Jul 26, 2014
Partly Cloudy

Sand Fleas - Another Reason to Avoid the Beach

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

Sand Fleas - Another Reason to Avoid the Beach Sand Fleas - Another Reason to Avoid the Beach

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.

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