Yesterday on the black sand beach at Fort Funston, we found a whole lot of California Beach Fleas. Though they are impressive jumpers, that’s about their only resemblance to fleas — they don’t bite and aren’t pests. They eat kelp and other detritus washed up on shore by the waves.

These cute critters are easily recognized by the vivid red highlights on their appendages. Turn over a soggy mass of kelp on the beach and you’re likely to find plenty of them, as well as some of their related species.

The California Beach Flea’s binomial name is Megalorchestia californiana, from the Greek words for “big” — megale — and “dancer” or “leaper” — orchestes (from which our modern word orchestra also comes).

Not only are they fantastic leapers, but they’re also amazing diggers — drop one on the sand and watch it burrow almost instantly out of sight.

Megalorchestia californiana

Megalorchestia californiana, the “California Beach Flea.”

Megalorchestia in handMegalorchestia field guide

Megalorchestia californiana

A detailed view of the beach flea’s compound eye.

Megalorchestia antenna detail

Megalorchestia californiana

Legs and the translucent plates of its body segments.

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