An example of a lysianassid amphipod. (credit: Hans Hillewaert)

After an intense football match Saturday in Australia, 16-year-old Sam Kanizay dipped his legs into the chilly waters off Melbourne’s coast, hoping to soothe his sore muscles. Half-an-hour later he stepped out, bleeding profusely from countless tiny bites.

The gory and bizarre scenario is now making international headlines. The images of his feet and ankles (here and here) really are quite disturbing (you’ve been warned). But the incident left medical professionals initially confused and media reports garbled. Some blamed the vicious attack on wee crustaceans called isopods, or “sea lice,” but experts are trying to clear up that error.

In a press statement Monday, local authorities reported that marine scientists had identified the flesh-eaters as lysianassid amphipods, a type of scavenging crustacean sometimes called “sea fleas.” They’re not known for swarming and attacking people. But scientists have long studied their affinity for flesh and ability to sniff it out in warm, cool, deep, and shallow waters around the world. Typically, they descend upon carcasses of marine animals and munch away the meat, tiny-bite by tiny-bite.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments