Fungus gnats (families Mycetophilidae and Sciaridae) are a common pest of plants grown indoors, especially where humidity and moisture are high. They’re usually first noticed when the harmless adults are seen flying around house plants or gathered at a nearby window. These non-biting adult gnats can become a flying nuisance. But it’s the larval stage, feeding in the soil, that can damage tender plant roots.
Fungus gnat damage will appear similar to that of any other root-related issue, such as root rot. Lower leaves may turn yellow and drop, and the plant’s growth may slow down or stop completely. In particularly bad cases, wilting of the entire plant could occur, followed by the death of the plant if roots are extremely damaged.
In small numbers, fungus gnats are more of an annoyance than anything. In fact, the adult gnats don’t actively harm plants nor people. If their population gets out of hand, however, the larvae may start feeding on plant roots, causing notable damage. This is especially bad for young plants, such as seedlings, which have only a few delicate roots. Fungus gnats are also capable of spreading the plant pathogen that causes damping off and the eventual death of seedlings.
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