Also known as beach fleas, beach hoppers, sand crabs, sea cicada, Emerita, or sand hoppers, sand fleas are known and despised by many beach goers as annoying, biting pests. Anyone who has vacationed to a tropical beach or lives near the ocean has probably encountered these pesky little critters, but most people still know very little about them.
To make matters even more confusing, sand fleas are often confused for other types of insects and pests that infest the sands of our favorite beaches. So, what are sand fleas exactly, why are they so annoying?
More importantly, how can you avoid them the next time you head out for some fun in the sand and sun?
Let’s find out.
What Are Sand Fleas?
Sand fleas are not insects or true fleas and are instead crustaceans related to lobsters and crabs.
Often mistaken for true fleas, sand fleas are actually crustaceans that live in moist sand and beachy areas. They are usually quite small, though some can grow to be about an inch in length. In spite of their name, sand fleas are not actually fleas at all and are not even considered insects. In fact, sand fleas are crustaceans.
As such, these critters are more closely related to lobster and crab and prefer to feed on seaweed and plankton. Up close, they look quite obviously like crustaceans, although it’s easy to see why many people would confuse these creatures for insects.
Sand fleas vary in color from dark brown, tan, light brown, black, and cream. They have two antennae, several legs, and often hop around the same way a common flea does. Sand fleas also bite, leaving behind itchy, red welts that can last for up to several weeks depending on your sensitivities.
That said, sand fleas are different from typical insect fleas because they do not cause any serious harm to people or pets. Furthermore, sand fleas do not follow people home from the beach or hitch rides on our dogs and cats to infest our homes. Instead, they prefer to dig into the moist sand of the beach and wait until nightfall or early morning, when they can take a dip in the tide and get breakfast or dinner.
Because sand fleas are generally reclusive during the day, many beach goers won’t have any issues with them. However, children who like to dig in the sand and anyone picking up stones or rocks along the beach could easily come into contact with some of these biting pests.
And while sand fleas are generally harmless to us, they can deliver an itchy bite, so it’s a good idea to learn more about them and how to avoid getting bitten. In order to do this, let’s first discuss where you may commonly find sand fleas on the beach.
Where Are Sand Fleas Most Commonly Found?
Sand fleas are found around beaches, deserts and marshes. They are most active at dawn and dusk, and throughout the night.
As their name suggests, sand fleas are typically found living in the sand. They prefer moist sand above all else and will burrow themselves into it, waiting for dawn or dusk to arrive so they can come out and eat.
Sand fleas also live in marshlands and deserts. They are most commonly found in beaches lining the coasts of the United States, but they are also found along the African coast as well.
All sand fleas can bite, but female sand fleas are particularly to blame for bites on humans. This is because female sand fleas can use the protein in our blood as nutrients for her eggs.
Sand flea bites look very similar to regular flea bites, which is one of the reasons sand fleas acquired their name. Sand fleas are also mighty jumpers, reaching heights of up to 20 centimeters.
That said, most sand flea bites will occur on people around their feet and ankles and happen when people are trekking through the sand on the beach. Of course, sand fleas can also bite you while you’re relaxing in the sand or digging through the sand and helping your kids make sand castles.
Luckily, sand fleas are not dangerous and their bites only cause mild or moderate pain and itching for a short period. Of course, there are a few scary misconceptions floating around about sand fleas, and there are plenty of beach pests that are mistaken for them.
So, how do you know if you’re really dealing with true sand fleas? Lets find out.
Common Pests Mistaken For Sand Fleas
Sandflies, like the one pictured above, look similar to mosquitoes and are sometimes called sand fleas, though they are not true sand fleas.
Yes, sand fleas bite and yes they are small, they jump, and they look like bugs, but now we know that in reality true sand fleas are not fleas at all. Still, these little crustaceans have a bad wrap and are often confused for other types of sand pests that can cause more damage.
Here are a few critters commonly mistaken for sand fleas.
The Chigoe Flea
Have you ever heard that sand fleas burrow their way into your skin to lay their eggs? It sounds like a crazy myth straight out of a horror story, but there is actually some truth to this. However, it’s not actually the sand flea that does this.
The real culprit who burrows into human flesh to lay her eggs is an arthropod known as a Tunga Penetrans or Chigoe Flea. This parasitic insect is native to Central America and South America and is responsible for a skin disorder known as Tungiasis. Most often, the Chigoe Flea chooses the feet of its hosts in which to burrow its eggs, causing itching, bumps, and discomfort.
Sandflies are small flies commonly found in sandy regions or beaches across the United States. They bite, drink blood, and cause itchy red bumps on people and animals. Sand flies can be dangerous to both humans and animals and are responsible for spreading parasitic diseases, with the most common being known as Leishmaniasis.
Luckily, Leishmaniasis is rarely contracted in the US and is more prominent in foreign countries.
The Common Flea
Fleas are found everywhere throughout the United States and can live anywhere wild animals roam. They often plague unprotected dogs and cats but can bite humans and infest homes.
Fleas are small, parasitic insects who are responsible for diseases like the Bubonic plague, Murine typhus, Tungiansis, Tularemia, and more. Fleas are a common pest throughout the US, but there are luckily plenty of ways you can protect yourself from them using preventatives like sprays, flea collars for pets, creams, and more.
Because gnats are attracted to bodies of water and can commonly be found around the same habitats and environments as sand fleas, they can easily be confused for them. That said, gnats are not sand fleas or fleas at all, for that matter.
They are instead a species of fly. Biting gnats cause itchy, red bumps when they bite people or pets, but they are harmless to people and are not known to cause any serious diseases or allergic reactions.
A midge is another species of fly that is similar to the gnat. It bites and can leave behind itchy bumps that irritate the skin of both people and pets. While midges are generally harmless, they can cause problems for livestock, particularly sheep in the United States.
That said, midges are not fleas or sand fleas and they do not spread diseases to humans. Still, they are commonly mistaken for sand fleas due to their love of water and marshlands.
Because all of the above pests that are often confused for sand fleas are in fact insects, you can easily protect yourself from them using bug repellents that contain DEET or even natural repellents that contain essential oils like peppermint oil or citrus oil.
We’ll talk more about products you can use to protect yourself from these pests further down, but for now, let’s talk about how to protect yourself from true sand fleas and sand flea bites.
How To Protect Yourself From True Sand Fleas – The Do’s And Don’ts
Sand Fleas bite humans and female sand fleas use blood to help give nutrients to her eggs.
Remember, sand fleas are not insects and cannot be deterred or repelled by common insecticides and bug repellents.
In fact, most experts recommend simply avoiding sand fleas by staying away from the beach during dusk, dawn, or night. When you do go to the beach, bring a blanket to lay on when relaxing in the sand, and avoid digging through wet sand or sticking your hands beneath stones or shells along the shoreline.
Are you on the hunt for some good beach blankets to protect you from sand fleas and their bites? We have listed some of our favorite beach blankets for you to check out below.
Wekapo Sand Free Beach Blanket
Investing in a large beach blanket that helps keep you and your loved ones out of the sand will help deter sand flies and other biting pests who live in sandy areas. This beach blanket above is massive, measuring 10 feet by 9 feet and is large enough to fit up to seven adults.
It also includes stakes so that it won’t blow up in the wind, become folded, or even get wrinkled. This is ideal for anyone who spends lots of time at the beach and wants to enjoy the sun but doesn’t want to endure painful bites and welts from sand fleas.
WildHorn Outfitters Sand Escape Beach Blanket
Another large beach blanket we like for lakes, beaches, and any sandy area you may visit and where sand fleas live, is this blanket above by WildHorn Outfitters. It helps keep the sand off your skin and in turn sand pests away using quality nylon material and anchors.
If it gets wet it dries quickly and is a good material that pests cannot bite through. Best of all, if you’re in an area rich with mosquitoes, you can wrap this blanket around you to protect yourself as mosquitoes cannot penetrate nylon.
But what else can you do to protect yourself from sand fleas?
Some beach goers have reported that DEET products and other bug sprays seem to make sand fleas even more prone to biting. While this isn’t necessarily a scientific fact, it is interesting and something to consider.
Still, you’ll probably need to wear some sort of protection against other pests at the beach, and since sand fleas are not dangerous but other common pests like fleas, sandflies, and chigoe fleas can be, it’s probably best to use repellents and sprays to protect yourself from them.
How To Repel Common Pests Mistaken For Sand Fleas
Pests that are mistaken for sand fleas like gnats, mosquitoes, and flies are common at beaches, so it’s important to protect yourself.
As we mentioned earlier, there are a number of pests commonly mistaken for sand fleas or even referred to as sand fleas, though they really are not.
These pests include insects like midges, biting gnats, common fleas, sandflies, and the ever infamous chigoe flea. Because these pests are insects, they can often be repelled using common pest control remedies that include DEET, insecticide chemicals, insecticide soaps, and even essential oils like citrus or peppermint.
Let’s take a look at some of our favorite products you can use to protect yourself against the pests most commonly mistaken for sand fleas.
No Natz DEET Free Bug Repellent
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The first bug repellent we would recommend that is great for anyone going to the beach where sand fleas are active is this DEET free bug spray by No Natz. While it won’t protect you against true sand fleas, it can help protect against other biting pests like gnats, mosquitoes, biting flies, and more.
And, as its name suggests, this bug spray is free of DEET and will hopefully therefore not entice sand fleas or encourage their bites, as some beach goers have reported. This formula is also hypoallergenic and made with botanical ingredients, so it is safe to use on children.
Cutter Skinsations Insect Repellent
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We like this bug spray by Cutter because it works for flying insects like gnats, mosquitoes, and fleas but it also contains aloe vera and Vitamin E to help soothe and moisturize the skin. That said, this spray does contain a very small amount of DEET.
Still, the product is great for beach goers who want to protect themselves and their loved ones from fleas, biting flies, biting gnats, chiggers and even ticks.
OFF! Botanicals DEET Free Insect Spray
If you’re set on having a DEET free product to repel pests at the beach that are commonly mistaken for sand fleas, you may want to check out OFF! Botanicals. This product is made by a popular insect repellent brand but is made with botanical ingredients that are entirely plant based and completely free of DEET.
It works to repel a number of insects like biting gnats, midges, flies, and mosquitoes. Again, remember that bug spray does not repel sand fleas, so you’ll need to use other remedies to protect yourself from them.
Quantum Health Buzz Away Spray
The beach is certainly a place for families, and if you have small children you like to tote out for some fun in the sun, you’ll probably be on the hunt for a family-friendly bug spray that is safe to use not only on yourself, but also on children and infants.
This bug spray by Quantum Health uses essential oils like citronella oil, geranium oil, cedarwood oil and peppermint oil. It is completely DEET and chemical free and protects against mosquitoes, ticks and gnats without harming the environment.
Skin So Soft Bug Guard With SPF 30
A bug spray and sunscreen combined? Why not tackle two issues with one spray by using this picaridin bug spray by Skin So Soft. It includes an SPF30 sunscreen, so it’s great for beach goers, and helps repel pests like gnats, midges, sand flies, and mosquitoes. It also helps keep your skin healthy and soothed as it contains vitamin E.
This product is DEET free and uses a different insect repellent chemical known as Picaridin. That said, picaridin is still a chemical insect repellent so use it only as directed.
Best Home Remedies To Protect Yourself From Pests Like Sand Fleas
Lathering up in coconut oil can help prevent bug bites from bugs like gnats and midges.
There are only a few ways to protect yourself from true sand fleas, and these ways generally involve staying out of their habitat, not digging through the sand, and avoiding the beach at dawn or dusk.
However, you can repel other pests commonly mistaken for sand fleas using some home remedies and DIY methods that are not only easy to prepare, but fun to wear at the beach! See for yourself below.
There are loads of essential oils that can help repel a number of pests like fleas, mosquitoes, spiders, midges, mites, gnats, and more. Some of the best essential oils for naturally repelling biting insects and pests include:
- Lemongrass oil
- Lavender oil
- Peppermint oil
- Rosemary oil
- Cedarwood Oil
- Eucalyptus Oil
- Tea Tree oil
- Citronella oil
- Clove oil
- And Rosemary Oil
You can make your own pest repellent spray and bring it along with you to the beach by adding between five and ten drops of any of the above oils to two cups of water. Mix the solution in a spray bottle and stick the bottle in your bag.
Before you choose the oil that is right for you, do some research. Some of the above oils can be sprayed directly on your skin while others can be sprayed on your beach gear like your towels, blankets and bags to repel pests. You can also spray the repellent on pests directly to kill them on contact.
That said, we do not suggest spraying any of these sprays directly on sand fleas as they are not insects and it will likely not work. Instead, use the above sprays to protect yourself from insect pests like true fleas, gnats and mosquitoes.
Coconut oil has long been touted for its healing qualities, but did you know it can also be used as a natural protectant from biting bugs? The sweet smell of coconut and the oil texture will trap and kill pests like gnats and fleas if they land on you to bite you.
The oil in fact surrounds them, saturating their wings and bodies, which essentially drowns them before they can bite. Plus, you can get a killer tan wearing coconut oil. Of course, just make sure you wear plenty of sunscreen as well, otherwise you might also get a killer sunburn.
How To Treat True Sand Flea Bites
Sand flea bites usually appear on feet and ankles and can be itchy and painful.
Have you ever been bitten by sand fleas? Their bites often appear on the lower portion of the body like on the feet, ankles, and shins. Bites show up in clusters of two or three and typically look like small, red welts that itch like crazy. Sometimes these bites can even be painful, depending on your sensitivity or reaction.
But what causes this pain?
When a sand flea bites, it releases some of its saliva into the blood. When this happens, our bodies release an antihistamine to fight off this foreign substance, causing a reaction that is similar to a minor allergic reaction, which can be very irritating.
While sand flea bites are generally harmless and often go away on their own, they can last for days or even weeks, and may require the help of creams, medication, and home remedies to help ease the discomfort.
Here are some of the best tips from experts on how to successfully treat sand flea bites.
Like mosquito bites, sand flea bites only get more itchy and irritated when you scratch them. Plus, scratching these bites can actually lead to abrasions on the skin and subsequent infections due to any bacteria that may be on your fingernails.
Instead of scratching these itchy bites, try applied anti-itch creams.
Try Taking Antihistamines, Tylenol or Advil
Some people experience pain from their itchy sand flea bites. This is usually a symptom of a mild allergic reaction or irritation and isn’t anything to worry about unless you are feeling shortness of breath, severe swelling or nausea.
If you do experience pain with your sand flea bites, try taking an antihistamine like benadryl or pain medications like tylenol or advil.
Stay Off The Beach Until You’re Bites Are Gone
We know it’s hot and the beach is calling your name, but if you have sand flea bites you should probably just wait a day or so. Let your bites heal up before you hit the sand and surf again in order to allow your body time to heal.
Use Anti-Itch Creams
Calamine lotion, hydrocortisone creams, aloe, and other anti-itch creams and gels are popular for all kinds of rashes and bites, and they work well for sand flea bites too. You can generally purchase these products over the counter at most grocery stores or pharmacies. Of course, you can also make your own anti-itch solution by mixing baking soda and raw oatmeal into a warm bath.
Baking soda can help alleviate any itchiness or pain you have from a bug bite or pest bite, and can be used whether you were bitten by sand fleas or other pests like midges, mosquitos, gnats, or fleas.
Baking soda can work on its own when mixed with water and added to your bumps, welts or rash, or you can mix it into a warm bathtub.
Sting Kill Swabs
These Sting Kill Swabs above are excellent additions to any first aid kit or beach bag. They help alleviate stings and bites from a number of pests and animals including sand fleas, bee stings, hornet stings and even jellyfish stings.
The swabs help immediately relieve pain and itching and are travel-friendly due to their small size. We also like that you can order these swabs in different pack sizes depending on the size of your family or the number of friends you’ve invited along to your beach adventure.
Hydrocortisone Cream is something we always keep in our medicine cabinet and first aid kit. It not only helps relieve insect bites and bites from sand fleas, but it can also help alleviate pain from rashes and skin abrasions caused by poison ivy, poison sumac, poison oak, and even eczema.
We have listed the order above because it includes individual packets of hydrocortisone cream that you can slip into your purse, wallet, or beach bag and bring along with you nearly anywhere to soothe bites from sand fleas or any other pest for that matter.
Aloe Vera Gel
The above Aloe Vera gel by Lily of the Desert is a gel we personally use on a daily basis for skin health and soothing. However, Aloe Vera gel is also a wonderful addition to any first aid kit, beach bag, or camping pack.
We like this particular brand because it is 99% pure aloe vera and not only soothes skin from sand flea bites, bee stings, sun burns, and rashes, but it also helps heal skin.
The below video further discusses other ways you can treat sand flea bites.
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How To Prevent Future Sand Flea Bites When You’re At The Beach
When it comes to protecting yourself from true sand fleas and preventing painful, itchy bites, there are a few tips and tricks experts recommend you follow. For the most part, avoiding a sand flea bite can be simple so long as you take the time to understand a bit about them and remember that these critters are generally harmless.
With that in mind, let’s go over a few different ways you can enjoy the beach and avoid getting bitten by those pesky sand fleas.
Stay Off The Beach After Rainfall
Sand fleas tend to come out to feed more ravenously after a good rain on the beach. This is also when the sand is full of moisture and they can find more plankton and seaweed in the tide.
So avoid the beach after rainfall and let the sun dry the sand out a bit before you grab your beach towel and sunscreen.
Don’t Use Products With DEET
For some reason, people have noticed that sand fleas tend to bite more aggressively when the victim is wearing bug sprays that contain DEET. While this can be problematic, especially if your favorite beach is full of other nasty pests like gnats and fleas, you do have alternatives to using DEET.
There are plenty of natural repellents which we did list above that use essential oils like peppermint, citrus, and cedar oil to repel pests naturally that should not attract pests like sand fleas.
You can also try slathering yourself in coconut oil. Not only will you smell delightful, but any insect pest that tries to bite you will drown in the oil and be totally foiled, as we mentioned above.
Avoid The Beach At Dawn Or Dusk
Remember, sand fleas are most active on beaches, marshes and deserts during dusk and dawn. They are also most active at night time. Luckily, most of us prefer hanging out at the beach when the sun is high in the sky, but for those of you looking to take a romantic, moonlit stroll in the sand, keep your eyes open for sand fleas.
Bring A Beach Towel Or Blanket To Lay On
When you do go to the beach, bring along a large towel or beach blanket. This is one of the easiest ways you can go about protecting yourself and loved ones from sand flea bites. Beach towels and blankets will keep your body directly off the sand, where sand fleas are generally burrowed, and they cannot bite through these materials.
Has this been a helpful guide on sand fleas? If you take anything from this article we hope it’s this – aside from their itchy bites, sand fleas are harmless to people and pets and will not follow you home from the beach. They are crustaceans just trying to live their best beach lives on the shoreline eating seaweed and plankton.
Your real beach enemies are those pesky insects commonly mistaken for sand fleas, so wear your bug spray, slather on that coconut oil, and stick to your towel or beach blanket when you’re not in the water.
Oh, and don’t forget sunscreen!
We hope you’re able to enjoy your summer at the beach a little more fully now that you know sand fleas aren’t dangerous! Happy summer!
Jack founded our blog after two decades of working in the pest control industry. His vast experience dealing with a wide array of pests allows him to diagnose issues quickly and get to the heart of pest problems quickly and effectively. He has serviced more than 2,000 homes over his career and there is hardly any pest situation that he has not seen before.