On the baseball diamonds at Dubuque Sports Complex, the smallest of pests are having an immense impact.
Located at 12614 Nightengale Lane, the facility is bisected by the South Fork of Catfish Creek and boasts fields surrounded by wooded areas. These conditions often serve as a magnet for insects.
And in recent weeks, the gnats especially are making their presence known.
“If you look out at the field, there are kids just constantly waving their hands and gloves in front of their face,” said Dewey Jasper, fields manager for Dubuque Sports Complex and Dusty Rogers Baseball and Softball Academy, which is also located at the site. “It’s been absolutely horrible. Inexplicably horrible.”
The sports complex is far from the only local venue where the pests have become a major nuisance.
Taylor Schaefers, a naturalist with Dubuque County Conservation Board, said many places in the region are dealing with high volumes of the little insects.
She noted that the rainy spring weather has been the primary factor behind their large numbers.
“We had a super wet spring,” said Schaefers. “It seemed like it was raining constantly, and gnats and other insects do really well in wet areas.”
Schaefers said it is not just the volume of precipitation that has played a factor. The timing of the rain — which came down heavily in the latter half of May and in early June — proved ideal for the short life cycle of a gnat.
While there are thousands of gnat species, Schaefers said fungus, eye and buffalo gnats are among the most common in the area.
Luckily, they shouldn’t be around for too long.
“A gnat’s life cycle is really short,” she said. “When it gets hot and dry, that is when they’ll go away. By July, the gnats should be gone.”
Area residents, however, are not content to wait it out.
Nicole Wood, an assistant manager with Gasser Hardware and Farm Supply, said customers have flocked to its stores to purchase products that mitigate the gnat problem in one way or another.
Gasser Hardware has locations in Boscobel, Brodhead, Hazel Green and Lancaster, Wis.; Galena, Ill.; and Cascade and Maquoketa, Iowa.
“We’ve been hearing from a lot of people (about the gnats),” Wood said. “Within the past couple weeks is when it really started up. I know people are sick of them already.”
Wood said many customers are purchasing a product called Buggins, a repellent that can be applied to the skin. Some also have bought products that can be applied to lawns.
Keeping pace with the sky-high demand can prove difficult for retailers.
“There is a possibility that we won’t be able to keep up with the demand, but we are stocked up as of now,” she said. “We are pulling in as much product as we can get our hands on.”
Jeff Pope is the lawn and garden manager at Steve’s Ace Home & Garden, 3350 John F. Kennedy Road in Dubuque. He, too, has witnessed a rush to purchase gnat repellent.
“We’re just going through tons of it,” he said. “As soon as we stock it, it is flying right off the shelves. We cannot put it up as fast as people are buying it.”
The demand is so high — and the efforts to keep up with it so challenging — that staff members have resorted to placing the gnat spray right at the checkout counter, rather than stocking it in its traditional location.
Pope said the store’s proximity to Dubuque Soccer Complex has helped sales.
“We’ve had a lot of parents coming in to buy spray and their kids are in uniform,” he said. “It’s helped to have it right by the front door.”
At Dubuque Sports Complex, Jasper also is trying to meet the demand for gnat solutions.
He said the complex recently purchased a natural repellent called Bug Soother and started selling it at each of its concession stands. He hopes the product will bring some relief to the young athletes and their fans.
“The gnats are definitely a nuisance, but they aren’t affecting the actual games,” he said. “Even with all the bugs, the games will go on.”