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What Do Lice Look Like (With Pictures) and How to Identify Them

What Do Lice Look Like (With Pictures) and How to Identify Them
Updated on 
April 9, 2017

What Are Lice?

Head lice are biting insects that live their entire lifecycle on the human head hair. Their bites sometimes cause an itchy rash on the scalp. There are other types of lice, so how do you know if what you’re finding is head lice or not?

Most people have had lice at some point in their life. However, some people have not, and even if you have, if it has been too long, you might start to question whether what you are dealing with at the moment is lice or not.

What Does Lice Look Like?

A lice infestation is made up of two components. The live bugs, or louse (singular), and the nits that those bugs lay (lice eggs). Most lice cases will present with eggs at the beginning, for there to be eggs, there must be at least one pregnant female louse on the head for an infestation to begin. To identify if you’re dealing with a case of lice, you need to know how to identify lice in hair – specifically, how to identify head lice bugs.

Since the live bugs in a lice infestation are mobile, it can be difficult to locate and examine a bug to determine what does a lice bug look like in contrast to other bugs that might be in your hair. If you have found something in the hair that is a moving bug, you likely do not need to go to the internet to research how does lice look because if it is an insect in the hair, and it’s alive and moving (especially if there are more than one), it’s likely lice.

So how to identify lice? Lice are about the size of a sesame seed. Their coloring may appear brown, tan, or gray – in some instances, they may have a red-colored appearance if they have recently fed. Their body is made up of three parts – the head, thorax, and abdomen. Lice are insects with six legs – three on each side of the body opposite one another attached to the thorax. The legs are equipped with tiny claws that allow them to grab and hang onto the hair very tightly, even in water. On their heads are two antennas. The abdomen is the body part that will appear reddish in color if a louse has recently fed. Male bugs have a slightly shorter abdomen than female bugs.

What Do Lice Eggs Look Like?

What Do Lice Eggs Look Like

Many parents wonder whether lice and nits are the same thing? Lice are the live bugs in an infestation, and the nits are the lice eggs. The best way to detect a case of lice in its earliest stages is to look for nits (lice eggs). To do this, of course, you need to know how to identify lice eggs or how to identify nits. Nits are stationary – unlike lice that quickly scatter and are more difficult to find. Once they are laid, they stay on the strand of hair on which they are laid until they hatch. This makes them easier to detect than live bugs. If you have never dealt with lice before, when confronted with something in the hair that you might think might be a lice egg, you may still question "what do nits look like or what do lice nits look like?"

What Does Lice Look Like In Hair?

It may be difficult to understand how to identify lice and nits, as they may appear different from when they are out of the hair. When pulled out of the hair it is easy to identify what do nits look like on a paper towel. Off the hair, they are the same color regardless of hair color. They will appear brownish in color. They are round on one side and pointy on the other, with a little hair-like antenna protruding from the pointy end. Nits hold their shape when pulled out of the hair. But what about nits in the hair? How to identify head lice, and what do they look like in common hair colors?

What Does Lice Look Like in Blonde Hair?

What Does Lice Look Like in Blonde Hair

Part of the reason that lice are so difficult to spot early on and difficult to get rid of is that they are able to camouflage easily on the strands of hair. However, in blonde hair, they are a bit easier to spot. The lighter color of the hair provides a bit more of a contrast to the brownish-colored nit. When looking at lice on blonde hair, look at the strands of hair near the base of the scalp. It may look like little specs of pepper attached to the hair strand. Remember, though, when identifying head lice, that the lice and nits have the uncanny ability to present lighter in blonde hair than they do in dark hair.

What Does Lice Look Like In Dark Hair?

What Does Lice Look Like in Dark Hair

Darker hair provides more camouflage for lice and their eggs than lighter hair. On dark hair, as is the case with blonde hair, look closely at the strands of hair near the scalp for the eggs. They will be attached to the hair, and you should be able to see a distinctive bulge on the strand of hair. When wondering how to identify nits, they will appear brown, and when you run your fingers over it, you should feel a tiny bump. Are nits hard or soft? The answer is that nits are hard with an impenetrable shell.

Hair Casts vs Nits vs Dandruff vs DEC Plugs

Nits, Dandruff, Hair Casts, or DEC Plugs

Some may find it difficult to find nits, especially if there’s a lot of debris in the hair. Most commonly, when we receive calls, our clients have lice, but occasionally, there may be a client who needs help understanding how to identify lice nits and differentiate among other things that may be in the hair like dandruff, hair casts, or DEC plugs that are not lice related.


As described previously, nits are the eggs that lice lay on the hair. Nits are glued to the strands of hair and can appear translucent or brownish in color when on the strands of hair. To identify nits, try to remove one; if it sticks, it is likely a nit.


Dandruff is a common ailment that many people deal with at least once in their life. Dry scalp causes irritation and itching, and as a person scratches their head, the scalp flakes off. How to identify lice vs. dandruff? Dandruff is white in color, and when put against a white background, it will blend in. Dandruff does not stick to the hair, so if you see something that easily flakes off, it is dandruff. Identifying lice vs. dandruff is fairly easy to do.

Hair Casts

Hair casts are another type of debris that can be found in the hair that are not lice-related. When looking at hair cast vs. nits, it can be confusing. It is also white in color but, unlike a nit, a hair cast wraps around the strand of hair. It will not easily come off the hair when you flick it, but it should be easily removed when you slide it down the strand of hair. In the case of hair cast vs. nit, you can see that the hair cast will blend in when placed on a white background, while the nit will look brown.

DEC Plugs

These are often mistaken for nits, and understandably so. They are pieces of fat cells that stick to the hair shaft. They do need to be pulled out of the hair with some force, like nits, but not quite as much force is needed. Once off the hair, you will see some distinct characteristics to help you tell them apart from nits. They are sticky, and when you squeeze them, they will not hold their shape, unlike nits. When placed against a white background, they will blend in, unlike a nit. They are sometimes referred to as DEC plug dandruff. A DEC plug can also cause panic in a parent because it is sticky, and some folks misidentify it as a nit.

How to Identify Lice

How to Identify Lice

If you find a bug in a family member’s hair, you may right away conclude that you have lice. While most bugs do not inhabit a person’s head, here are a few ways to help you understand how to identify lice.

Do Lice Have Wings?

No! And thank goodness! Not only do lice not have wings, but they also cannot fly or jump.

Can Lice Camouflage?

Yes! If the bug you found in your hair is easily identified and removed, it is likely not lice. Lice rely on their ability to camouflage in the hair to avoid detection and extermination.

What About the Bugs That Look Like Lice?

Over time, we have received pictures of fleas, bed bugs, and even ants from clients wondering if they have lice. Rest assured, once you know what lice look like, you will distinguish and identify them apart from other bugs. You can always call us for more detail on what does a lice bug looks like.

Are Lice Nits Hard or Soft?

Nits are hard. They have a tough outer shell that protects the baby that is inside. It’s been said that if you pull a nit out of the hair and squeeze it, you will hear it pop.


Still need help identifying head lice? Not sure how does lice look or what does a lice bug look like?

If you need peace of mind and the second set of eyes to help you identify nits and lice, call us at 800-224-2537. Technicians are experts and have the tools and expertise to identify lice and nits and get rid of them in the comfort of your home. Appointments are available 365 and 24/7, and same-day appointments are preferred!

We provide a friendly in-home lice removal service

Book your appointment today


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