Brief Summary

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Brief Summary

The Head Louse (Pediculus humanus capitis) is an insect in the Order Psocodea (parasitic lice, formerly Order Phthiraptera, plus bark lice, formerly Order Psocoptera). Head Lice are ectoparasites with humans as the only host. A Head Louse must feed on blood several times daily and resides close to the scalp to maintain its body temperature.

Infestation with Head Lice is common and occurs worldwide. Preschool and elementary-age children 3 to 11 years of age are infested most often. Females are infested more often than males, probably due to more frequent head to head contact. In the United States, African-Americans are rarely infested with head lice. This is believed to be due to the American louse’s preference for the shape and width of the hair shaft of other ethnic groups.

The life cycle of the Head Louse has three stages: egg, nymph, and adult.
Eggs: Nits are Head Lice eggs. They are hard to see and are often mistaken for dandruff or hair spray droplets. Nits are laid by the adult female and are cemented at the base of the hair shaft nearest the scalp. They are 0.8 mm by 0.3 mm, oval and usually yellow to white. Nits take about 1 week to hatch (range 6 to 9 days). Viable eggs are usually located within 6 mm of the scalp.
Nymphs: The egg hatches to release a nymph. The nit shell then becomes a more visible dull yellow and remains attached to the hair shaft. The nymph looks like an adult head louse, but is about the size of a pinhead. Nymphs mature after three molts and become adults about 7 days after hatching.
Adults: The adult louse is about the size of a sesame seed, has 6 legs (each with claws), and is tan to grayish-white. In persons with dark hair, the adult louse will appear darker. Females are usually larger than males and can lay up to 8 nits per day. Adult lice can live up to 30 days on a person’s head. To survive , adult lice need to feed on blood several times daily. Without blood meals, the louse will die within 1 to 2 days off the host.

From Centers for Disease Control Parasites and Health website

Check out this video of biologist Dale Clayton talking about how his research on feather lice infesting birds led to an investion to treat head lice infestations in humans.


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© Shapiro, Leo

Source: EOL Rapid Response Team


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