(κώνωψ, Vulgate culex, occurs only in Mt 23:24), a small two- winged stinging fly, belonging to the genus culex (Linn. diptera, Latronne culicidae), which includes the mosquitoes. The common gnat scarcely yields to any insect in regard to the interesting facts which it presents to the naturalist. The following outline will recall the chief of them to the reader: The boat-shaped raft of eggs, which the parent gnat forms, and leaves upon the water, so admirably constructed that, though hollow, it neither becomes, filled with water, nor sinks even under the torrents of a thunder- shower; the aquatic larva, breathing, head, downwards, through its tufted spiracle; its hook with which it seizes the animalcules on which it feeds; the variations and even reverses of structure it undergoes in the pupa state, now swimming, head upwards, by means of its finlike tail, and breathing through spiracles placed behind the head; the amazing transformation it undergoes when raising its shoulders out of the water, and upon the bursting of the skin which had enveloped them, the perfect insect emerges, its former covering now serving as a life-boat during those few critical moments while it disengages and trims its wings for flight, and commences its existence a winged creature in a new element, and instantly begins to suck the juices of animals or vegetables, while "its shrill horn its fearful larum rings;" the complicated mechanism of its tube, which serves the purposes both of lancet and cuppins-glass, and of inserting a fluid for liquefying the blood, and making it flow more freely. The various organs, comprehended in so small a structure, excited the wonder of Pliny (Hist. Nat. 11:2), and attracted the notice of Socrates, as we learn from his poetical adversary Aristophanes (Nubes, 158); but the further discoveries of the microscope raise our wonder into a still higher prirmciple. "I dare boldly affirm," says Swammerdam, "that the incomprehensible greatness of Deity manifests itself in these mysterious operations in a particular manner, and affords an opportunity of examining, as it were with our senses, the "divine nature" (page 2, 51). The word κώνωψ seems to be the generic term for the gnat among the ancient Greek writers, under which they included several species, as we use the word "fly," and "the fly;" though they give distinct names to some species, as the word σέρφος, etc. Rosenmuller observes that the κώνωπες of the Greeks seem to be the epaemerce of Linnseus (apud Bochart, 3:444, 4to, Lips. 1793-6). Aristotle gives the name to a species whose larvae are bred in the lees of wine, which is thence called the culex vinasnus (Hist. An. 5:19). Pliny also refers to various species of gnats (Hist. Nat. 11:35; 17:27). We ourselves recognize several kinds under thee common name, as gall gnats, horse, wheat, winter (see Kirby and Spence, Introd. to Entomology). SEE FLY.
Our Savior's allusion to the gnat is a kind of proverb, either in use in his tinme, or invented by himself; "Blind guides who strain out a gnat, and swallow down [bolt, as we say] a camel." He adopts the antithesis of the smallest insect to the largest animal, and applies it to those who are superstitiously anxious in avoiding small faults, yet do not scruple to commit the greatest sins. The typographical error, "strain at a gnat,'" first found it way into king James's translation, 1611 (Trench, Auth. Vers. page 131). It is "strain out" in the previous translations. The custom of fil.tering wine, among the Jews, for this purpose, was founded on the prohibition of "all flying, creeping things" being sused for food, excepting the saltatori (Le 11:23). The custom seems alluded to by the Sept., which in Am 6:6 reads διυλισμένος οϊvνος, "filtered wine" — a passage having a similar scope. According to the Talmud, eating a gnat incurred scourging or excommunication (Vorstius, De Adaglis, N.T., page 771, ed. Fischer; Grief, Oraculum Christi contra percolantes culicem, etc., Lips. 1749).
The species referred to in the N.T. is thought by Bochart (Hieroz. 3:444) to be the Culeax vinarius, the יִבחוּשּׁ, yabehcush, of the Talmud (Buxtorf, Lex. Talin. page 927, a). The Heb, כַּנַּים kinaim (sing. כֵּן, Isa 2:6), which constituted one of the plagues upon Egypt (Ex 8:16 sq.; comp. Ps 105:31), are thought to have been a species of culesx or gnat (comp. Herod. 2:95), as these insects are very numerous in Egypt (Hasselquist, Trav. page 69; Maillet, Descr. de l'Egypte, 2:134, ed. Mascrier). SEE LICE.
The weapon with which the gnat or mosquito makes its attack is a long and slender proboscis, projecting from the miouth like a very fine laristle, and appearing to the naked eye quite simple. Under the magnifying power of the microscope, however, it is seen to be a flexible sheath (i) enclosing six distinct pieces, two of which are cutting. blades or hancets (g), two notched like a saw with reverted teeth (f), a tubular canal (e), and the central one an exceedingly acute point, which is also tubular (d). When the attack is made, the gnat brings the tip of the organ within its sheath to press upon the skin, into which it presently enters, the sheath remaining without and bending into an angle as the lancets descend. When the weapon has penetrated to its base — a distance of one sixth of an inch or more-the lancets move laterally, and thus cut the flesh on either side, promoting the flow of blood from the superficial vessels; at the same moment a highly irritative fluid is poured into the wound, which has the effect of diluting the blood, and thus of rendering it more capable of flowing up the slender central tube into the throat of the insect. It then sucks, if undisturbed, till its stomach is filled to repletion, leaving a painful tumor accompanied with an intolerable itching. It is the female gnat alone which is noxious; the male, whose proboscis is feathered, has no power of sucking blood.