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Sand Fleas - Another Reason to Avoid the Beach

I'm not a big fan of beaches to begin with, but this takes the cake.

Everyone remember how much I hate the beach? Here, in case you forgot (or if you missed it.  But you’re subscribed, aren’t you? And you’re my fan on Facebook, so there is no way you missed it, right?), is the n I wrote last week, following a particularly heinous trip to Sandy Hook.

And now, the next chapter of my harrowing tale.

Sand Fleas.

Oh no, I wish I were kidding.  I’m absolutely serious.

I was the one who spent most of my time on the towel, and so I’ve got the worst of it, but no member of my family has escaped unscathed.  So, here’s my Public Service Announcement: 

Stay away from the beach, people!

That’s not going to work, is it? No, it didn’t even work for my kids and they’ve got itchy bites. You’d think they wouldn’t need much convincing.  

Okay, instead, let me educate you a bit on sand fleas, so when you come home from a day on the beach with itchy welts all over your legs and feet, you’ll know what happened. Also, because I’ve been researching the stupid things for two days and it seems a shame not to share.

First off, sand fleas aren’t insects. They’re teeny tiny crustaceans. Too little to boil and serve with melted butter.  They actually resemble shrimp, and, how’s this for irony-- I actually saw a dead one on my towel at the beach, picked it up and studied it for a few seconds, and decided it was a brine shrimp. I came to this conclusion because my brother had an amazing colony of Sea Monkeys when we were younger, and it reminded me of them.

It wasn’t until I started researching the stupid things that I figured out it was actually a sand flea I had seen.

So, the evil little crustaceans bite you, and inject their saliva into your blood stream which does two things. It anesthetizes the bite, so you don’t feel it, giving them ample opportunity to suck you dry. It also thins your blood, to make it easier for them to slurp.

I knew I was being attacked by mosquitos. I knew I was being harassed by flies. I did not realize I was being eaten alive by sand fleas. Not till the next morning, in fact, did I realize the extent of the bites all over me.  

I still thought I was dealing with mosquito bites, though, and treated them the same way I’ve always treated mosquito bites, spraying them with Benadryl and scratching them till they bleed when the Benadryl wears off. And I didn’t stop Joey from doing the same. I understand where she’s coming from. I can’t take the itch, either.

Imagine my chagrin when I learned, through intense Google action, that sand flea bites will scar if you scratch them. Joey Anne and I are doomed.

I figured out that I was dealing with something much worse than mosquito bites yesterday, when I realized I had a few new ones pop up over night. I gave them a good look and realized they were small, hard, and red, not soft and white like my mosquito bites usually are.  Also, these things itch way more than mosquito bites, and I’m super sensitive to mosquito bites, so you can imagine how bad these are.

My first thought was fleas, but the dog is fine, and he’s on a flea and tick preventative anyway.  My next thought? BED BUGS!

(Resist the urge to ask me why I always leap straight to worst case scenarios, okay? It’s in my blood. I hope that means that somewhere, there is a sand flea colony afraid of an infestation of.... I don’t know. What are sand fleas afraid of? Napalm?)

My husband very sweetly and tolerantly helped me strip our bed, and look for signs of infestation, before reminding me that if it were bed bugs, the dog would also be affected and the girls, who end up in our bed just about every night, would be, as well.  Well, the sheets were ready to be changed anyway.

My bed bug theory busted, I went back to Google, with sudden inspiration and looked up sand fleas.  I found photos of bites that look a lot like what I have all over my legs, and when I found a photo of one of the little creeps, that sealed it, since I had seen that dead one.

The good news is, sand fleas don’t generally come home with you. They like their little water view condo situation.  Hey, beach property is hard to come by in Jersey. They’re not going to give up a good thing.

The bad news is, apparently, the female sand flea can sometimes burrow in your skin and lay her eggs.  No, really? Yeah, really. Where does my luck end, I ask you? (Firmly on the “bad” side of the pendulum, obviously.)

Some more useful information: How to avoid sand fleas. 

  • The wee beasts prefer to feed in the early morning and late afternoon, but those times can be stretched on cooler days. Stay away from the beach during those times.
  • Don’t lay your towel or blanket directly on the sand. Those folding lounge chair things aren’t that heavy, you can do it!
  • Wear closed shoes and socks while you walk around the beach.  They can’t jump too high, and they don’t generally bite through clothes, so that will help. The fact that you will not be eaten alive may be little consolation for the fact that you’re going to look like an idiot in loafers and knee socks on the beach, though.
  • Wear a bug repellent. Since they’re not actually bugs, I’m not sure how much this one will help, but I have read that many people have had success with commercial bug sprays containing DEET. I am allergic to DEET, so I have no first hand knowledge to pass along here, except to say that I think DEET is fairly toxic and I’m grateful that I’m allergic to it. There are natural alternatives; check out a health food store, or Google for home made recipes.
  • They like to eat seaweed, so if you see a lot of the ocean plant washing up near where you’ve set up, move.
  • The best way to avoid sand fleas? STAY AWAY FROM THE BEACH! (That’s still not working, is it?)

If you get sand flea bites, what should you do?  Benadryl spray has been helping with the itch, on a temporary basis. The bumps and itch are an allergic reaction, so you can take an over the counter antihistamine to counteract it. Colloidal oatmeal baths will help with the itch as well. Do your absolute best not to scratch, to avoid scarring, and possible infection.  Also, keep an eye on them. I’ve read that it’s fairly rare for females to lay eggs under our skin, but it DOES happen. If you have a bite with a black center, go to the doctor, and tell her what you suspect.

Don’t be alarmed if new bites are popping up several days later. The anesthetic in their saliva works really well. If we could figure out a way to bottle the stuff, we might never have to feel pain again. Except, you know, when it starts to wear off and we turn into huge itchy welts.  That part would suck.

Irene August 16, 2011 at 03:04 PM
ha ha ... i'm feeling the same!!!! OMG!!! spent the day on the beach in Cairns and now i have bites all down my legs and some on my arms. So gross. my holiday is coming to an end and i am going home with a not-so-good look. I've been researching for 2 days too!! brilliant - your comments above are humerous, guess i'm just glad i'm not the only one who started on bedbugs and moved on. You made me feel a bit better about the situation .. even though i am resisting the urge sooooo badly not to scratch!! how long before my skin will resume back to normal??
Donna Terry July 26, 2012 at 05:25 PM
We were in Florida last week, and my husband commented on the tiny red bumps/bites on his leg. The next day I noticed some on my own legs but many, many more. After a couple of days we decided we should call our exterminator even though we saw nothing in our dog's behavior to indicate that she had fleas. After reading your post and seeing pictures of sand flea bites, I'm sure that's what I had. I took our dog to the beach early in the day and late in the afternoon, and there was quite a bit of seaweed washing in. Why didn't the local exterminator recognize that?
Mike Wilson August 01, 2012 at 06:14 PM
Thanks for the info! I just got back to PA from Myrtle Beach and my feet and ankles are covered. They have gotten worse since I've been home, which makes me think that a female did get some eggs in me. Just hope it's over soon.....it's mega itchy!
Nancy puliselich August 05, 2012 at 05:39 PM
I want to thank u for what u wrote. It was very helpful! My 5yr old broke out in these horrible red hard bumps. Some look like clusters of hives or something. Entire body even his eye lids r broken out. Iv been trying to figure out for few days what did we do different, what could this be!? Dr.s r not sure what bit him but he has had just beyond a horrible allergic reaction. Well, i dont like the beach. Havent been in years! I took my kids to the beach this week. Thats what we did different. They were catching those sand crabs as they were digging in the sand. I never knew those were sand mites. Those F***ers did a number on him. I seriously can't believe this. Never going to the beach again!
Ray Cruz August 11, 2012 at 10:56 AM
Ray Cruz, august 2012. After reading your article I researched the sand flea ( crustation) and couldn't find amy info (scientific) that says they bite. As for laying a towel on the beach, as long as your not in the "wash" zone, your good to go. I think there is definitely something biting you guys (blood sucking parasite)
Ray Cruz August 11, 2012 at 11:25 AM
Also the female sand flea (crustation) keeps her eggs under her shell
Mike Wilson August 16, 2012 at 01:53 PM
http://sandfleas.org/ In the research that I conducted, it seems that there are at least 3 different species that are sometimes called sand fleas.Ray is correct about one of these species. It's the one that is about the size of a dime. The ones that bit me (I guess) are the ones that are also known as "no see ums". Then I found 1 reference that listed chiggers and sand fleas as the same thing. Also looking at pictures of chigger bites and sand flea bites online, they seem to appear the same as well. Not really totally sure what bit me, but it sucked. The bites itched like crazy for just over 2 weeks. No creams really helped at all. The only thing that helped was scratching them until they bled (which is an infection and scarring risk) unfortunately.
Christine Miller August 26, 2012 at 07:59 PM
I just spent 5 days in Virginia Beach and I Covered in itchy bites on my legs and Arms. I thought bed bugs at first also but my hubby is bite free!!!!! I was grateful to find your article and relieved its not bed bugs but they are still spreading and I've been off the beach for 2 days now!!!!! I hope they go away not only is it irritating because of the itch but it's embarrassing how I look..... I just hope it goes away soon very soon!!!!
Chris Jackson October 17, 2012 at 02:57 AM
I was in Boca Raton over this last weekend on the beach at The Boca Beach Resort. Of course I was laying in the sand near some washed up seaweed for quite a while. I noticed a lot of bites the next day and dismissed them as mosquito bites. Now here we are 3 days later at Disney World and I am absolutely miserable. I think we have pinpointed the cause...Sand Fleas! Thank you for the insight. What can I do to stop the itch?
Valerie October 26, 2012 at 02:25 PM
I just returned from my sisters wedding in Islamorada , Florida. I have tons of bites all over my legs and arms. The water was low and a lot of mucky seaweed and nasty mud was there as i walked along the side, picking up sea biscuits. This is where i noticed getting the most bites at. I did get some at the reception on the beach, and some early morning while i was on the patio near the beach on my laptop. I too am just waiting for them to go away.
SquirrelGirl April 09, 2013 at 11:30 AM
I got 'em in St. John. I was told by a friend to ask my doctor to prescribe beta methadone dipropionate cream. It did help alleviate the itching.
Mike Wilson April 10, 2013 at 02:41 PM
Betamethasone dipropionate cream is a steroid. It's worth a try. It didn't seem to help me though.
Joelle April 26, 2013 at 03:19 AM
Just came back from Cuba and the beach was covered in seaweed. Been there lots of times before, but this time my legs are covered in welts and new bites keep popping up! Last time I was at the beach was 5 days ago! Calamine lotion does seem to help a bit. I am going to try some Benadryl as it is driving me crazy! One welt on my ankle is hard and about the size of a quarter.. I pray there are no eggs in there. Kind of freaked out about all this... Thanks for posting your info...
Amanda nolastname May 31, 2013 at 10:28 AM
Joelle was it eggs?
Amanda nolastname May 31, 2013 at 10:34 AM
Went to north captiva island and layer out for 3 days! I was the only one out of six that got the bites and the only one who laid out on a towel in the sand. (No beach chairs) there was seaweed in the water at the time we were there. And I did see what I think was sand fleas while diggin for shells. (Didn't know they bite or I would have never laid in the sand). It has been a week and they r still over the top itchy. There is one on my foot that has been there since the second day and has a black center.......and it is by far the itchiest. now I am concerned that there maybe eggs! Great! I will try the nail polish even though I think that is a myth. I would like to know how long these bites last and has anyone actually had eggs? If anyone has pictures plz email them So I can compare.
Chisterpher Becker June 06, 2013 at 04:54 AM
So, let me get this straight. Your whole family was getting repeatedly bitten by crustaceans at least an inch in length and you didn't realize it?? I understand that you're from New Jersey, but that doesn't excuse your ignorance when people are relying on you. "Sand Fleas", more commonly known as Mole Crabs, are peaceful creatures that live in the swash zone of beaches, not bothering a soul. There are many parts of your story that don't make sense, one of which being the fact that they were coming up on the beach and invading your towel space. "Sand Fleas" don't walk or dig on dry sand, they live and in wet sand only. Thank you, and good day. I said good day.
Mike Wilson June 06, 2013 at 12:05 PM
See the previous comments before berating someone for no good reason please chisterpher.

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