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The Anatomy Of Lice

microscope image of Pediculus humanus capitas, head lice

Updated on July 19, 2020

By Laura Whiting, LiceDoctors Technician

What do lice look like? Although you hoped to never need to know, the time has come and it helps to understand the enemy!

Chances are you never imagined you would want to know about the anatomy of lice, but….well… you’re the parent now.  You are the one who the little people look to for all the answers, even if the answer is how to get rid of lice. Believe me when I say it’s an issue. These insects may pose a threat to your child’s comfort and, sadly, they could cause some damage to your child’s social standing.  Granted, that’s not such a big problem for small children, but no one is more is judgmental than a teen-aged girl. Like it or not, all people judge and get judged. That is especially true for teen-aged girls. So discovering your child may have lice could cause questions to arise. You might find yourself wondering “what do lice even look like?”  “What do they eat?” and the most common question of all, “how can they be eliminated without harming my child?”  No worries. LiceDoctors has the answers.

Under magnification lice look like something straight out of a horror film. Like most insects they have 3 distinguishing parts. extreme microscopic close up of a male head louse on human hairEach adult (pay attention, I said adult. Remember that for later) has a head, thorax (middle section where their legs are attached) and abdomen. Like most insects, they have 6 legs, perfectly adapted to attach to hair and scalps. Wait until I get to that: it takes the monster straight out of the horror flick and into your life. If you’re like most of us you’ll start scratching just thinking about it. They have a specialized tube shaped mouth with teeth on the end that comes out of their mouth. This piece is specialized to bite into and cling to the scalp of the infested person. They have 3 specially shaped mouth parts used to cut into skin to get their blood meal. Yes. I said blood, because that is what they eat.

cartoon image of bright red lips vampire fangs drip of bloodLice are blood sucking parasites, which is why they give us the heebie-jeebies. As human beings we have a natural aversion to blood suckers (I blame vampire movies. Well, that and the fact that I like to keep my blood on the inside). The teeth are barbs that enter the scalp which helps the louse attach to the scalp of the host. Our aversion to lice remains, even though there are no known diseases or illnesses that head lice can give people. I mean we aren’t talking about fleas (plague) or mosquitoes (dengue). Lice are repulsive just because lice are repulsive.

So, this is going to be a little bit anti-climactic. The fact is the thorax is home to 3 legs on each side; big deal, right? Oh! But, (here’s the part I asked you to wait for) each leg ends in a claw! The claws were adapted so lice could more easily attach to any hair type. The legs have receptors designed to pick up the slightest movement, so when necessary the lice can get away from perceived danger. Okay, maybe it wasn’t as boring as I first thought - that’s pretty sophisticated, ...and there’s more!  

The abdomen is the final part of the lice body. The abdomen is somewhat transparent which causes it to change color after the louse has eaten. This is where the intestines and other internal organs are housed. The more blood in the intestines the darker the louse will appear. A fresh meal will give the intestines a deeper (blood red) appearance. The older the meal the more brown the abdomen will appear.    

I have answered a couple of the questions, "what do they look like?" and "what do they eat?". But for the most important question, "how can they be eliminated without harm", the answer is that LiceDoctors all natural protocol is safe, effective, convenient and guaranteed. Of course, as always, if you have questions or concerns you can call LiceDoctors at 772-879-5671.  A lice expert is always available in West Palm Beach to help from 7am until midnight, 365 days a year.