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No, Flesh-Eating Sea Bugs Aren’t Going to Devour Your Legs – Lifehacker


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An Australian teen was recently hospitalized after a mysterious swarm of creatures seemed to bite his legs and cause serious bleeding. While the incident has produced some shock and awe, theres no reason to get too worked up about it.

This is part of Lifehackers new Never Fear series. The world is a scary place, but we tend to misplace our fear in things that dont really deserve our precious time and energy. Lets fight those fears together with a little knowledge.

Bed bugs are some of the most horrifying pests out there. They suck your blood, spread from place

As soon as the incident occurred, the media and internet users were quick to blame sea lice, a small crustacean that lives as an external parasite on fish and other marine animals.

They feed on mucus, epidermal tissue, and are literal bloodsuckers, but they rarely attempt to feed on people. Video of the creatures in question was soon put online by the victims father, showing the tiny monsters devouring chunks of raw meat. Its pretty gross:

Frightening indeed, but the Museums Victoria, located in Carlton, Victoria, Australia, quickly identified the creatures as lysianassid amphipods or sea fleas, a type of scavenging crustaceannot sea lice. According to marine biologist Genefor Walker-Smith, who examined a sample collected by the teens father, sea fleas have bitten people before, but this type of attack is unusual:

It was just unlucky. Its possible he disturbed a feeding group but they are generally not out there waiting to attack like piranhas.

Alistair Poore, a University of New South Wales associate professor, told The New York Times that there may have been greater numbers of them in the area than normalperhaps caused by a large number of dead fish in the area. And Poore goes on to say that these animals are no different than the leeches and mosquitoes youd find on land. Theyre not fun, but they arent exactly life-threatening either.

So why was does this case of sea flea bites seem so extreme? Walker-Smith suggests a few possibilities. First, the teen may have unknowingly stepped on or near a fish carcass where a swarm of fleas was already in feeding frenzy mode. Second, the water was very cold so the teen probably couldnt feel the bites as they occurred. Lastly, the amphipods may have employed an anti-coagulant similar to the way leeches feed, causing a great deal of blood to flow.

The teen told the press that he was just trying to soak his sore legs for a half-hour or so in Dendy Streets Beach in Brighton after a football match. Walker-Smith says its possible the teen had injuries or small cuts on his legs that drew the scavenging fleas to him initially, and the more they bit the more they caused him to bleed, drawing more in on the feast. Marine biologist Michael Keough, from the University of Melbourne, explained the process to The Age:

Theyre scavengers wholl clean up dead fish and feed on living tissue... if hes been standing around for a long time, its the chance for more of them to come in and start biting. Just be attracted to a little bit of blood. And if hes standing in the water and hes cold and may not notice a whole lot of little bites.

In truth, youre more likely to encounter swimmers itch, also known as cercarial dermatitis, which is a harmless skin rash caused by microscopic water parasites and their larvae. The larvae burrow into your skin, causing an allergic reaction, then die because youre not a suitable host. It sounds a lot scarier than it is. And most of the bites, or sea bathers eruptions, you think you get from sea lice or sea fleas are probably actually caused by jellyfish larvae.

Its hard to complain about a day at the beach, but sand can be a big pain. It sticks to your body

Sea fleas are in every ocean all over the planet and number in the hundreds of millions, so you cant really avoid them entirely if you want to go swimming at the beach. That said, there are a few things you can do to greatly reduce your chance of being bitten:

Remember, these little guys are mostly harmless, and most of the experts weighing in on the event say theres no reason to avoid going in the water. For most people, sea fleas are nothing but an annoyance. Think of them as sea mosquitoes, not teeny-tiny piranhas. Theyre not venomous, rarely this voracious, and this incident was simply a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Also, theyre a vital part of the marine environment. Walker-Smith explains that ...if we didnt have them we would have a sea filled with dead and decaying fish. Yuckthat sounds much worse to me.

Sharks dont really like the taste of people, but their poor vision and the splashing of beachgoers

Read more from the original source:
No, Flesh-Eating Sea Bugs Aren't Going to Devour Your Legs - Lifehacker

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