Have you observed your child persistently scratching their head or discovering small insects moving through their hair? If these symptoms sound familiar, it's possible that head lice have infested their scalp. Early recognition of the signs and seeking professional lice treatment services are essential measures to eradicate an outbreak and alleviate the discomfort of irritating symptoms. This article includes images to illustrate precisely what head lice look like in detail.
What Are Lice?
Pediculus humanus capitis, also known as head lice (plural) or head louse (singular), is a parasitic insect that lives its entire life cycle from eggs to immature louse to adult louse, on the human head hair. The immature lice or nymphs mature in about a week to become adult lice. Contrary to popular belief, they are not a result of poor hygiene and do not spread disease. They have mutated and are very hardy and resistant to chemical medicated shampoo remedies. Bites from live lice, which are a result of the bugs feeding on human blood, sometimes cause an itchy rash on the scalp.
These tiny, wingless insects, and their eggs, called nits, that camouflage on the hair shaft, are very difficult to see. Many people have had lice at some point in their life but, if it has been too long, you might start to question whether what you are dealing with at the moment are head lice or not. Thankfully, there are resources, including videos, that can educate caregivers, thus making it easier to identify a head lice infestation. If you do have lice, you likely contracted it from head-to-head contact with an infested person.
What Do Head Lice Look Like?
Since the live bugs in a head lice infestation run away from light to avoid detection, they can be difficult to locate so you may ask what does a head lice bug look like? If you have found something in the hair that is a moving bug following a visual inspection, you likely do not need to go to the internet to research what head lice look like because if there is an insect in the hair, and it's alive and moving (especially if there are more than one), it's likely a live louse and you are officially dealing with head lice. Each head louse moves very fast so it may be hard to see.
You don't need to be a professional to identify head lice. Adult lice are about the size of a sesame seed, appearing to be brown, tan, or gray – in some instances, they may have a red-colored appearance if they have recently fed, as they feed on human blood. 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 head lice to grab and hang onto the hair very tightly, even to wet hair; close contact with another person is how a host will spread head lice. On the head of the adult louse are two antennas.
The abdomen of head lice is the body part that will appear reddish in color after the head lice feed on human blood. Male bugs have slightly shorter abdomen than female bugs. An immature louse, called a nymph, is smaller than either a male or female adult louse. Only adult lice can reproduce and only female bugs can lay eggs.
What Do Lice Eggs Look Like?
Head lice are live bugs in an infestation, and the eggs that adult lice lay on the hair shaft are called nits. Head lice eggs are firmly attached to the individual hairs with a glue-like substance. The best way to detect a head lice infestation in its earliest stages is to look for nits (lice eggs). To do this, you need to know how to identify head lice eggs or how to identify nits. Nits are stationary, about the size of a sesame seed, and are found close to the scalp. Unlike head lice that quickly scatter, lice eggs are easier to find. Once they are laid near the hair shafts, they stay firmly attached to the strand of hair on which they are laid until they hatch. This makes them easier to detect than head lice bugs. If you have never dealt with head lice before, when confronted with something in the hair that you might think is a head lice egg, you may still question "what do nits look like or what do head lice nits look like?".
What Do Lice Look Like in Hair?
It may be difficult to understand how to identify head lice and nits, as they may appear different from when they are out of the hair. Found close to the hair shafts, when pulled out of the hair it is easy to identify what do nits look like on a white paper towel. Off the hair, they are the same color regardless of hair color. They will appear brownish in color against the white background. 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 do you identify head lice, and what do they look like in common hair colors?
What Do Lice Look Like in Blonde Hair?
Part of the reason that head 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. In light hair or blonde hair, it is easier to spot the nits than in darker hair. The lighter color of the hair provides a bit more of a contrast to the brownish-colored nit. When looking at head lice on blonde hair, look at the strands of hair near the base of the scalp. Nits will look like little specks of pepper attached to the hair strand. Remember, though, when identifying head lice, that the head lice and nits have the uncanny ability to present lighter in blonde hair than they do in dark hair.
What Do Lice Look Like in Dark Hair?
Darker hair provides more camouflage for head lice and head lice 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 them, you should feel a tiny bump. Are nits hard or soft? The answer is that nits are hard with an impenetrable shell.
What Do Lice Look Like on the Scalp and Skin?
Lice are frequently discovered on the scalp and sometimes on the skin. These minuscule, wingless insects, measuring approximately 2-3 millimeters in length, can be found in both areas. They do not have wings but have six short legs with claws for gripping hair strands. Adult head lice are transparent to brown or gray and will appear reddish after consuming human blood. Nits, lice eggs, typically affix themselves to hair shafts near the scalp, and are sesame seed size, oval with a pointy front, and yellowish-white specks. Itching and the development of red bumps may also result from lice bites. If a lice infestation is suspected, seeking treatment is crucial.
What Do Lice Look Like in a Lice Comb?
Lice on a comb are minuscule insects typically with a brownish hue. Additionally, there may be nits, resembling small oval yellowish or white specks firmly attached to hair shafts. Employing a lice comb is the best way to treat live head lice and nits. A well-constructed lice comb has closely aligned teeth that enable it to capture and remove these pests from your child's hair, making it a crucial instrument for lice treatment and prevention. You will see these remnants of an infestation, including empty egg casings, trapped in the nit comb and you are using the lice comb to remove lice.
How Do Head Lice Move?
As head lice, both baby lice and adult lice, feed on blood from the scalp many times a day by biting, they are often found on or near the scalp of the human head. The head lice feed 3-6 times daily. These head lice bites can cause itching from an allergic reaction to the saliva.
This parasitic insect, while highly contagious, is not known to spread infectious diseases. Head lice do not like to leave one child's head to another child's hair, however, they can. A young child or adult with a head lice infestation can spread to another child's head by using their legs. They do not jump or fly, so for a head lice infestation to take hold on a new host, they require direct contact (head-to-head contact) to facilitate a move from one head to another. When there is head-to-head contact, the head louse can access another person’s hair and crawl onto it.
Hair Casts vs Nits vs Dandruff vs 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 head 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 seborrheic dermatitis, hair casts, or DEC plugs that are not head lice related. Let’s face it, most people do not know what head lice look like because they have never seen them before.
As described previously, nits are the eggs that head lice lay on the hair shaft. 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.
Seborrheic dermatitis is a common ailment that many people deal with at least once in their life. A dry scalp causes irritation and itching, and as a person scratches their head, the scalp flakes off. Dandruff is white in color, and when put against a white background, it will blend in. It does not stick to the hair shaft, so if you see something that easily flakes off, it is not a head lice infestation. Telling the difference between dry scalp and the head is fairly easy to do.
Hair casts are another type of debris that can be found in the hair that is not head lice-related. When looking at hair cast vs. nits, it can be confusing. It is white in color and, unlike a nit which is head lice related, a hair cast wraps around the strand of hair. It will not easily come off the hair when you flick it like dandruff, 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, which is about the size of a sesame seed, will look brown.
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, thinking they have a head lice infestation.
Lice on Primates and Birds
Birds, primates, and other animals can also get lice. However, they are a different species from that pediculus humanus capitis. Lice are species-specific; this means that strains of lice in other animals cannot transfer to humans and humans cannot spread head lice to other animals. In addition, pediculus humanus capitis is specific to the human head. You will not find head lice on other parts of the body, as is the case with body lice that will not be found on the head.
How to Identify Lice
A head lice infestation is made up of two components: the live lice, or louse (singular), and the nits that those bugs lay (head lice eggs). Most head lice cases will present with eggs at the beginning; for there to be eggs, there must have been at least one pregnant female adult head louse on the head for a head lice infestation to begin. The eggs hatch which begins the life cycle of a head louse. To identify if you're dealing with a case of head lice, you need to know how to identify head lice in hair – specifically, how to identify head lice bugs.
If you find a bug in a family member's hair, you may right away conclude that you have head lice. While most bugs do not inhabit a person's hair, here are a few ways to help you understand how to identify head lice.
Contact Us Today If You Suspect an Infestation!
Still, need help identifying head lice? Your LiceDoctors technician will remove all visible lice with a professional grade fine-toothed comb.
We can give you needed peace of mind and a second set of eyes to help you identify nits and lice; call us at 800-224-2537. Our professional service is safe for everyone in the family, even those who cannot tolerate hot dryer treatments provided by salons. Technicians make house calls so there is no need to drag your kids to lice clinics. Appointments are available 365 days and nights.