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The Jigger Mite Also Known as Sand Flea

The Jigger Mite

The jigger mite, also known as “Sand Flea” is the smallest flea known to humans. It reaches a size no more than 1mm. It is a parasitic insect and it infests mammals. In rare cases even humans. However, the target of those fleas is mostly cattle and rodents.

Where the Jigger Lives

The jigger lives in sandy areas, around 2 sm deep in the sand (rarely deeper than 5 sm). This is a preferred depth for the flea because of the high temperature above that level, which prevents the development, and the lack of oxygen any deeper. The population of sand fleas drop drastically in rainy weather. The water drags the undeveloped jiggers deep into the soil, drowning them.

Life Span and Eating Habits of Jiggers

The eggs of the flea will turn into fully grown adults in around 27 days. It will need roughly 6 days for an egg to hatch. After that, it will go through two instar stages, and pupate in another 6 days if the environment is good. This will be the beginning of the “caccoon” stage for the jigger and after roughly 15 days it will pop out a developed adult sand flea.

What is the Jigger Flea Feeding On

Adult fleas are feeding on blood. The preferred targets are cattle and rodents, there are many different species of jiggers in the world and each one is targetting different animals to feed on. Some are pickier and suck the blood only of rats or cows. There are only one species of sand flea that takes on humans as host.

Why do we use the term host?

Well, the male sand flea feeds and moves along with its life. The female jigger has something else in mind…

The Jigger Mite and Tungiasis

The female sand flea digs itself into the flesh of its meal and sets in there for good. A female flea once infested a host, will live there the rest of its life. The female jigger leaves a hole in the epidermis, through which it can breathe and even mate. It will continuously feed on its host and give birth without detaching. Here is a story of a British backpacker that got infected.

This phenomenon is called tungiasis and is similar to the myiasis which flies are using to infest flesh. More on Myiasis.

Image Credits: British Museum of National History

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