Beachgoers are reporting small and sometimes painful bites when they enter the ocean in Southern California. Scientists said they have encountered the situation before.
According to Live Science, experts said the bugs causing inconvenience are called water-line isopods. They are a small species of crustacean, and they typically grow only to about 0.3 inches. They have been dubbed “mini-sharks” by some people who have experienced their bites.
However, Walla Walla University in Washington state said the creatures can form groups of more than 1,000, which some Southern California beachgoers seem to have learned.
In an Aug. 28 report, KFMB-TV spoke to a woman named Tara Sauvage said she had been bitten by the water-line isopods.
“It was really painful…I jumped out of the water,” Sauvage said. “I jumped out of the water, you know, and I’m an adult. I’ve had pain before, but this was just so shocking.
“And so there was like blood in little places all over my foot and in between my toes.”
Sauvage said she felt like “small piranhas” had bitten her feet, but the pain went away about 10 to 15 minutes after she rinsed off her foot.
Live Science reported that the water-line isopods are usually found all year in California, as well as other areas of the Pacific Northwest in the United States and Canada.
The outlet said isolated group attacks do not often occur repeatedly in one area, though it has been reported in the past.
In 1993, the Los Angeles Times reported an attack by the bugs at Newport Beach in early June, which it said was earlier than usual. In one instance, 2-year-old Crystal Johnston had the bugs crawl into her diaper and start biting her.
Her father, 36-year-old Craig Johnston, said he found out what was happening after she suddenly began crying while playing in the water.
“They drew some blood,” Johnston said. “It happened so fast.”
Richard Brusca, who was the curator of crustaceans at the San Diego Natural History Museum at the time, described a typical attack from the water-line isopods.
“They can be pretty nasty when they get going,” Brusca said. “They’re somewhere between a wolf pack and a pack of mosquitoes. They’re like mini-sharks.”
Multiple scientists told Live Science that while the bites are certainly unpleasant, they are not a cause for long-term concern.
Scripps Institution of Oceanography parasite ecologist said he would tell people “not to freak out” if they are bitten by the bug.
Instead, he recommended calmly getting out of the ocean and removing any isopods that are still attached.
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