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 sand fleas, 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 translu- cent in colour (whitish/almost see-through/to light brown). Therefore, they not only blend in with the colour 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. Sand fleas are linked to ma- rine environments on the coasts of Canada and the USA (Atlantic), North West Eu- rope; however they have also been recorded in South America, the Canary Islands,
India and Japan amongst others (a global parasite). The species of flea found on the Atlantic coasts of America and Europe are the Orchestia agilis and the Orchestiar platensis. 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.
Sand fleas bite holidaymakers 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. The sand flea (like other types of flea) can feed on the debris from their surroundings (plants, seaweed) as well as blood from a per- son or animal (even if dead and decaying). They are also noted as having the capa- bility 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 bites can be very itchy and sometimes cause a rash. You can try to reduce any swelling with the aid of an ice pack, then apply calamine lotion, aloe vera or alternatively take an antihistamine.
The best thing is not to scratch them, otherwise the bite could become further infected 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, you should visit your local doctor for advice.