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
    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

    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  It may take a few days before I get to it, so be patient. Thanks.....

© Copyright  2014 Fishing Destin Guide
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
    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 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.
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.

    OYes, people eat sand fleas, A good Google
    search will turn up several ways to do it.