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
2) Initiates digging by tactile stimulation of its
3) Anchors the sand flea in the sand once
digging is complete.
If you pull the telson away from a pregnant
crab, you will find hundreds of brightly colored
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
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 ----
(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.
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!
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.
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 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
This characteristic V shape wave each flea
makes with its feeder antennas during the
receding waves is the prime way to find the
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 FishingDestinGuide@cox.net. 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
To hook a sand flea, just slide the point up
from the bottom rear and out the top of the
A good You Tube for catching fleas:
Catching Mole Crabs - 311Pope
Check out his other videos tube, excellent
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
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 up shoreward as the time
comes in and moving seaward as the tides go
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.
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,
OYes, people eat sand fleas, A good Google
search will turn up several ways to do it.