily, they don’t tend to follow people indoors, so escaping to your home or car is a good way to avoid bites.
Though bull knats are not known to spread diseases to people, deaths have been reported from bull knat bites due to allergic reactions. Furthermore, bull knats are responsible for spreading illnesses to animals, and in particular poultry. They have also been known to attack birds in large numbers and it is not uncommon for bull knats to be responsible for killing poultry due to bites.
What Are Bull Knats Attracted To?
Farm animals, and especially poultry like turkey and chicken, are vulnerable to bull knats.
Because they mate and breed near water, bull knats are generally most attracted to fresh, running water sources like streams and rivers. This is where most people report being bitten by the pests, though as we stated above, bull knats have been known to travel in search of a blood host.
Along with fresh, running water, bull knats are also attracted to the carbon dioxide we exhale when we breathe. They are also known to be attracted to certain fragrances, sweat, and dark colors or moving objects.
If you have an abundance of bull knats on your property, you likely live near fresh, running water. Otherwise, you are most likely to encounter bull knats if you are camping, hiking, or otherwise exploring the outdoors.
Bull knats are most common during dusk and dawn and prefer days that are calm as opposed to windy or stormy. Once they reach adulthood, bull knats can live for several weeks. They are most common during spring when the weather is not yet hot. Once the weather warms up and water temperatures increase, the population of bull knats and their offspring tend to decline.
But what can you do about bull knats during bull knat season, and how can you protect yourself, your pets, and your livestock from these pesky and sometimes even dangerous pests?
Keep reading to find out.
How To Get Rid Of Bull Knat Insects – Best Products
Many of the same products you can use to repel mosquitos can be used to repel bull knats, but this is not always the case.
Unfortunately, getting rid of bull knats can be tricky. In many ways, bull knats are like mosquitoes. They are aquatic insects that breed near water and are attracted to the carbon dioxide we exhale. Only females bite and rely on the iron in our blood to help them produce their offspring.
Unlike mosquitoes, bull knats are not as affected by products like DEET. This means that preventing bull knat bites will take a combination of home remedies, store-bought products, and proactive actions on your part.
The below video gives more insight on how you can get rid of bull knats using common insecticides and methods.
In this section of our article, we are going to list some of the products that can be most helpful when it comes to getting rid of and controlling a bull knat problem. Then we will talk further down about home remedies you can use to help prevent bites and steps you can take to reduce the number of bull knats in your region.
Black Flag Insect Fogger
As we will discuss further down, fogging bull knats on your property is only a temporary fix. However, if you do plan on entertaining, gardening, or doing any activities outdoors during bull knat season, you might consider a fogger like the above Black Flag Insect fogger by the Black Flag store. This fogger targets biting insects like mosquitoes, bull knats, chiggers, and other pests for up to six hours.
It works after just five minutes and continues protecting your yard so you can enjoy it. There is a spray and wait time for this product, however, but it’s typically under five minutes.
Wondercide Outdoor Pest Control
An all-natural alternative to using chemical insecticides for how to get rid of a bull knat problem would be the above outdoor spray by Wondercide. This product is designed to treat and repel pests like mosquitoes, ants, roaches, flies, bull knats, earwigs and more using plant-based ingredients like rosemary oil, peppermint oil, and cedarwood oil.
You can spray it directly on plants and foliage, and even use it on areas where children and pets play. There is no spray and wait time, as this product is completely safe for people, pets, and the environment.
When applied correctly, Wondercide Outdoor Pest Control Spray can cover up to 10,000 square feet and is even safe to spray along your home’s siding, in vegetable gardens, and on ornamental plants.
Mighty Mint Pest Control Spray
Bull knats are known to despise the scent of peppermint, so if you are looking for other alternatives to chemical pest control sprays to protect your property from bull knats, we suggest looking into Mighty Mint Pest Control Spray.
This spray uses the power of peppermint oil and other natural ingredients to help kill and repel pests like spiders, bull knats, flies, ants, and more. It is safe for beneficial insects and will not harm the environment.
Furthermore, it comes in an extra concentrated formula that is easy to use, and the container includes an application spray that allows you to get the most out of your protection radius.
Black Flag Flying Insect Killer Aerosol
Using an aerosol spray like the above Black Flag Flying Insect Killer can help to deter bull knats as they approach. This spray works to kill and repel a number of flies like bull knats, houseflies, horse flies, and mosquitoes. It can also help protect you against wasps and other flying and stinging pests.
This product can be used both indoors and out and is designed to kill pests on contact. When applied correctly, the spray can continue killing certain pests for up to 12 weeks.
Ortho Home Defense Insect Killer – Lawn And Landscape
Last, we have the above spray by Ortho. Ortho is a well-known pest control brand that many experts recommend when it comes to getting rid of pests like bull knats, horse flies, fleas, spiders, ticks, ants, mosquitoes, and more.
The product begins working immediately and can provide long-term protection when applied correctly. You can order it in four different sizes depending on your needs, and the spray is designed specifically to protect your property, lawn, and landscaping from certain pests.
Once applied, the spray can protect your home for up to three months. A single bottle can treat up to 5,300 square feet, and there is no mixing required. The container can attach directly to your garden hose for easy application.
We should note that there is a wait time after this product has been applied. It is best to allow the treated areas to dry fully before allowing pets or children out to play.
How To Prevent Bull Knat Pests and Bull knat Bites – Products We Recommend
There are products you can use to both soothe and prevent bull knat bites.
Prevention is important when it comes to reducing the bull knat population around your property. While you can’t always get rid of bull knats 100%, there are steps you can take to help reduce the population. There are even some products you can purchase and use to stop the life cycle of bull knats.
And while bull knat pests are not always repelled by DEET, there are still some products experts recommend you consider wearing when out and about during bull knat season to protect yourself and your loved ones from bites.
Let’s take a look now at some of the top-most recommended products you can use to prevent bull knats and bull knat bites.
Proven Insect Repellent
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As we mentioned, bull knat pests can be more difficult to get rid of and protect yourself from than mosquitoes or other biting pests. However, there are some products that are said to work against these pests when it comes to preventing bites.
The above product by Proven is an insect repellent spray and lotion combination that works to help protect against pests like mosquitoes, bull knats, ticks, fleas, and more. It works using picaridin, which is an active ingredient common in many forms of insecticide and pesticides.
Picaridin is a commonly used alternative to DEET and provides between eight to twelve hours of protection against bull knats, mosquitoes, chiggers, and other biting pests. This product is not for use on animals and should be used only as directed on people.
SALLYEANDER No-Bite-Me Bug Repellent And Anti-Itch Cream
If you would prefer a natural pest repellent when it comes to deterring bull knats, we suggest investing in the SALLYEANDER No-Bite-Me ointment above. This ointment is made with all-natural ingredients and is perfectly safe to use on children and pets. It specifically lists black flies (bull knats) as one of the insects it deters, but it also works against ticks, mosquitoes, and fleas.
We like that this product provides relief from pain and itching if you do happen to get bitten. You can order it in two different sizes and the product is safe to use on children as it is made of plant-based ingredients like cedar oil, mint, lemongrass, rosemary, and more.
The product can provide protection for up to four hours and provides a DEET-free and chemical-free way to protect yourself and your loved ones from bull knats.
Picaridin Insect Repellent Lotion
Picaridin Insect Repellent Lotion is another lotion you can use to help protect yourself against bull knats. This product uses the active ingredient Picaridin which, as we mentioned above, is an alternative to DEET repellents and is suggested to work against mosquitoes, bull knats, chiggers, fleas, ticks, and more.
The product can be ordered in several sizes and should be applied before going outdoors, camping, or on hikes. When applied correctly, it provides up to 14 hours of protection against mosquitoes and ticks.
For bull knats in particular, the lotion is said to work for around eight hours. The lotion is fragrance-free, quick-drying, non-greasy, and safe to use not only on your skin but also on clothing, camping gear, backpacks, and more.
Bug Soother Spray
An all-natural product that specifically lists mosquitoes, flies, and gnats in the above Bug Soother Spray by the Bug Soother Store. This product is made with essential oils and other plant-based ingredients and is even scented with a hint of vanilla which, as we’ll discuss below, bull knats are known to hate.
The order includes a standard size as well as a one-ounce travel size container perfect for taking on camping trips or hiking adventures. The repellent is made with plant-based ingredients and is free of chemicals like DEET or Picaridin, and it is safe to use on farm animals like chickens, ducks, turkey, and other animals that may be affected by bull knats. You can also use this spray on children and even pets like dogs and cats.
Ben’s Tick and Insect Repellent
For very severe bull knat infestations and bites, we recommend Ben’s Tick and Insect repellent. This product contains 98.11% DEET to help repel pests like ticks, flies, mosquitoes, gnats, and other insects that bite and potentially spread disease. The product can help protect you from these pests for up to 10 hours and is available in a fragrance-free formula that won’t irritate your skin or damage your clothing or gear.
However, because it is so highly concentrated with DEET, this product could be harmful to children and pets if not used as directed. Keep it out of reach of children and be sure to read the warning labels and instructions before use.
DIY Methods For Getting Rid Of A Bull Knat Problem
Vanilla extract and essential oils have been said to help repel bull gnats.
Unfortunately, managing bull knats using store-bought products and insecticides is difficult. There are a few reasons for this. First, applying insecticides and larvicides to fresh running water is not only illegal in most regions, but it can be extremely harmful to the environment and other aquatic life like fish and frogs.
Furthermore, because bull knats are an outdoor problem, fogging them is only a temporary solution and only kills the bull knat pests in the direct vicinity. In reality, getting rid of bull knats completely in your area is likely not feasible.
Instead, we recommend using home remedies and methods of prevention to protect yourself from bites.
The good news is that these home remedies are generally much more cost-effective than trying to use over-the-counter products and pest control remedies that won’t always work.
Furthermore, you likely already have a number of these household ingredients on hand, so you can use them to help manage a bull knat problem immediately.
How To Make Your Own DIY Bull Knat Repellent
You Will Need:
- 1/8th Cup of Vinegar
- 1 Cup of Water
- 5 to 10 Drops of Peppermint Oil
- 1 Spray Bottle
Combine the above ingredients into your spray bottle and spray it around your home, tent, or even on your clothing to help repel bull knats and keep them from biting. If you are sensitive to certain ingredients, we suggest testing this on a small part of your skin first before spraying it all over.
You can also spray this directly at bull knat swarms to get them to disperse. If you are looking for a way to also kill bull knats on contact, you can add a few drops of liquid dish soap to the solution. The dish soap will coat bull knats, stopping them from flying and suffocating them on contact.
Try Vanilla Extract
Though this method is somewhat controversial, many people insist that vanilla extract works well as a bull knat repellent when applied correctly. You can easily give this method a try if you already have vanilla extract in your pantry at home.
To use vanilla extract to manage a bull knat problem, simply dab some of the extracts on your wrist, neck, and clothing. You may need to reapply it every few hours in order for it to work most effectively.
Essential oils are a common ingredient in a number of natural pest control products and for good reason. Many pests are deterred by the scent of essential oils as the aroma is quite strong and can be irritating to pests.
The same is true for bull knats. While using essential oils will not kill bull knats, it can help manage a bull knat swarm or protect you from getting bites.
To use essential oils to manage a bull knat problem, we suggest either dabbing a few drops of the essential oil on your wrist and neck or combining 5 to 10 drops of essential oils to water and spraying it on yourself, your clothing, and your belongings.
The best essential oils that work to manage a bull knat problem include:
- Citrus Oil
- Peppermint Oil
- Eucalyptus Oil
- Lavender Oil
- Tea Tree Oil
- And Rosemary oil
Dried or Fresh Lavender
Dried or fresh lavender can also serve as a repellent for those pesky bull knats. You can use lavender you pick from your garden and carry it with you to keep these pests at bay or you can carry around dried scent pouches of lavender.
If you are an avid hiker or camper, tie pouches of lavender to your gear and hang them around your campsite.
If you have an abundance of bull knat pests hanging around your property each spring, consider planting lavender in your garden to help repel them.
Dried or Fresh Pine
Bull knats are also deterred by the scent of pine. Dried or fresh pine will do, and you can use this method in the same way you would use lavender to repel them.
Try Companion Planting
We did touch on this briefly when discussing using lavender to manage a bull knat problem, but lavender and pine are not the only vegetation you can use to help deter these pests. There are quite a few plants that you can plant in your garden and around the perimeter of your home to help manage a bull knat problem.
These plants include:
- Sweet Woodruff
- And Rosemary
Wear Protective Clothing
Last, one of the best ways to protect yourself against the bull knat is to wear protective clothing. This could include wearing long sleeves and long pants and even wearing hats with head nets.
Unfortunately, most bull knats tend to bite near the head and neck, but this can be remedied by wearing the proper gear and preparing by bringing along the proper repellent.
Manging The Bull Knat – Let’s Summarize
Manang bull gnats will take consistency and proactive pest control.
Unfortunately, getting rid of a bull knat infestation can be tricky. In fact, it has been theorized that we have more bull knat pests today than ever before due to our cleaner water sources.
While clean water is always a good thing, an influx is bull knats are not. Furthermore, it is difficult to get rid of the pests as it is illegal and unsafe to target their eggs and larvae in fresh, running water.
This means that the best form of action you can take against a bull knat problem is prevention. Being proactive and preparing your home for bull knats before bull knat season can also help.
This could mean using a year-round pest control product around your home and yard, utilizing companion planting, and setting up repellents like citronella candles and fly traps.
If you have pets or poultry on your property, it’s also important to take steps to protect them. Remember, poultry like chicken, ducks, and turkey are especially vulnerable to these pests. Provide poultry with sheltered areas to escape these biting flies and do your best to use repellents and preventatives in areas where you know bull knats will commonly be active.
While it is difficult to get rid of bull knats and we currently don’t have a fool-proof remedy to reduce them, the good news is that these pests can be managed using the above products, tips, and tricks.
Best of luck and thanks for reading!
Jack founded our blog after two decades of working in the pest control industry. His vast experience dealing with a wide array of pests allows him to diagnose issues quickly and get to the heart of pest problems quickly and effectively. He has serviced more than 2,000 homes over his career and there is hardly any pest situation that he has not seen before.