The drought is over, but now L.A. is being swarmed by bugs

The flowers aren’t the only things flourishing from all that rain.

A long, wet winter followed by warm temperatures has created the perfect conditions for the insects currently swarming Southern California. Those things that look like giant mosquitoes and tiny black gnats invading your house are an unfortunate side effect of the end of the drought.

But there’s good news: These bugs are harmless, and they don’t mean your house is dirty.

What are they?

Levy Sun, the public information officer for the Greater L.A. County Vector Control District, said the phone has been “ringing off the hook” at his office. Normally, the office gets about 25 phone calls a day; lately, it’s been around 80.

“A lot of residents in L.A. who are not used to seeing lots of insects are seeing them now,” Sun said. “They're getting frustrated and maybe a little freaked out seeing so many insects around their home.”

The majority of calls have been about two insects in particular: crane flies and fungus gnats.

Crane flies are sometimes called mosquito hawks or mosquito eaters. They don’t bite, and sadly, they don’t actually eat mosquitoes.

The little black bugs that look like fruit flies are most likely fungus gnats, Sun said. Though fruit flies and gnats aren’t closely related scientifically — flies are of the family Drosophilidae, gnats are Sciaridae — both are small, winged, black and irritating to find flying around your house.

Where are they coming from?

Blame the rain.

Most people associate the presence of insects with a dirty house. But unlike fruit flies, fungus gnats don’t thrive on old fruit or other trash. They grow best in damp soil and compost, so they’re probably coming from your yard, not your garbage can. Crane flies also flourish in damp conditions.

Brian Brown, the head of the Natural History Museum’s entomology department, said most insects’ larval stages are affected by moisture levels. When there’s a drought, most of the larvae dry out and die. But “in a year like this when there’s lots of soil moisture, you’re going to see a lot of them.”

How do you prevent them?

Sun said the best way to prevent fungus gnats is to make sure your yard is cleared of debris or leaves, so that the ground can dry quickly after it rains. If you’ve already got a small swarm in your house, just wait: They die after a few days.

Both crane flies and fungus gnats are seasonal “nuisance insects,” according to Sun: They don’t spread diseases, and as we move closer to summer, you should be seeing a lot less of them.

However, he warned, summer means mosquitoes, and those can be dangerous, particularly given concerns about Zika. Mosquitoes need standing water to reproduce, so people should check around their yard and in rain barrels to make sure there’s as little moisture as possible.

Thanks to the bug baby boom, a mosquito predator is likely to see a population surge as well: spiders. As the weather warms up, expect to see more eight-legged roommates — and maybe think twice before squishing them.

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