What is Excirolana chiltoni? Beachgoers plagued by 'mini shark' bugs that have painful bloody bites

The beach bugs are water-line isopods, also known as Excirolana chiltoni, which live in the sand and are known to feed on dead fish and attack humans

What is Excirolana chiltoni? Beachgoers plagued by 'mini shark' bugs that have painful bloody bites
The bugs are typically found year-round along the California coastline and on beaches in the Pacific Northwest regions of the US and Canada (Wikipedia)
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CALIFORNIA: Beachgoers are left with dismay as small feet-eating bugs known as 'Excirolana chiltoni' are surfacing along the California coastline. Despite their small size, these water-line isopods can pack a painful and bloody impact with their bite. 

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The tiny-looking beach bugs live in the sand and can travel in swarms of up to 1,000 critters and are known to feed on dead fish and also have been known to attack humans. These isopods are wreaking havoc by feasting on beachgoers' feet, causing pain and drawing blood. If you do plan to swim around the area, watch out!

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In an aerial view, people gather in the sand at Bruce's Beach on June 29, 2022 in Manhattan Beach, California. The beachfront property was once a seaside resort owned by Charles and Willa Bruce, a Black couple, which catered to African Americans. Amid the Jim Crow era, the city claimed the property in 1924 through eminent domain while vastly underpaying the couple for the land. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has approved the plan to return ownership of the prime beachfront property to the descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce.
The flesh-eating bugs are actually water-line isopods called Excirolana chiltoni and they grow to 0.3 inches long surfacing around the coast once a year (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

"It was painful! I was like uh! I jumped out of the water and this was so shocking. I had blood all over my foot and in between my toes," San Diego resident Tara Sauvage told CBS8. "I pulled my foot out. I had blood all over my foot. It was like small piranhas had bit me," she said. The flesh-eating bugs are actually water-line isopods, also known as Excirolana chiltoni, and they grow to 0.3 inches long surfacing around the coast once a year. The pain seemed to fade after around 15 to 20 minutes, so it wasn’t a lasting pain. 

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"It is an isopod, a relative of roly-polys that live in ocean and in very shallow waters all the way up to Alaska and Japan. They really hang out in the water and like to eat fresh meat like a dying animal or battered animal," Ryan Hechinger, a professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, told CBS8.

According to marine life experts, the bugs are typically found year-round along the California coastline and on beaches in the Pacific Northwest regions of the US and Canada and are known to bite people. "The isopods usually live beneath the sand, but they emerge in shallow water when the tide goes out. If there's a dead fish or other large carcasses that washed ashore, they'll quickly act like vultures and enjoy a meal," he added.

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Hechinger explained that the bugs are actually needed for the ecosystem since they primarily eat dead fish so that it doesn't smell like rotting fish in the water. Natural History Museum told the California-based publication, "They're like mini sharks that can attack you 'like a wolf pack' but with a bite comparable to that of a mosquito."

These isopods are a type of crustacean that also includes more than 10,000 marine, freshwater, and terrestrial species, ranging in size from tiny creatures like Excirolana chiltoni to 10-inch ones roaming the seafloor. If you are bitten, get out of the water to avoid large swarms of these mini-shark isopods.

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