Are Sand Fleas Insects or Crustaceans?

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What are sand fleas? You might itch just thinking about them, but the animals we call sand fleas don't even bite! However, it's easy to confuse sand fleas (also known as mole crabs) with sand flies and fleas, both of which have nasty and painful bites.

Are Sand Fleas Insects or Crustaceans?

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Types of sand fleas

There are three different animals that are considered sand fleas, and they all have multiple names. These are chigoe fleas, sandflies and sand crabs. They are all very different, but easily confused by their names.

Qianyue flea/jig

Chigoe fleas, also known as jiggers, sand fleas, and burrowing fleas, are the smallest fleas, measuring up to 1 mm (0.03 inches) in size. They are native to Central and South America, but the chinos flea has spread to some parts of sub-Saharan Africa. The bites of these parasites can cause infections. Feet are their main attack area, as chigoe fleas are sand-dwelling insects that are common on beaches where people tend to go barefoot. As their name suggests, they burrow 2-5 cm (0.5-2.0 inches) below the sand. Insect infestation is less common during the wet and rainy season.

So, are chigoe fleas dangerous? They 're parasites, so they can. The female chigoe flea first bites the skin of the host and burrows to lay her eggs. Once she's burrowed under the skin, the male chigoe flea joins her. After breeding, male chigoe fleas die, while females swell with thousands of eggs. Females lay eggs before they die under the skin and rot, which leads to the infection tungiasis.

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Chigoe-flea-it-looks-like-a-raw-whole-chicken-flyhy-pink-but-with-longer-apendages-black-background shot under a microscope
Chigoe fleas are native to Central and South America.

© 3drenderings/

Sandflies/biting gnats

Like chigoe fleas, sandflies are insects, but they look very different. They look more like a long mosquito than a flea. These flies usually stop growing at 3 mm (1/8 inch) and bite people and animals, sucking blood through four sharp piercing knives . yes

Sandflies are found worldwide, including in New Zealand, Central Africa and the Caribbean. Biting small insects are also sometimes nicknamed no-see-ums.

Biting gnats can be frustrating because they are so small that they can squeeze through gravel and other tiny openings. Their bites leave small red bumps that are itchy and distracting for up to a week.

Courtesy of the photographer: Hundreds of mosquitoes (or sandflies) bite the feet and legs of a mosquito-bitten woman in Western Australia. Her legs and feet are very light colored with many red spots. Her second toe is the longest toe on her Esch foot. The background is tightly trimmed grass.
Sandflies leave behind small red bumps after biting their hosts, which are itchy and distracting for up to a week.

© Andrew Atkinson/

Sand Crab/Mole Crab

Last but not least, we have sand crabs, also known as mole crabs. Although they are commonly called sand fleas, they are not insects at all, but crustaceans. Mole crabs are related to crabs and shrimp. They are small, rarely growing to 2.5-5 cm (1-2 inches) long. Unlike other animals, female mole crabs are larger and have more meat. Unlike fleas, these critters don't bite or suck blood. Anglers catch sand crabs or buy them from bait shops for catching common fish near the waves.

Go to a beach in the Pacific or Atlantic where sand crabs are easy to find with white fluffy sand. Sometimes you can spot their little antennae above the sand and scuttling below. The shell that protects the body comes in yellow, brown, black, white and orange. Birds love to prey on sand crabs because they are small and defenseless. They are egg-shaped and have a smooth shell.

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Macro of a sand flea in a pink palm. Sand fleas are beige-light brown olive, with tiny shells dotted with grains of sand.
Sand fleas are oval in shape with smooth shells.

© Tuchman


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featured image

Green/gray mole crab on tan sand.
Close up of Eremita Brasiliensis, Brazilian crustacean in the sand of the beach.


about the author

I have been a professional content writer for 6 years, focusing on nature, gardening, food and animals. I graduated from university with AAs, but I'm still doing my BA in Marketing. When I'm not writing, you can find me sitting in front of the TV with blankets, treats, and my fur babies in hand.

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