A sand flea is a small crustacean in the Talitridae family that can inflict a painful bite. There are several different types of sand flea, all of which live in sandy coastal areas. They feed in the early morning or evening and will attack anything, including humans and animals, that comes near them. Different species of sand flea are known as mole crab, sand fly, and Chigoe flea.
The life cycle of a sand flea begins when the female lays eggs. This occurs after she has fed on blood which is necessary for her to reproduce. She usually lays around 50 eggs per day, which she carries with her until they hatch into larvae a few days later. After hatching, the pupae grow inside cocoons from which they will emerge as adult fleas. Depending on weather conditions and food supply, this process can take anywhere from two weeks to several months.
These types of fleas are light brown in color which makes them very difficult to spot in the sand. Most of them are also very tiny, less than 1/8th of an inch (3.5 mm) long, although the mole crab is larger and may be over 1 inch (2.5 cm) long. Despite their small size, they are able to jump as high as 16 inches (40 cm) to deliver a bite that can cause intense itching and pain. Sand fleas can carry leishmaniasis, which is a dangerous type of malaria. They have also been known to burrow into the skin like chiggers, which may lead to dangerous bacterial infections.
Sand flea bites can be prevented by spraying the body with an insect repellant which contains DEET before visiting a beach. Swarms of these pests can be detected because they create a loud, high pitched whining sound in large numbers. This sound should be taken as a warning for beachgoers to leave the area to avoid being bitten.
The larger sand flea known as mole crab has also been known to feed on and even kill very large fish and whales. Numerous sand fleas attach themselves to them and eat holes through their bodies. Once they reach the inside of a fish, they feed on the blood and meat.
When they are not feeding on animals or humans, sand fleas consume plankton and organic matter. This includes rotting seaweed that collects on their antennae as the tide rolls in and recedes. They stay in areas where the sand remains waterlogged, burrowing into it to stay warm. Mating season is in mid-summer, and it is at this time that large colonies of sand fleas can be found congregating in the sand.