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Living with Bugs in Bocas

by Helen

Paradise or para lice?

Paradise or para lice?

What to do about no-see-ums aka sand fleas

As we are about to move onto a home right on the water on a Bocas beach famous for no-see-ums I decided to research what to do about not getting bitten and if possible, how to keep them away from us or make them dead! Oooh I feel so cruel when I say that but they are very very annoying!

What are They?

A sand flea is also known by many other names. For example, this crustacean (although it resembles an insect, the sand flea is actually not one) is also called a sand fly, beach flea, hop-a-long, no-see-um, biting midge, and punkie or punky.

The sand flea is less than 1/8 of an inch (3 mm) long and is often difficult to see. It is a shrimp-like creature in appearance and ranges in color from pale to brownish. The body has seven segments and it has long legs that are used for swimming or jumping. They are known to jump to a height of at least 40 cm and therefore, it is unusual to experience a sand flea bite on upper body parts unless the victim was lying down. The bites are normally found in clusters around the ankles.

Sand fleas feed on organic and decaying plants. A favorite treat is seaweed on the beach. Whenever seaweed washes to shore, there will be a large number of sand fleas around and a sand flea bite is likely to occur. In general, the sand on the beach is a popular location for these fleas to live.

A sand flea bite is most likely to occur at dawn or in the evening and night time hours on the beach or other sandy areas that are near water. Wetlands, swamplands, creeks, and lakebeds are other areas where sand fleas can be found.

Sand fleas generally stay close to their breeding ground. They never wander more than 350 feet or about 100 meters from their breeding area. Sand flea swarms produce a high-pitched wine. Therefore, if you are on the beach and you hear something like this, it is best to move or risk a sand flea bite. Apart from the ichy bite these little pests carry a numbe rof viruses which you would not want to catch.

The Local Way to Protect Yourself from Sand Fleas

The best way is to cover yourself with a cocktail of two parts olive or coconut oil to one part citronella oil with perhaps a dash of lemon oil. Even plain Vaseline works well as the little devils can not wade through it. Apparently they drown in oil.

They also sell a natural insecticide gel using citronella but it soon wears off as it is non greasy.

Also use ceiling fans on your deck. Sand fleas can not jump very high and the wind blows them away. Lying in a hammock is also better than sitting with your feet on the ground.

Also take vitamin B-1 daily as it seems to repel biting insects.

Wear trousers and covered shoes in the early morning and evening,

The Chemical Way

If you donít mind putting chemicals into your body use Deet. Apparently more than 30% does not work any better so stick to that rather than risk any more than necessary entering your skin.

You can also treat your deck or yard with Bifenthrin, Deltamethrin, Permethrin and Cyfluthrin.

Seven Dust pesticide (not Seven Powder) is good for in the house. This is available in most hardware stores and at large discount retailers and is safe for gardens and animals and humans--but not fleas!

Stuff you Burn

Light those mosquito coils under the table, in the house and on your deck.

Stuff you Spread Around

There is some amazing stuff called Diatomaceous Earth that you can put down in your yard or on the deck. It is the tiny fossils of remains of diatoms, a type of hard-shelled algae that serve to dry up the little bodies.

According to Wikipedia Diatomite is used as an insecticide due to its physico-sorptive properties. The fine powder absorbs lipids from the waxy outer layer of insects' exoskeletons, causing them to dehydrate. Arthropods die as a result of the water pressure deficiency, based on Fick's law of diffusion.

We are going to be trying this out but have high hopes for it. You can buy it from swimming pool supplies apparently.


Keep the area where you are dry and swept, they hate dry conditions.
Be extra vigilante at sun up and sundown which is when they prefer to feed.

What to Do if They do Get You

Dabbing on ammonia immediately gets rid of the itch. You can also use baking soda, meat tenderiser, salt or some people say even toothpaste works.

Aloe vera right from the plant (it grows everywhere in Panama) or purchased in a bottle works good for bites.

Large doses of vitamin C every few hours seems to help too,

If you really come up in bad bumps use a 1% antihistamine cream or take some anti-histamine.

You can use EFT to make them go away. For more information on this go to

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