SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The most resilient residents of the Coastal Empire are everyone's worst enemy. Sand gnats.
Biting midges, no-see-ums, granny nippers or sand gnats - whatever you call them - they're in full swarm and ready to sink their teeth in. These terrible, tiny beasts are a pesky nuisance for most, and the answer to getting rid of them is everyone's best guess. To avoid being their next meal, everyone is on the lookout for a spray, lotion, or contraption that does the trick.
I tested the rounds to see how you can keep from being a sand gnat snacking spot.
Actor Will Smith, who was filming "Gemini Man" in the Savannah area, posted a video to Facebook saying, "We're shooting in Georgia. I love Georgia. But ya'll gotta do something bout these bugs."
Iset out to find that something, landing first where the pesky problem emerges: the marshes.
That's where I met with Marie Rodriguez on the coastline of Tybee Island. Rodriguez is an Avon representative, selling the long-time recommended product: SKIN SO SOFT.
"It's 100 percent guaranteed. So if you put it on, don't like it, don't like the smell. Whatever the reason - you can return it and Avon will give you back your money 100 percent," she said.
She sells three versions: a small bottle, a large bottle, and a bottle that comes in disappearing blue, so you don't miss a spot when rubbing the product onto your skin. The bug spray also contains sunscreen. When she saw Will Smith's viral video, Rodriguez said she shipped out a box of the product the next day.
"Paramount sent him a check for the $100, and he wrote me a check for the $100. So apparently it worked or he wouldn't have done it," Rodriguez said.
While the bugs breed in the wetlands, they swarm inland in a more comfortable environment without wind. I waded through the marshes where the gnats were in full swarm. To test the effectiveness of the SKIN SO SOFT product, I sprayed the product on one arm, 'OFF Deep Woods' on the other arm, and did not apply any products to my legs.
Sand gnats feed in the twilight hours, but, as time ticked by, they drowned in the oils. I watched as the insects still landed on my arms where the products were applied, but did not feel the bites. I could, however, feel sand gnats biting my legs, scalp, and face where no products were sprayed for defense.
In my research, many people said they hate the sticky feeling of bug spray, so it was time to test out something spray-free.
Charlie Stumpf lives in The Landings on Skidaway Island, and swears by the 'Mosquito Magnet."
"We are roughly 50 yards from the marsh over here and there's not a gnat in the whole place," Stumpf said. "An attractant goes in here. They smell it and they go up in here. This will do 3/4 of an acre. So all my neighbors are happy cause I'm killing their bugs, too."
While I was visiting him, Stumpf removed the container from the Mosquito Magnet to prove his point. "This will give you some sort of an idea of what is in there after two weeks. That's probably easily a couple thousand dead gnats," he said as he dumped the pile of gnats out onto a paper towel, completely satisfied with the results.
"And my wife can work in the yard and do anything she wants to out here and we just don't have any gnats," he added.
I spent at least an hour in his yard, and didn't get bitten once. But what will take a chunk out of your wallet is the cost of this contraption. It averages nearly $750 and another $25 every three weeks to maintain.
It was back to the drawing board to find a cheap solution and still be bite-free. So I plopped down on a dock at the Salt Creek Boat Ramp Park off Highway 17, pulled out more products, and prepared to get eaten alive.
I lit a candle containing Cintronella Oil, an essential oil used to repel insects such as sand gnats. I also applied an 'OFF Deep Woods' towelette to my left arm. Finally, I sprayed the highly recommended 'No Natz Bug Repellant' on my right arm.
An hour-and-a-half later, nothing worked.
I then sat down with an expert, Jennifer Zettler, who is a professor of biology at Georgia Southern University. She said just like us sand gnats need to feed to survive.
"The female needs to have a blood meal. So she can't lay eggs until she's had that taste of blood. And every time she lays a batch of eggs she has to feed again," Zettler said.
But how each and every one of us reacts to their bites is different. Just like anything else, some of us are allergic to sand gnats. When they bite, the proteins in their saliva react in our skin.
"They can have up to 40-50 so if you're allergic to any one of those that can give you an immune response," she said.
However, how sand gnats are drawn to you is often something you can't prevent.
"They're using chemical cues, they're using carbon dioxide levels that you're emitting just as you breathe," Zettler said. "They're also using temperature, so how much heat you're producing. What works for one person or doesn't work for one person isn't going to be a sure cure."
Zettler said there would be a lot of money awaiting someone who found a universal solution.
In summary, I found asking a friend for recommendations or searching product reviews won't be of much help for your individual case. It might take some trial and error, as you can see through my experience.
Here is a list of popular products Pest Strategies recommends for 2018.