The sand fleas do not get very big - most are around a half
inch to an inch long.  The females grow up to 2 inches long
while the males only grow up to about 3/4 inches long.

Mole Crabs have five sets of "legs" on their underbelly. They
are used primarily to paddle through the water and to dig into
the soft sand. One characteristic of a Mole Crab is that they
always travel backwards. They can walk on wet sand to get
back to the water, but if they are put in dry sand, they usually
will not move. They have no claws as most crabs have.

Like other crabs, they "breathe" through gills and must have
oxygenated water to live in. They can live out of the water for
a few hours to a few days, depending on the temperature and
if their gills do not dry out.

Located on the rear of the underbelly is the crab's Telson.  
Locally it is referred to as the
"digger".  The telson has
several purposes:
1) Helps to protect the soft underbelly of the crab.
2) Initiates digging by tactile stimulation of its base.
3) Anchors the sand flea in the sand once digging is

If you pull the telson away from a pregnant crab, you will find
hundreds of brightly colored eggs underneath.

During the reproductive season from February through
October, one female can produce one clutch per month of 50-
45,000 eggs, which take about 30 days to develop. There is
a popular fisherman's belief that the orange eggs on a sand
flea attracts pompano and other fish to the sand flea. This is
why a lot of people like to use orange or pink colored
pompano jigs.

The eggs will turn brown shortly before they hatch. Studies
have shown that they usually hatch just after sunset and
when the waves or tide or high. It is thought that this timing
helps to protect the eggs and the high tides assist in
carrying them out to sea where they begin their life as free
swimming zoea larvae. At sea they drift for 3-6 months
and go through numerous developmental stages.

As the larvae reach the juvenile stage, the currents begin to
wash them up onto our beaches around March of each year.
They are around 1/4inches long at this stage and are termed
"recruits" by the biologist. They join the older sand fleas that
have spent the winter buried deep in the sand near the shore.
--- Sand Flea Habitat  ----
(swash zone)

Mole Crabs
(aka Sand Fleas)

On the panhandle beaches,
one bait that is prized by
Destin's surf fishermen is the
small crab that we call the
Sand Flea.

It is not actually a flea and
will not harm you in any way.
No claws and it does not bite.
In other parts of the United
States, it is referred to as a
Mole Crab, Sand Crab,
Beach Flea, Sand Bugs or a
Sand Fiddler. It is a type of
crab that lives in the wet sand
at the water's edge of our
beaches. Whatever you call
it, the pompano, redfish,
sheepshead, and other fish
love it.
Fishing Destin Guide©

A local's guide to fishing around Destin and the Florida Panhandle    

Known as the "luckiest fishing village", Destin is the home to some of the best saltwater fishing in the United States. The 100 Fathom  (600' depth) Curve of the
Gulf of Mexico draws closer to Destin than any other spot in Florida. This, along  with  Destin's close  proximity  to  the East  Pass  and  the Gulf  of Mexico,
allows quick access to the Gulf of Mexico's  fishing bounty.  The  purpose  of  this site  is  to acquaint a new fisherman  to  the Destin area  -  our local facilities,
fish, waters and fishing methods. Tight lines and good fishing!
Top view. It is facing to the left

SAND FLEAS (Mole Crabs)

The small crustacean called the "Sand Flea" here in Destin  and
surrounding panhandle is what biologists call a decapod Crustacean.
There are over 10 different species of this small crab located on the
beaches throughout the world. The  Gulf Coast's species are either
Ermerita Talpoida or Emerita benedicti. (Talpoida means "mole like") I
have no idea what the difference in the two species are and really don't
think the fish care either.
Rear View
Front of the flea.  
Bottom View - Facing Left
Side View -  Facing Left

In late March or early April (Temperature related) of
each year, they will start to form "colonies" in the
swash zone" of the beach. The bilogist are not sure
why they do this but it is thought to have something
to do with mating.

The mole crabs remain buried slightly under the wet
sand as the waves wash up and down the beach.
About every few minutes, they will extend two
featherly "feeder" antennas to collect organic debris
in a receding beach wave'

This characteristic V shape wave each flea makes
with its feeder antennas during the receding waves
is the prime way to find the colonies.

This web site is updated as I have time from other things going on. As there are a 1000 + different ways to do things, this is only
my way of fishing, nothing else,  and it is not the last word in fishing the area. I am by no means an expert but if you would like my opinion on something related to
fishing the area, please email me at  It may take a few days before I get to it, so be patient. Thanks.....

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All rights reserved     

To catch the sand fleas, you simply stand at the
waters edge and look down the beach to the area
where the water is running off the beach. You will
see the tell tale Vs in the sand. Once you see them,
run over in the dry sand above them, then wait for
the next wave to come. As that wave goes out, run
your scoop through the colony. Most people get a
"sand flea rake" to catch them with. This is nothing
more than a reinforced wire basket at the end of a
handle. Lots of videos out there on You Tube and
other places that show you how it is done.

To hook a sand flea, just slide the point up from the bottom rear and out
the top of the shell.

A good You Tube for catching fleas:   
Catching Mole Crabs - 311Pope

Check out his other videos tube, excellent information.

Sand Fleas can be kept alive for several days. The key is
to keep them damp and cool. If you are on the beach, keep
them in a container with some damp sand. Keep it out of
the sun by placing a wet towel over it.  Rinse the sand
every hour or so with fresh seawater. You do not want to
keep them under water as they will consume the oxygen
quickly like any other gilled animal and die.

If you want to take them home with you, put them in a
container and place them between layers of damp
newspapers. In the refrigerator would be idea or in a cooler
with some ice. Change or rinse the newspaper daily. After a
few days, you should go ahead and freeze them. There are
two thoughts on this:

           1. Scald them in boiling water about 10 seconds,
    then put in a freezer bag.

           2. Put them in a freezer bag with a mixture of salt
    and baking powder (equal proportions). Then place
    the bag in the freezer. Also if you use a vacuum
    sealer, the bait will keep longer in it
Some tips in closing:  The fleas wont always be in
the colonies. Generally speaking, they travel a lot in
the waves and the current in out area pushes them
to the west.  Also, they tend to migrate out to a few
feet deep at times in scattered patches, so you may
have to go wading for them You want to look for
soft, waterlogged sand. A lot of times they will be
found on what we call the "Lip". That is it area
where the waves stop receding down the beach and
is a small drop off (inches) between the sand of the
beach and that that stays under water all the time.

The fleas migrate up and down the beach too,
usually moving shoreward as the tide comes in and
moving seaward as the tides go out.

In your search for the elusive Sand Flea (mole crab), you will run across other creatures. One crab, the Beach Mole
Crab (
Albunea paretii) is often called a "Male" Sand flea but is a totally different fellow. They make good bait but dont
stay on your hook as good as the sand flea.
The  "LIP"

On one scoop I made, there were maybe 4-5
smaller crabs hanging on to a larger one. According
to the bilogist, these are small males attracted to a
larger female. Who knows, interesting though.

Oh . . . .  people eat sand fleas, A good Google
search will turn up several ways to cook them.