As the sun sets, hordes of tiny crustaceans called beach hoppers –– also known as sand hoppers –– emerge from underground burrows to frolic and feast. They eat so much decaying seaweed and other beach wrack that by morning all that’s left are ghostly outlines in the sand.
DEEP LOOK is an ultra-HD (4K) short video series created by KQED San Francisco and presented by PBS Digital Studios. See the unseen at the very edge of our visible world. Explore big scientific mysteries by going incredibly small.
Night falls, and the beaches come alive with sand hoppers – hungry, jumping shrimp-like creatures that look a lot like giant translucent fleas. No, it’s not a horror movie, and these animals “don’t bite or suck your blood. They’re much more than fleas,” says Jenny Dugan of the Marine Science Institute at UC Santa Barbara. Through her research on sandy beach ecology, Dugan has spent years developing a respect for beach hoppers and their under-appreciated ecological role.
The small crustaceans, sometimes as large as two inches, are remarkably in tune with the tides. The mature adult beach hoppers only emerge from their burrows at night when the tide is retreating – which is the best time to find fresh kelp, and less of a risk being seen by predators.
Researchers refer to these animals as shredders because they do the necessary work of breaking down and recycling nutrients in beach wrack and kelp, the first step in sending nutrients into the food chain. The presence of sustainable populations of beach hoppers is an indicator of the overall health of a sandy beach ecosystem.
— Where do beach hoppers live?
Beach hoppers – also known as sand hoppers – live on sandy beaches in subtropical and temperate zones all over the world. North and South America, Europe, Africa, New Zealand and Australia all have a variety of native species of beach hoppers. On beaches with large amounts of kelp, seagrass and seaweeds washing ashore, you are bound to find sand hoppers too.
— Do beach hoppers bite people?
No. Beach hoppers do not bite! They might look like a giant flea, but they aren’t fleas. They are a type of crustacean. Their favorite food is kelp, but they will eat anything that makes up beach wrack – the piles of organic matter that wash ashore on sandy beaches.
— How do beach hoppers know where they are going?
Research indicates that some species of beach hoppers use cues from the moon and the sun to orient themselves, and to stay in sync with the ebb and flow cycles of the tides.
—+ Find additional resources and a transcript on KQED Science:
—+ More great Deep Look episodes:
The Snail-Smashing, Fish-Spearing, Eye-Popping Mantis Shrimp
California Floater Mussels Take Fish For and Epic Joyride
🏆Congratulations🏆 to the following 5 fans on our Deep Look Community Tab for identifying the parts of the body the beach hopper use to jump – the uropods – abdominal appendages and parts of their tail.
// Δ V S T I N //
—+ Thank you to our Top Patreon Supporters ($10+ per month)!
Chris B Emrick
Allison & Maka Masuda
Elizabeth Ann Ditz
Roberta K Wright
Joshua Murallon Robertson
Shelley Pearson Cranshaw
—+ Follow KQED Science and Deep Look:
—+ About KQED
KQED, an NPR and PBS affiliate in San Francisco, California, serves Northern California and beyond with a public-supported alternative to commercial TV, radio and web media.
Funding for Deep Look is provided in part by PBS Digital Studios. Deep Look is a project of KQED Science, the largest science and environment reporting unit in California. KQED Science is supported by The National Science Foundation, the Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation, the Vadasz Family Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Campaign 21 and the members of KQED.
#beachhopper #sandhopper #deeplook