These Flesh-Eating ‘Mini-Shark’ Bugs Are Terrorizing US Beaches

by Craig Garrett

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, “mini shark bugs” have developed a taste for Californian beach goers toes. On Sunday, CBS 8 San Diego reported that beachgoers had been bitten on various beaches near the city. A local, Tara Sauvage, claims to have bitten by the nasty creatures. “I had blood all over my foot and in between my toes,” Sauvage said. “It was like small piranhas had bit me.” However, she told reporters that a quick rinse with water made the pain go away after a few minutes.

The mini shark bugs were identified by experts as water-line isopods (Excirolana chiltoni). This is a crustacean species that commonly grows to be around 0.3 inches (0.8 centimeters) long and can form swarms of more than 1,000 individuals, according to Walla Walla University in Washington. The critters have a painful bite that can result in blood loss. However, these little creatures are not typically cause for alarm, according to experts.

Isopods are one of the world’s most abundant creatures, with millions of individuals found on every square inch of Earth. They can be tiny (like E. chiltoni) to huge 10-inch (26 cm) monsters that roam the seafloor. You can find water-line isopods on the California coastline and beaches in the Pacific Northwest of America and Canada all year long. They tend to bite people where they gather in groups, which doesn’t happen often but does occur sometimes.

These Mini Shark Bugs have plaugued California before…

An increased number of the mini shark bugs near Newport Beach, California, in 1993 resulted in a dramatic increase in people being bitten. One victim was an unfortunate 2-year-old girl. She ended up with biting bugs in her diaper, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Richard Brusca spoke to the LA Times back in 1993. Brusca is an invertebrate zoologist at the University of Arizona and a former curator of crustaceans at the San Diego Natural History Museum. “They can be pretty nasty when they get going,” Brusca explained. “They’re like mini-sharks” that can attack you “like a wolf pack.” However, their bite is a lot like a mosquito, he noted. The reason for these sporadic but significant population surges of E. chiltoni is unknown, Brusca said.

However, an expert victim of the mini shark bugs weiged in more recently. Ryan Hechinger, a parasite ecologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego spoke with CBS8. He claims he himself has been attacked by the hungry critters. “My recommendation is to not freak out,” Hechinger said. “If bitten, simply get out of the water and remove the isopods if they are still latched on, he explained. “It is possible to make the isopods scatter by moving around, but the only way to guarantee you won’t be bitten is to stay out of the water,”Hechinger said.