North Carolina

What are sea lice, and why are they attacking swimmers in Virginia?

A woman and her younger brother were swimming in the ocean at Virginia Beach on Wednesday afternoon when she noticed a cloud of translucent critters floating in the water, according to the Virginian-Pilot.

Heather Browning yelled for her brother to get out of the water, the Virginian-Pilot said.

The tiny critters had gotten trapped in her bathing suit and were ‘biting and stinging so badly,’ she told the news outlet. So she and her brother left the beach and rinsed off.

But they weren’t the only ones who were made miserable at the beach.

Last week, many people on Virginia Beach reported being stung by the tiny critters, called sea lice, according to WKTR. And many of those said they had never heard of them before.

Sea lice are blue crab or jellyfish larval that are found in the Atlantic Ocean, WKTR reported.

They have pincers that are “just big enough to irritate people’s skin,” WKTR reported.

Cade Welsh, who lives in Virginia Beach, described being stung to WKTR.

“It felt like sand on your clothes and then it started to feel like things were biting you,” Welsh said. “If you, like, scratch, it will feel like sand and if you look, you’ll see a clear thing with blue eyes.”

Tom Gill, chief of the Virginia Beach Lifesaving Service, told the Washington Post there’s not “clear reason” for the increase in sea lice seen on Virginia Beach.

“Water, wind, sun,” he said, “It’s just the luck-of-the-draw kind of thing,” he said, according to the Washington Post.

Dan Barshis, a biology professor at Old Dominion University, told the Virginian-Pilot that sea lice will get caught in people’s bathing suits, and the best thing to do is to take them off and rinse in hot water.

Although irritating, sea lice are harmless, the Virginian-Pilot reported.

The Florida Department of Health recommends not wearing a t-shirt in the ocean and wearing sunscreen to avoid being stung. It also recommends that people change out of their bathing suits as soon as they can after getting out of the ocean.

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Bailey Aldridge is a reporter covering real-time news in North and South Carolina. She has a degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.