Mosquitoes are not the only flying pests that South Jersey residents need to worry about.

Smaller and possibly more annoying gnats have been swarming relentlessly in many outdoor areas on the mainland. While their larvae can damage some plants, the adult bugs that thrive in warm, wet weather are mainly a nuisance for humans.

Northfield resident Mary Olsen had to deal with the furiously biting airborne pests while walking her dog down the bike path Tuesday morning. During a second walk, around 11 a.m., she caught a break as a breeze kept the bugs away. In addition, she was wearing a jacket to keep them off her arms.

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She said gnats are a pest and their bites are felt long after. "They itch forever," she said.

This is the time of year gnats become more visible as they feed off algae in wetland areas, said Viola Carson, program associate for the Home Horticulture Department at the Rutgers Cooperative Extension in Bridgeton.

Gnats are part of the flea family and they feed off of algae in stagnant water, she said. With the warm temperatures, the algae increases and the gnats are able to lay more eggs.

"You can get a high population really quick," she said.

Some species of gnats, called fungus gnats, lay their larvae in soil when the temperature is warm. Those gnats feed off common plants and can damage them.

An adult female gnat can lay up to 200 eggs, but the average life span for an adult gnat is only seven to 10 days, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In Northfield, Olsen suggested one method for dealing with the bugs, a swarm of which is known as a ghost. She said one option is to spray herself with mouthwash, specifically Listerine. "But who wants to go around smelling like that?" she added.

Dean Ellison Sr., of Northfield, was trimming shrubs in his front lawn Tuesday morning and said the gnats were really bad, but they usually didn't bother him. His secret weapon is a constant supply of bug spray, which he keeps in the trunk of his car. It's the only way to avoid being bitten, he said.

Ellison said in the more than 40 years he has lived in the area, the gnats have never been as bad as they were Tuesday.

"Soon we'll have strawberry flies ... or greenheads from Brigantine," Ellison joked.

Staff writer Joel Landau contributed to this report.

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