I read it in a cooking magazine. Most gnats are fruitflies. If you are having trouble with gnats in your kitchen, fill a small dish with vinegar, squeeze a drop of two of dishwashing liquid on it and set it out where you have the most gnats. What interests a fruitfly is the vinegars formed in the rotten fruit, and that bowl of vinegar spells “rotten fruit” to their little sensory receptors. Because of the surface tension on water, a fruitfly can land and not sink, but that drop of dishwashing liquid breaks the tension. They land and sink, drowning immediately.
I put one of these dishes out one day and an hour later found 18 little black specks lying on the bottom, never to buzz in my house again. Now, every summer, I have two or three custard cups of apple cider vinegar lying around my house, and far fewer gnats than ever before.
One of the cups sits on the window sill next to the chair that overlooks the bird feeder. That bird feeder attracts more than its fair share of gnats in the summer too, and I have a suspicion that most of the gnats in the house sneak through the cracks around that window. The screen is gone so I can see the birds better and the double window is up a foot so I have a place for my coffee cup on the sill. That lack of triple protection means they can get in easier than anywhere else in the house except an open door.
So the other afternoon I sat down to rest a bit after canning a bushel of tomatoes. Keith was emptying the residual garbage pails of skins and seeds, and dumping the heavy pots of boiling water outside so the house wouldn’t heat up yet more from the steam. I had just replaced the vinegar in the dish a few minutes before.
A gnat suddenly buzzed my face and I shooed it away. He came back, but this time he headed straight for the window. “Aha!” I thought. If I just sat still I could see how it actually happened. It was a real life lesson.
He had gotten “wind” of the vinegar somehow and flew over to check it out at a prudent distance of eight or ten inches, which is several thousand times the body length of a gnat I imagine, and was certainly safe. He flew away, but within a few seconds he was back. This time he flew a little closer, maybe half the distance he had before.
That happened several times with the gnat coming in closer and closer on each pass. Finally, he landed on the window sill a couple of inches from the custard cup. I could just imagine him sitting there tensed up and waiting for something to happen, then finally relaxing as he discovered that whatever danger he had imagined wasn’t there.
He flew again, but not away. This time he hovered over the cup, doing figure eights two or three inches above the surface of the vinegar. Then he landed on the lip of the custard cup. At that point I imagine the fumes from the fresh vinegar were nearly intoxicating. All that rotten fruit right down there for the taking, and besides, he had never had trouble before landing on a piece of bruised, decaying fruit, and this one was obviously an apple, one of the best.
So he flew yet again, circling closer and closer to the surface. “Now,” he must have thought as he landed on what he was sure was a solid chunk of overripe Macintosh, or Jonathan, or Red Rome, and promptly sank into the vinegar. He didn’t even wiggle—it was over that fast, his drowning in what he thought was safe, in a place where nothing bad had ever happened to him before.
It works this way for humans too, you know. What are you hovering over today?
Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup, When it goes down smoothly: At the last it bites like a serpent, And stings like an adder. Proverbs 23:31-32.
Thorns and snares are in the way of the perverse: He who keeps his soul shall be far from them, Proverbs 22:5.