Those Sand Fleas Tickle…

Photo Credit: Christine Jun

It had been quite some time since I had set my feet into an actual ocean.  As I felt the inner child take over my body, I literally danced into the ocean waves at Santa Monica Beach of California.  But something was different.  The water that rushed over my feet didn’t feel like water, it felt like something was literally tickling the bottoms of my feet.  The Zoologist in me immediately became absorbed in figuring out what these little tickle monsters were.  I started by kicking up piles of sand, in which as much as 10 little crawling creatures briefly popped in the tops of the exposed sand piles, before quickly scurrying back into the pile in which they felt so secure.  I dug and dug, until I finally found my specimen big enough to examine.  Was it a shrimp? A crab?  What was this creature?

Photo Credit: Christine Jun

After my amused day at the beach, returning back to my perfect little airb&b room, I couldn’t wait to search for what this creature was.  Little did I know, that these adorable (in my eyes) creatures were known as Sand Fleas, or Mole Crabs.  Emerita Talpoidea is a crustacean that is commonly found in the “wash zone” section of the sand in which they are able to position themselves perfectly for filter feeding.  They burrow into the sands directly in between the dry area of the sand, and the rough parts of the waves.  Even though they were buried below the sands, it was easy to spot them, as the result of their filter feeding position created a V like shape directed towards the incoming waves.

Their bodies, which proved to have tough exoskeletons, and closely tucked in appendages allowed them to roll in the tidal currents without being harmed.  The antenna are feather like in nature, which provides it with the best filtration system for sorting out plankton and organic matter for feeding.  It was clear that they were easily adapted to burrowing, proving to burry themselves completely in under 2 seconds.  They have an anchoring carapace that allows them to quickly dig into the fluid like sand created by the waves, protecting them from predators, and being able to anchor themselves in the breaking waves for filter feeding.

These Sand Fleas, Mole Crabs, or whatever you want to call them, can be found all along the coasts in the United States.  They are obviously very common here in Santa Monica Beach of Californa.  They are also common in the northeast areas of Florida, the Atlantic coast of Africa, and a related genus can be found in Australia.  With only fish and seabirds being their only predators, this simple life cycled creature has a sublime life feeding in the crashing waves of tropical and subtropical beaches.  Tis’ the life.