VIOLA, Ill. — A warning for backyard chicken keepers: black flies, otherwise known as gnats, are wiping out whole flocks. One chicken owner lost dozens of chicks to the deadly blood suckers.
Susie Kinsey never knew they could kill.
"They swarmed my baby chicks," she said. "We had no warning whatsoever."
Her first year raising chicks, swarms came for her girls killing 36 chickens.
"I lost all my baby chicks, they were about nine-weeks-old," she says.
A chicken enthusiast, Susie's love for these clucking ladies started on her grandma's farm. Twenty years later, they still hold a special place in her heart.
"All the years I have raised chickens they've never been as bad as they have been," Susie said.
Gnats attack in swarms.
"I went out to check the baby chicks, like I usually do and I knew something was wrong. They weren't acting right, they were all gone."
Most common in areas with running water, the Kinsey's live half a mile from Pope Creek in Viola.
"The females [gnats] need running water to lay their eggs," Susie said. "They also need nourishment, which is blood."
Chicken expert, Hillari Puglisi said the gnats travel up nasal passages which suffocate the chicks.
Toxins from the flies saliva lead to anaphylactic shock.
"If they get too many bites, it can lead to instant death," says Hillari.
Backyard chicken owners are urged to keep vigilant.
"If you have a combination of the heavier gage wire and the screen wire on top of it, the black gnats have a lot harder time getting through it."
Experts say if the gnats are irritating you, they are most likely irritating your chickens.
Gnats are commonly at their worst during early spring time.