How to Get Rid of Sand Fleas

Written by Nixza Gonzalez
Updated: October 30, 2023
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Sand fleas can be irritating, but they don’t have to take over your life. Not all sand fleas can infest your home or your body. For example, mole crabs are sometimes called sand fleas, but they live underneath the sand on beaches and don’t travel indoors willingly. But other sand fleas like biting midges, also called sandflies, can infest a home leaving you with uncomfortable bug bites. Keep reading to discover how to get rid of sand fleas.

What are Sand Fleas?

Though a number of insects and crustaceans are called sand fleas, for the purposes of this article the sand fleas tat are discussed are biting midges, family Ceratopogonidae. These pesky critters, navtive to North America, are the ones most likely to infest a home. While sand fleas are common outside, they can also breed in and take over your indoor spaces. They are very small flying insects that bite and suck blood from their hosts. Biting midges have dozens of nicknames, some of the most common ones include no-see-ums, moose flies, pinyon gnats, five-o’s, and punkies.

Close up of a male biting midge, Ceratopogonidae or No See Um, on wood

Biting midges have dozens of nicknames, including moose flies, pinyon gnats, five-o’s, and punkies.

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Sand fleas are about 1-3 millimeters (0.03 – 0.12 inch) long. They are smaller than the tip of a pencil. Adult sand fleas are grey, but turn red the more blood they drink. During their larval stage, sand fleas look like tiny white worms, and are often mistaken for maggots. Interestingly, only female biting midges drink blood and bite. Instead, male biting midges get their nutrients from plant sap and nectar.

What attracts sand flea?

To get rid of and prevent a sand flea infestation, it’s important to know what attracts them and when they are most active. Sand fleas are crepuscular, meaning they are most active around dusk and dawn. You can easily find these pests while fishing, camping, hiking, or gardening. Sand fleas are attracted to oxygen. They can sense where you are by the oxygen in the area. So, when a sand flea bites you, it’s best not to flail your arms or run away. Sand fleas are also attracted to dark colors., so when venturing outdoors, it behooves one to dress in light colors. These biting flies are attracted to lactic acid, which is a component of human perspiration.

Left frame: female presenting human wearing 3/4 sleeve magenta shirt, with her left arm in the air at an angle toward up right corner of frame, only to elbow is visible. She is using her index of her right hand to point at perspiration stain on her shirt uat her right armpit. Her mouth is open as if she is saying ewwwwww.

Sand fleas are attracted to lactic acid, which is a component of human perspiration.

©aslysun/Shutterstock.com

Sand fleas are also more active in wet, boggy areas with dense overgrowth. Protect your legs and feet by covering them with light hued pants and socks. Sand fleas often live near large bodies of water like lakes. They breed in wet conditions, specifically mud with wastewater. Some sand fleas do carry diseases, but they only affect other animals.

How to Kill Sand Fleas

Biting midges aren’t easy to control especially when they take over your lawn. The first thing you should do to kill or get rid of sand fleas is to take away anything that could attract them. For example, if you have a bucket sitting around collecting water, dump it. Applying insect repellent before you go outdoors might keep these pests from bothering you, but it won’t kill them.

A hand-labeled bottle of apple cider vinegar, frame right, next to a red-hot has been turned on its side, frame left, against white isolate.

Trap and kill sand fleas by mixing 1 cup of hot water and 1 cup of apple cider vinegar with 3 to 4 drops of dish soap in a bowl.

©focal point/Shutterstock.com

If you have a home infestation , there are a couple of options. You can trap and kill sand fleas by mixing 1 cup of hot water and 1 cup of apple cider vinegar with 3 to 4 drops of dish soap in a bowl. The cider and water attract them, while the soap traps them. Unable to get out of the bowl, they drown. Placing a light nearby will also attract sand fleas. Sand fleas love sweet juices and nectar., so wiping down counters and cleaning up spills as soon as they happen, will help keep your home or office free of sand fleas.

What happens when a sand flea bites you?

Female biting midges bite in groups. They look for exposed skin by detecting oxygen and warmth. Biting midges use their mouths to pierce through the skin while also releasing saliva. Interestingly, it’s the saliva that most folks react to, and not he bite!. The saliva stops the wound from clotting quickly so the flea can suck blood. Almost immediately after they finish, a small red bump appears, which may cause a burning or itching sensation in the area.

supplied by the photographer: Feet and legs of a woman with midge bites, bitten by hundreds of midges (or sand flies) in Western Australia. Her legs and feet and very light colored with many red spots on them. Her second toe is her longest on Esch foot. The background is closely clipped grass.

Almost immediately after they finish sucking your blood, a small red bump appears, which may cause a burning sensation in the area.

©Andrew Atkinson/Shutterstock.com

Although not as common, some people have an acute reaction to the bite, developing large itchy, red welts that swell quickly. As son as you notice the red bites, wash the affected area with antibacterial soap. The bites will go away on their own but to hasten the process, apply cold water or ice to the area, which also lessens swelling and itchiness.

What Flies Sting Humans?

Horse or Deer Fly Family Tabanidae

The aggressive deer fly is the number one blood-sucking fly in the U.S. in the summer months.

©Vinicius R. Souza/Shutterstock.com

Sand fleas, also referred to as biting midges, are one of multiple types of biting flies that bite or sting humans as well as animals. While they are typically not dangerous, biting flies can certainly cause pain, or other complications if you have an allergic reaction to the bite, or if the particular fly does carry a disease. Below are five stinging or biting flies to be aware of.

  • Horse Flies Horse flies are not only intimidating for their size–from ¾ to 1 ¼ inches long–but they are aggressive and can exact painful bites on humans. While they don’t usually carry diseases, their bites can cause allergic reactions in some people. This type of fly will repeatedly bite if it is able to draw and taste blood. Female varieties will even chase their targets. Ways to repel these tiny beasts include using insect repellent or wearing light-colored clothes.
  • Sand Flies Though sand flies are very small, measuring a quarter the size of a mosquito, their bites can produce blisters or small red welts that can itch or swell. It is possible for these creatures to carry parasitic diseases like leishmaniasis. This condition is usually contracted in places outside the U.S., but some cases have been reported in Oklahoma and Texas.
  • Deer Flies Deer flies are a very aggressive fly species that delivers painful bites. Their mouths feature razor-like lips which can slice skin to feed on the blood. Some people have allergic reactions to the bites. The USDA warns that these flies are the chief bloodsuckers during summer months in the U.S. They are capable of carrying Tularemia (rabbit fever), which would need treatments with antibiotics.
  • Black Flies Also referred to as buffalo gnats, these flies are common in the U.S. and also slash the skin to feed on blood. Fortunately, they don’t usually transmit diseases. Their bites create a scab, and some people experience an itchy welt growing from it. If the latter occurs, the victim could develop “black fly fever,” characterized by nausea, headaches, fever, or swollen lymph nodes.
  • Biting Midges These flies are referred to loosely as gnats, but also called “no-see-ums” due to their tiny size. A bite from one can result in a blister or red welt that itches. These flies do suck blood, and the bite delivers a painful sting. They can transmit Mansonella ozzardi, a parasite that could produce flu-like symptoms in the victim.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Andrew Atkinson/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Nixza Gonzalez is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering topics like travel, geography, plants, and marine animals. She has over six years of experience as a content writer and holds an Associate of Arts Degree. A resident of Florida, Nixza loves spending time outdoors exploring state parks and tending to her container garden.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. entnemdept.ufl.edu, Available here: https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/aquatic/biting_midges.htm
  2. extension.entm.purdue.edu, Available here: https://extension.entm.purdue.edu/publichealth/insects/bitingmidge.html