Last Updated on January 10, 2023
Sand flea is the name used to refer to many varieties of tiny crustaceans that live in sandy areas near the ocean, sometimes also known as “sand crabs” in the US. Despite their name, sand fleas are not actually fleas and do not bite humans, although “true” sand fleas do exist in some tropical areas of the world.
Sand fleas are often used as bait by fishermen, and less commonly, they can also be eaten as they are safe for consumption by humans, provided they are thoroughly cleaned and cooked.
What are Sand Fleas?
Sand fleas, also known as sand crabs, beach fleas or sand hoppers, are small crustaceans that belong to the family Talitridae. These little critters are not insects and are not harmful to humans. They are most commonly found on sandy beaches near the high-tide mark.
Sand fleas are most active at night when they emerge to forage for food, and during the day, they stay buried in the sand. They can be found along the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coasts of the United States, and are a common sight for beachgoers in Florida, Texas and California.
Sand Fleas Sand fleas are very small, usually ranging from a quarter of an inch to an inch in length, which makes them almost invisible to the human eye. However, they can be found by their jumping movements and disturbed areas in the sand.
Appearance can vary in color, with shades of gray, brown, and greenish being the most common. A sand flea has several pairs of legs, long antennae, and two forked appendages protruding from their backs.
As the name suggests, sand fleas live on sand and can commonly be found in sandy beach environments, near the high-tide mark. They are most active at night when they emerge to forage for food.
They can be found in various regions like the Atlantic coast and Gulf coast, for example, one species of sand flea found along Santa Barbara beaches is an important organism in kelp removal.
Sand Flea Bite and Tungiasis
Do Sand Fleas Bite?
Sand fleas do not bite humans or pets, but in some tropical areas, the “true” sand flea, also known as chigoe fleas, can burrow into the skin of humans and cause tungiasis, a painful, itchy skin condition.
True sand fleas (tunga penetrans) are distributed in tropical and subtropical regions of the world, including Mexico to South America, the West Indies and Africa. These are actual fleas rather than crustaceans, and look nothing like what people in the US refer to as “sand fleas”.
Can Sand Fleas Live Under Your Skin?
Tungiasis is a skin condition caused by the burrowing of female chigoe fleas into human skin. While rare, it can happen. Female sand fleas burrow into the skin to lay their eggs, and the black dot you might see in the center of the white circle on your skin is the hind end of the burrowed sand flea. This is where the eggs come out. If you suspect you may have sand fleas under your skin, you should seek medical advice immediately.
Symptoms of Tungiasis
Symptoms of Tungiasis include painful, itchy skin, and the development of white circles with black dots in the centers. These lesions most commonly affect the feet, but they can occur anywhere on the body. Other symptoms may include redness and inflammation around the affected area, as well as fever and swollen lymph nodes in severe cases.
Prevention and Treatment
To prevent tungiasis, it’s best to avoid areas where chigoe fleas are known to be present, and to take protective measures, such as wearing shoes and socks, and using insect repellent. If you suspect you may have tungiasis, you should seek medical attention immediately.
Treatment of tungiasis typically involves the removal of the embedded sand flea using a sterilized needle or scalpel. In addition, the area should be cleaned with antiseptic and antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent infection. Pain relief medication may also be prescribed to manage the discomfort caused by the condition.
Getting Rid of Sand Fleas on Your Body
Unlike other types of fleas, sand fleas tend to stick to their habitat and it is not common to bring one home by mistake.
To prevent tungiasis, it is important to take precautions when visiting areas where the chigoe flea is known to be present. This includes:
- Wearing protective footwear, such as closed-toe shoes or sandals when walking on the beach at night.
- Avoiding digging holes or removing rocks from sandy beaches during the day.
- Checking your skin and clothing for any signs of chigoe fleas after being in areas where they may be present.
- Regularly inspecting and treating any animals that may be carrying chigoe fleas.
If you suspect you may have tungiasis, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. The chigoe flea can be removed by a healthcare professional, but if left untreated, the infection can lead to serious complications such as cellulitis, sepsis, and even amputation in severe cases.
What Are Sand Fleas Used For?
Sand fleas are a popular choice for bait among anglers, as they are a common food source for many species of fish. Sand fleas are particularly effective when used to catch species like pompano, redfish, and other types of inshore fish that feed on small crustaceans.
Fishermen can collect sand fleas from the beach or buy them from a bait and tackle shop. They can be used whole, or they can be chopped up into small pieces and used as chum. When using sand fleas as bait, anglers typically thread a hook through the body of the sand flea and cast it into the water.
Sand fleas are edible for human consumption but should be cleaned and cooked thoroughly to eliminate the risk of parasites. The taste of sand fleas is often described as similar to the taste of crab or shrimp, with a hint of the flavor of the sea.
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