Pictures of Sand Flea Bites: Identifying and Treating Skin Irritations

Pictures of Sand Flea Bites: Identifying and Treating Skin Irritations

The term "sand flea" is used to describe several different insects and organisms, some of which are capable of biting humans. Some of those bites are relatively harmless, but others can be much more serious. They might even lead to life-threatening bacterial infections and painful skin lesions, too.

Knowing the difference between the different types of sand fleas and being able to identify a sand flea bite is key when it comes to treating and coping with these pesky critters. This guide will help with that. Below, we'll take a look at the various types of sand fleas and explore how to diagnose and treat their bites.

Understanding Sand Fleas

Before we dig into the nitty-gritty of sand flea bites, let's take a moment to see what sand fleas are and how they tend to behave.

What Are Sand Fleas?

Firstly, it's important to note that "sand fleas" or "beach fleas" can refer to a range of creatures. It's quite a general term, used for any little fleas or flea-like critters that live in and around sandy areas. That includes Talitridae crustaceans (sand hoppers or beach hoppers), which don't bite humans at all, as well as sand flies, which can bite but aren't too dangerous.

However, when we speak about sand fleas in the technical sense, this term actually refers to one specific type of critter: the chigoe flea. Also known as jigger fleas, chigoe fleas or Tunga penetrans are some of the smallest fleas known to man. But, despite being tiny, they're quite nasty, capable of burrowing into the skin and spreading infections.

They're found in places with warm, tropical climates, like the countries of Central and South America or sub-Saharan Africa. They also live in the U.S. but aren't too common. Therefore, your chances of being bit by these parasitic insects on American soil is relatively low. You're more likely to encounter them while traveling abroad.

Sand Flea Life Cycle and Behavior

The life of every sand flea begins in the form of an egg. After a few days, the eggs hatch, releasing sand flea larvae. The larvae burrow into sand to develop into pupae over the course of a few weeks, eating any organic matter they find until they become adults. At that stage, they start seeking out hosts to feed on. And that's when chigoe bites on humans may begin to occur.

Both male and female sand fleas can bite. However, the female flea is a bigger concern. After biting, females claw their way into a host's skin and partially burrow inside. They'll then continue to feed on the host, absorbing the nutrients they need to lay their eggs. By keeping their behind exposed to air, they can breathe, reproduce with any males that pass by, and expel eggs into their surroundings.

They can lay around 100 eggs over a two-week period before dying.

Identifying Sand Flea Bites

There are so many different types of insect bites that people can get. And it's easy to confuse one type for another. In this section, we'll look at how you can tell if a sand flea bit you, listing the key visual signs and most commonly-bit areas of the body.

Visual Characteristics of Bites

When it comes to telling different types of bites apart, like mosquito bites vs. bed bug bites, a visual inspection can provide plenty of information. Common sand flea bites tend to be quite similar to many other insect bites. They make little red bumps on the skin and may also be quite itchy. It's common for multiple visible bites to cluster together, looking like a red rash.

Meanwhile, if you're unlucky enough to be targeted by a female, you may have a much more painful bite. As explained above, the female will claw its way into your skin. That can lead to the formation of a large welt, much bigger than the smaller, itchy bites of males or females that haven't mated yet.

Common Areas Affected

Most common sand flea bites will occur around the feet and ankles. That's because these little fleas live in the sand. So, as you walk across it, they can leap onto your feet to bite you. And that can make the bites quite hard to notice at first for some people. It's also possible to have sand flea bites in other areas, like further up the legs or even around the genitals. 

Comparing Sand Flea Bites with Other Insect Bites

As stated above, common sand flea bites can look quite a lot like bites from mosquitoes or other insects. However, there are some distinct differences you can keep in mind to tell them apart.

Sand Flea Bites vs. Mosquito Bites

Common sand flea bites and bites from mosquitoes both take the form of small, red, itchy bumps. The biggest difference is their location. Mosquito bites (pictured above) can occur on any bit of exposed skin, like arms, legs, and even the face. Visible bites from sand fleas, meanwhile, are almost always clustered around the feet and ankles.

In addition, if you happen to be bit and burrowed into by a female sand flea, that will leave a much bigger welt than any mosquito bite. The welt may be white or red in color, and you should be able to see part of the sand flea right in the center.

Other Similar Bites

Bed bug bites (pictured) also have much in common with sand flea bites, as they cause red, itchy lumps to form, often in clusters along the legs. However, the bumps made by these bites tend to be larger and wider than those of sand fleas.

Then, there are tick bites, which some people might confuse for the bites of female sand fleas. However, with a tick bite, most of the tick's body should be visible, attached to the outside of the skin, with only its mouthparts beneath the surface. In contrast, if a sand flea buries into your skin, most of its body will be hidden.

Symptoms and Immediate Reactions

Like other insect bites, sand flea bites can cause a range of reactions and symptoms.

Common Symptoms of Sand Flea Bites

Common sand flea bites will usually cause itching, redness, and swelling. Those symptoms should start to fade within a couple of days in most cases. However, it is possible to have an allergy to flea bites. If you're allergic, you might have a more adverse and serious reaction to flea bites. Allergic reactions may take the form of hives, rashes, and even shortness of breath.

Infection is another potential reaction to flea bites, especially if they're given time to burrow into the skin. They can cause a condition known as tungiasis (sand flea disease), which can lead to a range of symptoms, like pain, itching, swelling, inflammation, and ulcers. In addition, the lesion caused by the flea itself opens the way for many bacterial infections.

First Aid for Sand Flea Bites

Typically, after getting bit by a sand flea, you'll want to wash the area to help reduce the risk of infection. You can also apply a cold compress to soothe redness and swelling and then assess the situation to decide on the next course of action.

Treatment and Remedies

Various treatments can help you deal with sand flea bites.

Over-the-Counter Treatments

For mild sand flea bites, you can usually use basic over-the-counter antihistamines or itch creams to alleviate itchiness. Simple cold packs can also work well to soothe any red and itchy areas. Or, for a safe and natural alternative, consider a NATPAT itch patch or some of our soothing bug bite patches.

Home Remedies

There are also plenty of home remedies for itchy bites, like oatmeal baths, aloe vera gel, honey, and even vinegar.

When to Seek Medical Attention

While mild sand flea bites aren't a big deal, some of the more serious bites can lead to major infections and serious health risks. It's, therefore, vital to know when to seek professional medical aid.

Signs of Infection

Small sand flea bites are unlikely to cause any infection. However, if a live flea enters your skin, that may cause the infamous sand flea disease. Watch out for symptoms like pain around the bite zone, lots of swelling, redness, itchiness, and the formation of a white ring around the bite. 

Professional Medical Treatments

If you have a serious sand flea bite with a high risk of infection, antibiotics may be prescribed to help fight off the bacteria. In addition, a surgical operation may be required to physically take the fleas out of the skin.

Prevention Strategies

Fortunately, just like other insects, there are ways to prevent sand fleas from biting you and reduce your risks of being targeted by them.

Personal Protective Measures

Firstly, it's important to remember that sand fleas find it much easier to bite human skin that is exposed. Therefore, a simple way to protect yourself is to cover up with clothing, especially around the feet and ankles. Wear shoes and long socks to boost your chances of avoiding any bites.

You can also use insect repellent products to keep these bugs at bay. And there's no need to reach for harsh chemicals. Many of the best solutions, like our own mosquito patches for kids and mosquito patches for adults, make use of safe, natural ingredients, like essential oils that fleas hate.

As well as wearing mosquito stickers and anti-flea patches, you can also time your visits to sandy areas with care. Sand fleas tend to be more active in the evening or early morning, and are less likely to bite during the busiest periods, like in the middle of the day.

Environmental Controls

If you worry about sand fleas living near to your home or somewhere you're staying, the best option is to use repellents. Essential oil sprays or diffusers can be very effective for this, as lots of fleas and other pests dislike the smell of certain oils, such as peppermint or cedarwood.

Myths vs. Facts

Next, let's take a look at a few common myths regarding sand fleas and their bites.

Debunking Common Myths

  • You Can Cut a Sand Flea Out on Your Own: Definitely not! Some people have tried to surgically remove their own sand fleas in the past, and it's very unsafe. It can easily cause further injuries and infections.
  • There Are No Sand Fleas in America: Sadly, this is false too. Sand fleas aren't too common in the U.S. at this time, but they can still be found, especially in warm southern states, like South Florida.
  • You Can Avoid Sand Fleas By Lying on a Towel: A towel provides a physical barrier between your body and the sand. That makes it harder for sand fleas to bite you, but not impossible. However, you likely won't spend all your beach time on a towel, either.

Facts About Sand Fleas and Their Bites

As explained throughout this guide, sand flea bites are no joke. They can vary in severity from mild to serious, and the worst cases can be very nasty or even fatal due to the infections they spread. It's, therefore, very important to take these creatures seriously.


If you're planning on spending any time on beaches or other sandy spaces in places like Central America or South Africa, you have to watch out for sand fleas. In most cases, they'll simply cause unpleasant itchy bites. But in the worst situations, they can be deadly.

That doesn't mean you should avoid beaches entirely in these parts of the world, but you should take care, covering up when possible and using quality repellents, like those in the NATPAT collection.


How long does it take for sand flea bites to show up?

Sand flea bites may appear in a matter of minutes or even a few days after the bite itself.

What home remedy stops flea bites from itching?

Various home remedies can help with flea bite itching, like tea tree oil, apple cider vinegar, or oatmeal.

How do I stop fleas from biting me?

There are many ways to reduce your risk of flea bites, such as using natural flea repellents and covering your skin with clothing.

How do you know if you have sand fleas on your skin?

It depends on the type of sand flea you're dealing with. Some can leave little red bumps on the skin from their bites, while others dig beneath the skin, causing large welts to appear.

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