'Mini-Sharks' on California Beaches: Seasonal Tiny Bugs Draw Beachgoers's Blood Through Painful Bites

Tiny bugs also known as "mini-sharks" that seasonally migrate up and down the coast are biting into the flesh, drawing blood of beach goers in California. Many beach goers have been found hopping about in pain. The bites are tiny but very much painful, lasting 15 to 20 minutes, like a pin prick. People have described the bite as "painful" and "surprising". They said the bugs looked like a group of tiny piranhas that attacked their feet and ankles.

The bugs are water-line isopods, a common crustacean species that grows to around 0.3 inches long. It can form swarms of more than 1,000 individuals. The bugs draw blood from the sandy feet of their victims giving them a painful bite, which experts say is not a major concern. These creatures are found year-round along the California coastline and on beaches in the Pacific Northwest regions of the US and Canada.

Richard Brusca, an invertebrate zoologist at the University of Arizona, said the bugs can be pretty nasty. He outlined it as mini-sharks that can attack like a wolf pack, but with a bite comparable to that of a mosquito. The expert said it is unclear what causes the rare and sudden increases in the abundance of E.chiltoni. These creatures spend most of their lives buried in the sand along the tideline of sandy beaches. They emerge in shallow water when the tide goes out.

Tara Sauvage, a local resident, said she was bitten by the isopod at De Anza Cove in the Mission Bay area of the city. She had blood all over the foot and in between the toes. Sauvage described it as being bitten by small piranhas.

She said the pain subsided within 15 to 20 minutes after she washed her feet with water. In a similar incident in 2017, a 16 year-old in Australia was hospitalized after he was bitten by a swarming population of the isopod Cirolana harfordi (closely related to E.chiltoni). The isopod had torn swatches of skin from his feet looking like a war injury!

Sydeny's Bondi beach
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Experts say the isopod bites can bleed and may remain painful for several hours. But the wounds are very shallow and there's no lasting damage.

However, there can be dangerous encounters involving large swarms of this bug. It should be noted that it can create issues for forensic pathologists, making it challenging for experts to identify the bodies of drowning victims. Moreover, the isopods ability to gnaw their way through flesh has created problems in some fish farms where caged fish are not able to shake off the parasites. Ichthyologists are also known to use these creatures to strip the flesh from the bones of dead fish to study the fishes' skeletons.