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“I Believe Lice Can Fly”: Myths and Misconceptions about Lice

hang glider in flight single occupant

Updated on June 25, 2020

By Lice Technician, Chelsea Lonergan

In Atlanta as elsewhere in the country there are many enduring myths surrounding head lice, and here Technician Chelsea sets us right about a few.  

For one reason or another, lice have been shrouded in mystery for all of their (and our) existence. Is it because they’re so small? Or because they tend to blend into their surroundings, like tiny, blood-sucking chameleons? Or is it just because we humans are far too scared to seek out the truth? Or perhaps it’s because a reality show about a group of explorers trying to track them down, instead of Big Foot, wouldn’t make it very far in primetime television?

After working as a LiceDoctors technician for years, I always think I really have heard it all. I have been asked more panicked questions or been told more lice conspiracy theories than I can count on both hands and feet (so definitely more than 20). Most of these urban legends are the result of generations of stubborn, incorrect, old wives’ tales. And some of them are a relief to shut down, while some of them really make me hate being the bearer of bad news. Below are some of the most common myths and legends. I apologize in advance for some of them.

1. Lice are drawn to dirty hair.

close image of oil combed straight brown hair showing many white nits on strands.

Ah, yes, the most pervasive myth when it comes to the world of lice. It’s an unfortunate, and very deeply buried stereotype. And it is likely one of the biggest reasons that lice stigma still exists—kids don’t want to tell their friends they have it, and parents don’t want to tell the friends’ parents their kids have it either. In reality, lice are drawn to clean hair. Why? Because clean hair means less gunk to move around and more room to lay eggs or just, like, hang out.

All lice need to stay near your scalp is HAIR. While lice and eggs can be found anywhere in the hair near the scalp, “Head lice and head lice nits are found almost exclusively on the scalp, particularly around and behind the ears and near the neckline at the back of the head...Head lice hold tightly to hair with hook-like claws at the end of each of their six legs. Head lice nits are cemented firmly to the hair shaft and can be difficult to remove even after the nymphs hatch and empty casings remain.”  CDC Head Lice FAQ

2. Nits that fall off the head can hatch and re-infest your heads and homes.

white paper towel speckled with tiny louse nits eggs

This myth is always connected to the compulsive need to scour hairbrushes, hair ties, pillowcases, or other high-traffic areas for strands of hair that have nits still attached. I’ve heard of families who will find the nit-covered hair stray strands, collect them into some weird sort of bundle, and light them on fire. While, yes, this will kill them, it’s not necessary. Any nits that are removed or fall off the head won’t be able to survive the lack of warmth. Nits require the temperature of the human head. Once a nit has fallen off the head it is not viable. 

It is important to note that even nits that are IN your hair can not be transferred to another head. First of all, they are cemented to the hair so do not fall off very often, but even more important is that nits are eggs and do not have a way to move. Unlike lice (bugs) that have legs, nits stay put. 

3. Lice can jump onto other heads;  some can even fly!

no fly prohibit red slash circle airplane.

This is one of the more fun myths to bust. Lice are not like their flea brethren (or cousins or whatever) and cannot jump 150 times their height. They also don’t have wings. If you believe you’ve seen a louse fly off someone’s head, then you’ve either got a fly infestation or you should call the CDC immediately. Lice really only move by walking, or perhaps sprinting if they’re in a hurry. “Lice have no wings or powerful legs for jumping, so they move using their claw-like legs to transfer from hair to hair.”   University of Florida Entomology Dept. 

4. Throwing all your linens in the dryer will kill all the lice and nits.

laundry hanging out of a dryer.

We are truly sorry to break the news, but many lice have actually acquired the ability to be heat resistant. Records have shown some being able to withstand up to 100° Celsius (or 212° Fahrenheit, the temperature at which water boils). Most commercial dryers only get up to about half as hot as that, but hey, fire definitely works, but we don’t suggest burning the house down!

If you are in Atlanta or all nearby cities and towns, you don't have to worry about the myths or old wives' tales surrounding head lice, LiceDoctors has decades of experience and nearly a half million happily lice free clients to support our scientific knowledge base and technicians are here 365 days a year to educate you and help you eradicate your lice problem. Call 404-618-0472 for same day treatment you can trust. We guarantee it.