Bug bites like dog 'chomped down' on leg

By Genevieve Helliwell of Bay of Plenty Times -
The Mount Mauler. Photo / supplied
The Mount Mauler. Photo / supplied

A nasty little beach bug has returned to Bay shores, leaving its victims with unbearably itchy bites.

Western Bay pharmacies have been dishing out anti-itch creams over the past week, as a form of relief for bites inflicted by the bug dubbed the Mount Mauler.

Staff at John's at Palm Beach Plaza Pharmacy saw 10 to 15 cases of beach bug bites last weekend and an average of two to three cases each weekday.

Charge pharmacist Ben Van den Borst said he had seen one person with more than 20 lesions on their body. Another had bites so severe it looked like a dog had "chomped down" on their leg, he said.

"If you scratch them they can get infected and can get quite nasty. The last thing you want to do is scratch them," he said.

"The bites are often small but the reaction can swell to the size of a 20 cent piece or bigger."

Mount Maunganui pharmacist Mark Bedford of Amcal Mount Dispensary has been researching the Mount Mauler for the past 14 years and believes its scientific name is phycosecis limbata.

"It's in full season now. They are in their larvae stage between November and February and that's when most people are at the beach," he said.

"Then after that [the bugs] grow into black beetles and fly away."

Mr Bedford said the larvae tended to live in the soft sand at the bottom of the dunes, meaning it was best for beach-goers to sit below the high tide line.

The bug bites were not painful or noticeable when they were occurring.

But two or three days later, itchy welts appeared on the skin, he said.

A general antiseptic or antihistamine cream would relieve minor cases but infected bites could mean a trip to the doctor for steroid cream.

Although they were dubbed the Mount Mauler, Mr Bedford believed the bugs were a menace on all East Coast beaches.

Meanwhile, tens of millions of clear, squishy organisms are washing up along the Western Bay coastline.

According to Bay of Plenty Polytechnic marine studies tutor David Guccione, the clear, globular masses were not baby jellyfish or jellyfish eggs but a collection of organisms called salps.

"Salps are the fastest reproducing animal in the ocean. They are multi-cellular organisms, each one of the little balls is an animal that reproduces asexually and they combine to form long chains," he said.

"They're important [to the marine ecosystem] in that they take lots of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere because they graze near the surface and then their droppings, which are rich in carbon, get deposited on the ocean floor in sediment."

Salps are about the size of an old 5c piece and generally live in deep ocean water. However, wind and sea currents push them to shore. Mr Guccione said they were most prolific in temperate and polar seas.

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