A flea is a small, laterally flattened, wingless, parasitic insect which is known for its blood sucking habits and jumping abilities. Fleas are of great economic importance as vectors of pathogens in many parts of the world.
There are different kinds of fleas existing around the world which affects people and animals. All kinds of fleas feed on blood and can be so annoying to deal with. One of them is the sand flea which appears to look the most unique.
WHAT ARE SAND FLEAS?
Sand flea which is also called sand hopper, beach hopper or beach flea belongs to the family Talitridae order Amphipoda which are known for their hopping attributes, the sand flea is more of an arthropod but it looks like an insect. Arthropods are the successful and most abundant animals on the planet and can be seen to thrive and survive successfully in any environment.
Sand fleas are crustaceans, cousins to the insects with five to seven pairs of legs and two pairs of antenna.
Sand fleas are mostly found on beaches, deserts, seas and lakes, they are transparent in colour from whitish to brownish and also vary in sizes and do not fly. Sand fleas also enjoy the beach as much as we do (the warm temperatures and the nice ocean breezes).
Sand fleas can hop like dog or cat fleas but they also dig and creep through the sand. They are very active at sunrise and sunset so if you are visiting the beach during these times, it may be worthwhile to use an insect repellant. Nevertheless they can be dominant during the day time or in the hot sun. If you find yourself in a highly infested area of sand fleas, a swift wipe over the surface of the sand will reveal the parasites but they tend to hide themselves under the sand quickly.
Sand fleas are scavengers, they feed on remains from their environment (plants or algae) as well as blood from a person or an animal either dead or decaying.
When planning to sit on a beach it is advisable to at least stretch out a towel to lie on, use an elevated seat such as a lawn chair or choose an area free of debris or washed up algae.
Sand fleas have the capability of harming fishes, crabs and whales by attaching themselves and burrowing through their host’s body after which they begin to feed on blood and also their meat thereby killing their host.
TYPES OF SAND FLEA
- The long-horned sand flea (Americorchestia longicornis)
The long-horned sand flea which is found on the Atlantic coast of North America from New England to the Gulf of Mexico is known for its antenna which is as long as its body. It is waxy white and about 2.5 centimeter long.
The common sand flea (Platorchestia plantensis or Orchestia agilis)
The common sand flea is found on the coast of Europe and on the eastern Atlantic coasts of America from Greenland to Uruguay has an antenna which is reddish brown.
A common sand flea is dark brown or grey, has a bluish tail and lives in moist sand and is about 0.4 inch long or one centimeter long.
The European sand flea (Talitrus saltator)
The European sand flea lives on sand beaches near the high-current mark burying itself during the day and coming out at night. It is about 1.5 centimeter long and it feeds on remains of organic materials.
Sand fleas usually group in hundreds and will attack anything ten inches to the ground, typically causing a lot of bites when they attack their hosts which causes a lot of pain and itching lasting hours to end. They are usually recognized by a long drawn high-pitched sound.
Sand fleas have this remarkable ability of changing colors and brightness in order to match different kinds of backgrounds.
Symptoms of Sand Flea bite
Sand flea infections are emerging and re-emerging throughout the world, their incidence is on the rise and their distribution is shifting and expanding.
Sand fleas are very painful and can last for a long period of time so it is very important to recognize the signs of sand flea bites and take proper measures in terms of the treatment so the pain and other symptoms can disappear quickly.
Sand fleas though small, can cause serious problems, they usually bite the ankles, feet and legs because they are the closest to the ground and might not bite the upper body.
There are two main kinds of sand flea bites on human beings, the first one will look like a mosquito bite with a red spot and a bump which will disappear after a day or two. This first kind of bite also occurs when a flea sucks blood and moves to another host thereby injecting a toxin to prevent the clotting of blood which allows them to suck out some blood and move on to the next host without getting stuck, this saliva injected irritates the skin and causes sensitive or allergic reactions.
The second kind of bite is more severe than the other and requires more extreme measures because it is caused by the developing female sand fleas. The female sand fleas burrow themselves into the skin especially the feet, might lay about hundred eggs and stay there until their eggs are hatched. Whenever you see swollen areas with a black spot at the centre it might have breeding sand fleas inside of them and they get worse over time. The development of ugly looking ulcers will start near where the bites are situated and get larger which makes walking painful and difficult. These sores will not heal up until when treated.
The two kinds of sand flea bites will cause itching, fever, pain and discomfort. The more allergic you are to sand fleas the more the reactions you are likely to get.
Pyrexia (a medical term for fever) and infections in the wound might also occur which can develop into a condition called tungiasis (sand flea disease) which is an inflammatory skin disease and which causes wounds, ulcerations, severe pain and swelling needs to be treated to avoid secondary infections such as tetanus, bacteremia and gangrene. So it is advisable to cover the wound with a bandage.
Type 1 Bite
Type 2 Bite
Sand flea bites Treatments
A person bitten by sand flea can try the following but do have in mind that sand flea bites differ from one person to another.
-Wash the affected area with an antiseptic, you can reduce swelling and discomfort by applying icepacks.
– Examine the wound for breeding sand fleas because it is possible for them to live under the skin and suck blood for weeks.
– Sand flea bites can be very itchy and might cause rashes depending on the person, resist the urge to scratch otherwise the bite could be further infected with dirt thereby taking longer time to heal up.
– Soak affected areas in a colloidal oatmeal bath.
– Make a paste of baking soda and water to spread over affected areas.
– Aloe Vera which has a calming and soothing effect, calamine lotion, tea tree oil, vinegar or a hydrocortisone cream can be applied on areas affected.
– Antihistamine tablets can be used to help with the itchiness, painkillers or ibuprofen gel can also be used to help reduce the pain.
However if your bite swells profusely you may be allergic, if the bite blisters up and is not looking good you can choose to drain the blister, apply iodine to help destroy the bacteria and dry the area and band it up.
You can visit the doctor if you are still feeling severe pains, he may advise alternative solutions depending on the extent of the bites.
How to Avoid Sand Flea Bites
Prevention of sand flea bites is very easy especially when using the following tips.
- Have a bug spray or repellant
- Bring a large towel to lay on or a lawn chair
- Don’t bury your feet in the sand while sitting
- Don’t visit the beach when it has been raining because sand fleas seem to be more aggressive when the air is cool and damp. So it’s advisable not to go to the beach in the morning and evening but rather visit when it’s warm (mid mornings and early afternoons).
- Shower when you leave the beach.
- Cover yourself especially your legs, feet and back when lying or sitting to avoid being bitten.
- Sand flea rakes can be used to remove the sand fleas.
- Avoid areas where sand fleas are known to be many.
It is possible for a person to get bitten by sand fleas while some will never get bitten this is because blood sucking parasites such as sand fleas are attracted to chemicals coming out of the body such as sweat, exhalations or emanations etc.. Some people just smell more pleasant than others and allergy response varies amidst individuals.