Sand Fleas

What is a sand flea? Sand flea is the common name for a number of species that live in the sand by large areas of water and can also attach themselves to fish and eat through their skin. When researching these parasites, you will find articles about them in the desert, in the sea, on the beach and by lakes. The term 'sand flea' is also linked with ‘sand flies’ and ‘no-see-ums’. The latter name does make a lot of sense when looking at pictures of the sand flea (found on beaches and in the sand) as they are translucent in color (whitish/almost see-through/to light brown). Therefore, they not only blend in with the color of the sand, but some (European) are also tiny in size making it very difficult for them to be spotted. They do vary in size though - sand fleas in America are said to grow up to an inch long. The picture of a sand flea below was taken in Cornwall, England and this particular adult sand flea was 1.5 cm in length. These parasites do bite holiday makers and dog walkers that frequent the beach (usually around the ankles or on the legs) and their bites are often very itchy and leave raised red bumps/lesions and blisters. Many people often get bitten by sand fleas in the UK and mistake them for horse fly bites.

Sand fleas are linked to marine environments on the coasts of Canada and the USA (Atlantic), North West Europe; however they have also been recorded in South America, the Canary Islands, India and Japan amongst others (a global parasite). The specie found on the Atlantic costs of America and Europe are Orchestia agilis and Orchestiar platensis.

no see ums (or noseeums)

Sand fleas can jump like dog and cat fleas, but they also burrow and crawl through the sand, where they usually bury themselves until later in the day/night time. Therefore, in this context the sand flea is more a crustacean but they resemble an insect. They are active at dusk and dawn so if you are visiting the beach during these times, it may be wise to spray yourself with an insect repellent like Deet. They can however also be prevalent during the day time and in full hot sun. If you are in an area of beach infested with sand fleas, a quick wipe across the top surface on the sand can often unearth the parasites, however they will bury themselves back under very quickly.

Sand Fleas

sand fleas

Sand flea bites - The sand flea (like other types of flea) can feed on the debris from their surroundings (plants, seaweed) as well as blood from a person or animal (even if dead and decaying). Therefore, if you are choosing where to sit on the beach, perhaps choose an area away from washed up seaweed and other debris. It is also advisable to have an elevated seat or at the very least a towel to lie on to avoid the parasites. Recently, I visited the South of England in Cornwall, and buried both feet in the sand whilst sunbathing. Unbeknown to me, there was a sand flea infestation on this particular beach and the parasites had free reign to bite me to their hearts content. My reaction to the bites went through many stages. Firstly, I did not feel the bites taking place - and it was not until I noticed a large rash on my ankle that I knew something was wrong. The rash looked just like bad sunburn, however, the skin then became raised and then began to blister. Not at any stage did the bites itch - however the area was sore and needed regularly cleaning and kept covered to prevent any further infection. These parasites are not only a nuisance to humans and our pets, they are also noted as having the capability of killing fish and whales. The sand flea can affix themselves to certain fish and then eat through their host’s body. Once through the skin, they feed on blood and also meat, killing the fish.

sand flea bite reaction

What are Sand Fleas

Sand fleas treatment - Treatment for sand flea bites will differ per person. Should you have any concerns about a bad reaction you should seek medical advice immediately as open untreated wounds can lead to further infection. Sand flea bites can be very itchy and sometimes cause a rash, depending on the person. You can try to reduce any swelling and discomfort with the aid of an ice pack, then apply calamine lotion, Aloe Vera or alternatively take an antihistamine. After receiving several bites during the summer of 2012, I was advised by nurses and the local pharmacist to take antihistamine tablets (to help any itchiness) and also to buy an hydrocortisone cream to help heal the skin. The best thing is not to scratch them, otherwise the bite could become further infected with dirt and it will take longer to go away. If you have a bite that profusely swells up then you may be allergic. If this happens, visit your local doctor for advice. If your bite blisters up and looks unsightly you may choose to drain the blister, clean the area and use iodine to help kill bacteria and dry the area out, then cover with a band aid. If you visit a walk-in centre at a hospital in the UK, this will be the likely treatment. However, your doctor may advise alternative treatments, depending on the severity of the bites.

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