What Do Head Lice Look Like?

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It’s estimated that between six and 12 million kids under the age of 11 are infested with head lice every year in the U.S. alone. Head lice infestations are not limited to children, but the majority of people who are affected by the parasites are youngsters.

A lice infestation involves adult lice, nymphs (juvenile lice), and nits (lice eggs). In this article, we’re going to concentrate on how to identify adult head lice.

So, what do head lice look like? 

Knowing what a head louse looks like and being able to spot the symptoms of an infestation can help to stop an outbreak in its tracks before it affects your whole family. 

The head louse, or Pediculus humanus capitis, is a parasitic insect that feeds on human blood.

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The head louse is a tiny insect with a flattened body, six legs, and no wings. Adult head lice are between two and four millimeters in length and grayish-white in color. However, when the louse has fed, its body turns dark brown or reddish-black. It’s also thought that lice can adapt their color to some extent, enabling the parasite to blend with the hair color of their host and escape detection.

Female lice are generally larger than males, though both sexes are often said to look like sesame seeds.

If you see a tiny insect that jumps or flies, it isn’t a head louse. Head lice move around by crawling through the host’s hair. They can’t jump or fly. Lice cling tightly to the hair shaft, using their legs, which are equipped with a hook-like claw at the end.

So that you know what you’re looking for, check out this YouTube clip, showing adult head lice on someone’s hair.

How do you know you have a head lice infestation?

There are some telltale symptoms that will usually indicate that someone has a head lice infestation, before the insects are noticeable in the hair.

Head lice feed on human blood. When the insects bite, their saliva is an irritant, causing intense itching of the scalp. The itching usually triggers scratching that results in sores or red, raised bumps on the scalp, behind the ears, and on the neck.

Other typical signs of head lice include a feeling that something is crawling in your hair, particularly at night. Why at night? That’s because the head louse is nocturnal, meaning it’s more active in the hours of darkness than during the daylight.

From a distance, there are no clear signs that someone has a head lice infestation. The hair looks completely normal. However, in very severe cases, it can appear as though the infected person has a severe case of dandruff, some of which is moving!

How to spot adult head lice

Lice can be extremely tricky to see when they’re not moving, but it can be done by using these tips:

  • Use a magnifying glass, rather than just the naked eye.
  • Use a bright light, preferably an angle-poise lamp. An angle-poise lamp can be brought very close to the infected person’s scalp, providing clear sight of the area and eliminating shadows.
  • Ask the person you’re checking to move their head slowly beneath the light so that you can see different angles. This strategy helps to remove the shadow from the equation and makes it easier to spot moving lice.
  • Use a very fine-toothed comb to part the hair, working in small sections across the head. Look for adult lice close to the scalp, behind the person’s ears, and around the neck. Adult lice will often be seen in these areas, feeding or laying their eggs.

It may be possible to detect adult head lice by carefully combing through the hair in small sections while the infected person holds their head over a sheet of white paper. Any lice that are dislodged from the hair will drop onto the paper where you can see them with a magnifying glass.

Wrapping it up:

Adult head lice are very difficult to spot with the naked eye. However, to be sure that it is lice that are responsible for your symptoms, you need to see the insects. Once you know that lice are to blame, you can set about treating them with the correct remedy.

Use the tips we’ve given in this article to identify the culprits that are behind your itchy scalp. If you’re unsure if you have lice, take a trip to your family doctor for confirmation.