Where Do Lice Come From? Unraveling the Mystery

Lice are tiny, parasitic insects that are found on people’s heads and bodies, feeding on human blood. You might be wondering where these pesky creatures come from. Understanding the origin and life cycle of lice can help you prevent infestations and take appropriate action if you or a loved one is affected.

Interestingly, there are three types of lice that live on humans: head lice, body lice, and pubic lice. Each type is slightly different, but they all have one thing in common – they all need human blood to survive. Lice use their small, sharp claws to cling to hair or clothing, allowing them to stay close to their food source.

One significant factor behind lice infestations is close human contact. When people are in close proximity, it becomes easier for lice to move from one person to another, resulting in the spread of these tiny insects. Frequent checks for lice can help identify the problem early and prevent its spread among families or groups of people.

What Are Lice

Lice are small, wingless parasitic insects that thrive on human blood. They can be found on people’s heads, bodies, and even the pubic area. These tiny creatures have a few different species, making them a diverse group of parasites.

There are three main types of lice that live on humans:

  • Pediculus humanus capitis (head louse)
  • Pediculus humanus corporis (body louse)
  • Pthirus pubis (pubic louse)

The most common type you may encounter is the head louse. These insects are usually found around the neckline, behind the ears, and near the scalp. They are not capable of flying or jumping, but they crawl quickly from one hair strand to another. Sharing objects like combs, hats, and headphones can easily spread them among people.

Body lice, on the other hand, are typically found on clothing and bedding and only move to the human skin to feed, unlike other types of lice that stay on the body at all times.

It’s essential to understand these insects are inconvenient and irritating but do not transmit any disease. Treatment for lice is typically straightforward, with over-the-counter medication and thorough cleaning of personal items and environment.

Types of Lice

Head Lice

Head lice, also known as Pediculus humanus capitis, are small parasitic insects that live on the human head, specifically in the scalp, hair, and around the ears. They feed on human blood and lay their eggs, called nits, on hair shafts close to the scalp. These nits hatch into nymphs, which eventually develop into adult lice.

Infestations are common among school-aged children, and you might notice itchiness and red bumps on the scalp, neck, and surrounding areas. To treat head lice, over-the-counter medications or prescription treatments can be used, along with careful combing to remove nits and lice. CDC – Lice – Head Lice – Treatment

Body Lice

Body lice, unlike head lice, live on clothing and only move to human hosts to feed. They typically infest people with poor hygiene and those who don’t have access to regular washing facilities. The signs of a body lice infestation include intense itching, red bumps, and sometimes open sores caused by scratching.

To get rid of body lice, you should launder all your clothing, towels, and bedding in hot water and dry them on high heat. If washing isn’t possible, sealing infested items in plastic bags for two weeks can also kill the lice.

Pubic Lice

Pubic lice, also known as “crabs,” are tiny insects that infest the pubic hair and sometimes other body hair. They spread primarily through sexual contact, so practicing safe sex can significantly reduce the risk of getting pubic lice.

If you suspect an infestation, you’ll need to examine your pubic hair closely for nits and adult lice. Treatment usually involves using over-the-counter medications or prescription treatments as directed, as well as careful grooming to remove nits and lice. Regularly washing your clothing, towels, and bedding in hot water will also help prevent a reinfestation.

Life Cycle of Lice

Eggs: Lice begin their life as eggs, often called nits. These nits are usually found near the base of your hair shaft. They are tiny, oval-shaped, and have a firm grasp on your hair. In about a week, the eggs hatch and release young lice called nymphs.

Nymphs: Nymphs are immature lice that come out of the hatched eggs. During this stage, they look similar to adult lice but are smaller. For the next 9-12 days, the nymphs will feed on your blood and go through three molting stages in their growth.

  • First molt: The nymph starts to grow slightly larger.
  • Second molt: It continues to grow and become stronger.
  • Third molt: The nymph reaches its final stage, transforming into an adult louse.

Adult lice: After going through the three molts, the nymph becomes an adult louse. These mature lice have six legs with hook-like claws to hold on tightly to your hair. Adult lice are about the size of a sesame seed and may vary in color. They feed on your blood multiple times a day to survive.

During their life cycle, adult lice reproduce to create more eggs, starting the cycle again. Female lice can lay up to six eggs each day and have a lifespan of about 30 days. To be vigilant against infestations, it’s essential to understand the entire life cycle of lice.

Remember to practice good hygiene and avoid sharing personal items like combs, hats, and hair accessories to prevent lice from spreading.

How Do Lice Infest a Person

Lice infestations can happen to anyone, but they are more common in children. Let’s look at some key points about lice:

  • Size: Lice are tiny insects, about the size of a sesame seed.
  • Human blood: They feed on human blood several times a day.
  • Direct head-to-head contact: Lice spread through direct contact, especially head-to-head contact.

Lice can crawl, but they cannot jump or fly. This means they need direct contact to move from one person to another. The most common way of getting infested is through head-to-head contact with someone who already has lice. Sharing personal items, like combs, brushes, or headphones, can also lead to an infestation.

To avoid lice infestations, you can take several precautions:

  • Avoid close head-to-head contact during playtime or sleepovers.
  • Do not share personal items such as combs, brushes, or hats.
  • Regularly check your hair and your children’s hair for the presence of lice and nits.

Remember, while lice can be bothersome and uncomfortable, they do not transmit diseases. If you suspect you or your child has a lice infestation, there are effective treatment options available to eliminate them.

Symptoms of Lice

When dealing with lice, it’s important to know the symptoms to watch out for in order to identify and treat them properly.

One of the primary symptoms of lice is itching. This occurs as a result of the lice bites and the ensuing allergic reaction to their saliva. It’s normal to experience itching on your head, particularly around your ears and neck.

You may also notice red bumps on your scalp and neck. These are often accompanied by a tickling feeling, caused by the motion of lice on your head and the sensation of their tiny legs moving.

Keep in mind that it’s not unusual for symptoms of lice to take some time to appear. In fact, the itching process might start several weeks after the initial infestation. This is especially true if it’s your first time experiencing a lice infestation, as your body may not yet have developed an allergic reaction to the parasites.

In summary, be aware of these key symptoms related to head lice:

  • Itching, often focused on the scalp, behind the ears, and around the neck
  • Red bumps resulting from lice bites
  • A tickling sensation on your head

By familiarizing yourself with these signs, you can become better equipped to identify and handle a lice infestation before it spreads further. Remember, early detection can make the treatment process faster and more effective.

How Lice Spread

Lice infestations are primarily spread through close person-to-person contact. Children, particularly those in elementary school, are at a higher risk of lice transmission due to the frequent close contact with their peers.

Infested Personal Items

It is crucial to be cautious when sharing personal items, such as:

  • Combs
  • Hats
  • Hair accessories
  • Headphones

Using others’ belongings may put your scalp and hair at risk of being infested with lice.

Contagious Nature

Lice are highly contagious, as they crawl from one person’s hair to another. Although they cannot fly or jump, their ability to crawl makes it easy for them to move between people in close contact.

Preventive Measures

To minimize the spread of lice, you can:

  • Avoid head-to-head contact during play, sports, and other activities
  • Refrain from sharing personal items, especially those that touch your hair or scalp

Remember, lice are not a sign of poor hygiene. By being aware of their transmission modes and taking preventive measures, you can help control the spread of lice in your community.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Identifying Lice

To identify lice, watch for common signs like itching on the head, neck, and behind the ears. You’ll need to examine the hair shaft closely, as adult head lice are roughly 2-3 mm long. The eggs, called nits, can be mistaken for dandruff. However, nits are usually oval, yellowish-white, and attach to the base of the hair shaft. Consider using a nit comb to help with detection.

Treating Lice

Once you’ve confirmed the presence of lice, there are various treatment options available. They fall into three main categories:

  1. Over-the-Counter (OTC) treatments – These medicated shampoos, like pyrethrin, contain chemicals that kill lice. They’re often the first line of treatment and can be found at your local pharmacy.
  2. Prescription medications – If OTC treatments fail, consult a doctor for prescription medications like malathion lotion, which can effectively kill both lice and nits.
  3. Home remedies – While not as effective as medicated treatments, some people opt for non-chemical methods like wet combing or using essential oils.
Treatment Option Pros Cons
OTC treatments Easy to purchase, low cost May not kill all lice and nits
Prescription medications High efficacy rate, kills nits Requires doctor consultation, potential side effects
Home remedies Chemical-free, cost-effective Time-consuming, less effective

Regardless of the chosen treatment, you’ll need to follow the instructions carefully. Some treatments may require more than one application, while others need to be applied to dry or wet hair. Combining the proper use of treatments with nit combing and regular monitoring can help keep your head lice-free. Remember, always consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice on diagnosis and treatment options.

Prevention Measures

Practicing good personal hygiene is essential in preventing lice infestations. By implementing some simple habits, you can reduce the chances of lice spreading among family members and friends.

Regularly washing your hair and belongings is crucial. Be mindful of the possibility of lice transferring through objects. For example, avoid sharing personal items like hair brushes, headphones, hair accessories, and hats.

Following proper hair care is equally vital. Applying hair products that repel lice, and frequently inspecting for symptoms of lice can help in early detection.

Additional prevention measures include:

  • Regularly vacuuming your home, especially areas where hair may accumulate.
  • Washing and drying personal belongings such as bedding, clothing, and stuffed animals on high heat.
  • Encouraging family members and friends to maintain their personal hygiene.

In summary, diligent hygiene practices and vigilance with personal belongings are key factors in preventing lice infestation. Be proactive and keep up with these steps to minimize your risk of exposure.

Misconceptions About Lice

Poor Hygiene: A common misconception is that lice infestation is a result of poor hygiene. Lice can affect anyone, regardless of their personal cleanliness. In fact, lice may prefer clean hair because it is easier to attach their eggs to.

Pets: Many people believe that lice can be spread by pets. However, pets are not carriers of human lice. Lice infestations are specific to humans, and animals have their own species of lice.

Malathion: Some might think that malathion is dangerous for treating lice infestations. While it is a strong pesticide, when used correctly and as prescribed, it can be a safe and effective treatment for head lice.

Primates: Another misconception is that lice can be transmitted from primates to humans. Though primates can have their own species of lice, they cannot transmit human lice.

Here’s a comparison table to help clarify these misconceptions:

Misconception Truth
Poor hygiene causes lice Lice can affect anyone
Pets can spread lice Pets are not carriers of human lice
Malathion is unsafe Malathion can be safe and effective when used correctly
Primates can transmit lice Primates cannot transmit human lice

By understanding these misconceptions, you can better inform yourself and others about lice and how to prevent or treat infestations.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Louse found on bedding

 

Subject: Please help bug on the bed
Location: South Florida browsed county
April 29, 2017 12:41 pm
Hi there please help I found a super tiny black bug on the bed moving know it is not a bed bug but I can’t figure out with it is when I squeezed it it mad a pop sound similar to a tick and blood came out but does not look like a tick it also had a tail that somewhat resembles a scorpion or an ear wick but only one not two and again it was super tiny I got a picture of it but it’s so small it’s not super clear . I have been very itchy with Tiny but marks
Signature: Concerned and itchy

Louse

Dear Concerned and itchy,
This is a Louse, and chances are good that if you found one, there might be more.  You might want to begin by checking the heads of all who slept in the bed.

Letter 2 – Lice Infestation from a park bench in Santa Monica

 

Tick tock
Location: US, California, Santa Monica
July 26, 2011 3:14 pm
Did I ever think I would be writing an email to someone called the Bugman. No. lol. But now I am glad I found you.
Dear Sir,
I have what looks like a tick? Photos to follow.
Location: Santa Monica, California. Douglas Park just off Whilshire Blvd.
Tues July 26th, 12pm, 70 degrees.
Douglas park is a few acres big, tons of people moving about. Veterinarian hospital next door to it (matter?) Has three duck ponds. The ponds are closed off for renovation. No water in the ponds just dug up and moved earth for now. Hey maybe it has something to do with the bugs? idunno
We sat on a bench for about 5-8mins in the park. NO trees hanging over head so the bugs came from bottom to top. My counterpart was covered in mite sized tick looking bugs. Approximately 100 to 150. I had only a few on my shoes. She had a long pair of cloth stretchy pants that touched the ground. So they must have climbed her cloth and they had trouble on my sneakers. She was covered, I was not. We sat side by side.
They were inside her pants and outside. I had to beg her not to get naked at the park.
I brushed them off and noticed they seemed to be getting squashed, so I would say soft body insects.
I told her they were aphids to calm her down. But in my mind I was freaking out. Covered, covered, covered. They only made it to her lower body.
When we got back to the house I set her clothes in the sun and they all vacated into the seams and darker areas of her clothes. They hated the sun? I also noticed that they would raise there lower body into the air and try to barrow into my shoe. So I figured it was a tick?
I suppose they came from the park. Do we need to notify anyone? Can you help ID these suckers?
Signature: what does this mean? Please don’t worry about signing it?

Louse

Please don’t shoot the messenger.  You’ve got Lice.  While this is most certainly a Louse, and we are linking to images of Human Lice on BugGuide, we do not have the necessary skills to determine what species of Louse this is, however, we have a strong suspicion it is a Human Louse.  BugGuide indicates that Sucking Lice in the family Anaplura which includes the Human Louse are:  “Parasites of mammals. Most species are restricted to one or a few hosts” and that they are characterized by being “Wingless, flat-bodied. Resemble chewing lice but the head is narrower than the thorax. Mouthparts are fitted for piercing skin and sucking blood.”  It is possible that the person who sat on, or slept on the park bench prior to your arrival had poor hygiene habits, perhaps from a lack of bathing, and the Lice remained behind.  If there is a high indigent population frequenting the park, it is highly likely that would be the source of the Lice infestation.  We haven’t tagged anything as Worst Bug Story Ever in quite some time, but we think your experience warrants tagging in that category.  We would strongly recommend seeking professional attention to prevent any spread of this infestation to family and friends.

 

 

Louse, probably Human Louse

So yes,  I was informed yesterday that they are lice. Gross.  Lice that crawled up from the ground.  Interestingly,  if they were on the bench we were sitting on, they would have gotten on my shorts.  But they only got on my shoes and her shoes and pants pants.  They for sure climbed up from the ground not the bench in this case.
So it is day two.  After having the bug ID last night, I went and bought lice shampoo.  We both used it.  But, neither of us have yet had an itch yet.  So I am freaking out waiting to itch.  I have searched her high and low.  Ans myself. nothing so far.  No itching just yet.
I guess it would be safe to say if nothing serious happens after 7 days I am in the clear?
But this is only part way into day two.  So I am trying to aggressively dodge this bullet and not wait.
If we get lice I will let you know.  I am so disappointed.  So bizarre to.
Thanks
Antony

Hi Antony,
You are lucky you began treatment immediately.  Please keep us posted.

Dodging the Lice bullet
July 29, 2011
Well I think it is safe to say that we dodged the bullet here!
After my GF being cover, truly infested with lice, over 150 lice crawling all over her shoes and pants.  Well nothing made it higher.  I suppose most people find out they have lice after the fact.  We had the complete opposite.  We visually discovered it before they made it to the top.  I have never heard of a case like this.  Neither one of us have been itchy or have any bites, nit or egg looking particle in the hair, or anything and the discovery of adult lice swarming the lower body happened on Tues am. It is like a miracle.
I spoke to the ground crew at Douglass park in Santa Monica.  He mentioned there are so many bums sleeping around the park that one of them must have had clothes or items on the ground under that bench.  He had seen someone sleeping near the bench earlier that day.  We were in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is sad to because so many kids play there and parents and folks relax there, that to have bums laying around the park covered in lice is a terrible mix.   I will be forever scarred from the visual of 150-200 lice swarming the pant legs of my hysteric GF.  Me telling her they are aphids though I thought they were ticks.  Turns out they were lice…lol.
Happened Tues and it is Fri.  I think it is safe to say we made it?  We dodged 200 lice.  Go figure?  Thanks for your help, I have researched lice and seen way to many lice pictures on the internet that if I ever encounter this again I will not be as freaked out.
Thanks again,
Anthony

 

 

Letter 3 – Human Louse

 

Subject: Found this bug on my daughter’s forehead
Location: Okc ok
July 28, 2015 10:23 pm
Dear bug man please help me figure out what kind of bug this is I found on my daughters forehead on her hairline
Signature: Suzy worried mom

Human Louse
Human Louse

Dear Suzy worried mom,
You have legitimate cause for concern.  This is a Human Louse and we strongly recommend that you initiate treatment immediately.  You can get over the counter remedies from your local pharmacy.  You should also check family members as Lice can spread.

Letter 4 – Human Louse from Hawaii

 

Subject: What type of bug is this
Location: Oahu, hawaii
May 8, 2016 1:31 pm
Hello, we live in Hawaii and I found this bug on my daughters pillow. It did cause red small bites on her neck. The bites were itchy but not raised. I did not find any additional bugs after taking the mattress off, cleaning all bedding, taking out all stuffed animals. We did pet sit last week for a friends dog. Not sure if it a flea or possibly a kite or bedbug. Thanks for all your help!
Signature: Jennifer

Human Louse
Human Louse

Dear Jennifer,
This is a Human Louse, and your daughter may have gotten it at school.  If you found one, there are likely more in her hair and scalp.  They can be removed manually by carefully combing through her hair with a louse comb, and there are many over the counter remedies available.

Letter 5 – Lice found in home

 

Subject: What’s that bug?
Location: Boston
March 8, 2014 10:02 pm
Hi, I live in Boston and have been living in my apartment for almost 5 years. I have never seen a bug like this before. I found 3 of them crawling on the outside of a plastic sweater bag, which was sealed. Then I found one crawling on the blanket near by. Then I also found a live and a dead one on my sock I was wearing just now. I was in NYC yesterday and took Amtrak. Today, I had a workshop in an office space in downtown Boston. Any idea what it is and/or where it might have come from? Do they travel together/multiply? If there are more, what can I do? Thanks!
Signature: TK, Bugged in Boston

Louse
Louse

Dear TK, Bugged in Boston,
The images you attached are of a Louse, but we cannot say for certain if it is a Human Louse or a species that prefers other prey, like birds or mammals.  Since you have found numerous individuals, we would wager that this infestation originated in your immediate vicinity, and that it is not the result of a recent trip.

Thanks for your response, Daniel. I have had 2 obviously bad nights of sleep since finding these, but still haven’t found any in my hair (fingers crossed). I found a couple more on the floor and on the bench in my kitchen yesterday morning, but none since. Is it safe to assume that these are the kind that prey on animals? I do have a mouse problem, so I am thinking that they are the carriers. If this is the case, any idea on what I can do to keep them out? Unfortunately, I am stuck with the mice until I move out, which is hopefully soon.

You can try taking a specimen to your local natural history museum to see if it can be identified.

Letter 6 – Louse

 

Subject: Curious to what it is??
Location: North America (Oklahoma)
December 28, 2013 10:12 am
Hi, I found this little guy crawling on me. ( I assume it is a transfer from my dog) but not sure what it is. Thanks in advance
Signature: Sincerely, DH

Human Louse or other Louse???
Human Louse or other Louse???

Dear DH,
This is a Louse, and we don’t believe there is enough detail in your image to make a conclusive identification, but it looks suspiciously like a Human Louse,
Pediculus humanus, that is pictured on BugGuide.  You can get much helpful information from the Penn State University Entomology Department fact sheet on Human Lice, including:  “Anyone can get lice no matter how clean they are about their personal hygiene and their homes. Lice do not feed on dirt; they feed on blood! People get lice from people. They don’t come from pets. (Dog and cat lice do not infest man.)”  The image of the Dog Louse, Trichodectes canis, on Molecular Expressions:  Science, Optics & You as well as the image on BugGuide look different than your image.

Letter 7 – Louse

 

Subject: Louse?
Location: San Francisco, CA
July 4, 2017 12:17 pm
Is this a louse? Please have some benign alternative for me! It seemed to be a bit larger than a sesame seed. Initially, I didn’t think it was a louse because the bugs in the photos I’ve looked at seem more translucent but that’s the only difference. I’ve checked all the heads in the house and there are no other signs of lice, though the one in the photo may have been dead and the garment it was found on came out of luggage.
Signature: Getting itchy

Louse

Dear Getting Itchy,
Yes, this is a Louse, but it does not look like either a Human Body Louse or a Human Head Louse.  It seems too large and too dark for a Human Louse.  It might be a Bird Louse or some other type of Louse, but it is beyond our skill to classify it exactly.

Louse

Letter 8 – Louse

 

Subject:  Help!!! What is this bug???
Geographic location of the bug:  Johnson city, tn
Date: 04/25/2018
Time: 05:02 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Help!!!!   My daughter was infested with lice about a month ago.  She is clear.  In the meantime I’ve treated my head 2 times because I’ve pulled these bugs out of my hair and to be cautious.  This makes it the 3rd one I’ve seen.  Head is itchy in the back and sides.
How you want your letter signed:  Really desperate

Louse

Dear Really desperate,
Either your treatment was not effective or you have been reinfested.  This is a Louse.

Letter 9 – Louse from Australia

 

Subject:  ID help please
Geographic location of the bug:  Melbourne, Australia
Date: 01/30/2019
Time: 07:33 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hi Bugman,
We’ve had a heatwave here in Australia lately and a big increase in the suburban biting/sucking bug population. I found the one in the first image on my 2 year old daughter’s arm at breakfast, and subsequently found head lice on her scalp. It seems large (3mm) and very dark for a head louse, and I’m hoping to distinguish it from body lice (generalised itching in the household may well be psychosomatic of course!) I don’t think it’s a bed bug but would appreciate any input.
The second image is of a tiny (2mm x 2mm), round, shiny beetle I think, found on outdoor sofa. Could this be a type of ladybug as it seems very round?
The third was found on cot mattress while changing linen during lice treatment, it’s the most worrying given its location and I’ve no idea what it is. Measures 3mm long by 1mm wide.
My apologies for the image quality, all collected in tape before I found your site.
Many thanks in anticipation of some peace of mind,
How you want your letter signed:  Amanda

Louse

Dear Amanda,
The critter in your first image is definitely a Louse.  Though it is a North American site, BugGuide differentiates Head Lice from Body Lice by designating different subspecies of the Human Louse,
Pediculus humanusPenn State has a nice fact sheet on Lice.  We cannot make out enough details in image three and we will address 2 in a different response.

Letter 10 – Possibly Louse from Indonesia

 

Subject: Request for identification of a house bug
Location: Jakarta, Indonesia (tropical climate). Indoors environment.
January 1, 2014 2:02 am
Hello,
I’ve just ran into your informative website while I was trying to identify this little creature I came across while I was home. It is small like a regular size ant, let’s say 1mmx2mm, can be observed by naked eye.
I can say I kind of have a phobia against bugs and I was just wondering what actions should I take to get rid of them in my living space, and what they might give to me (sicknesses etc).
Would be glad to hear from you,
Thanks in advance!
And by the way, happy new year!
Signature: Jakarta Citizen

Louse
Louse

Dear Baris,
We cannot say for certain because your photo lacks critical clarity, however, based on the general shape and morphology as well as the stated size, we believe this is a Louse.  We are not certain if it is a Human Louse or an animal Louse.  Perhaps the information on the Penn State University Entomology fact sheet will be helpful.

Hello Daniel,
Thanks a lot for the info and comments, it did help me.
As I don’t have any pets at home I’m sure it is a human louse. I will follow the recommendations in the link you have provided.
Have a good day,
Best Regards,
Jakarta Citizen

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Louse found on bedding

 

Subject: Please help bug on the bed
Location: South Florida browsed county
April 29, 2017 12:41 pm
Hi there please help I found a super tiny black bug on the bed moving know it is not a bed bug but I can’t figure out with it is when I squeezed it it mad a pop sound similar to a tick and blood came out but does not look like a tick it also had a tail that somewhat resembles a scorpion or an ear wick but only one not two and again it was super tiny I got a picture of it but it’s so small it’s not super clear . I have been very itchy with Tiny but marks
Signature: Concerned and itchy

Louse

Dear Concerned and itchy,
This is a Louse, and chances are good that if you found one, there might be more.  You might want to begin by checking the heads of all who slept in the bed.

Letter 2 – Lice Infestation from a park bench in Santa Monica

 

Tick tock
Location: US, California, Santa Monica
July 26, 2011 3:14 pm
Did I ever think I would be writing an email to someone called the Bugman. No. lol. But now I am glad I found you.
Dear Sir,
I have what looks like a tick? Photos to follow.
Location: Santa Monica, California. Douglas Park just off Whilshire Blvd.
Tues July 26th, 12pm, 70 degrees.
Douglas park is a few acres big, tons of people moving about. Veterinarian hospital next door to it (matter?) Has three duck ponds. The ponds are closed off for renovation. No water in the ponds just dug up and moved earth for now. Hey maybe it has something to do with the bugs? idunno
We sat on a bench for about 5-8mins in the park. NO trees hanging over head so the bugs came from bottom to top. My counterpart was covered in mite sized tick looking bugs. Approximately 100 to 150. I had only a few on my shoes. She had a long pair of cloth stretchy pants that touched the ground. So they must have climbed her cloth and they had trouble on my sneakers. She was covered, I was not. We sat side by side.
They were inside her pants and outside. I had to beg her not to get naked at the park.
I brushed them off and noticed they seemed to be getting squashed, so I would say soft body insects.
I told her they were aphids to calm her down. But in my mind I was freaking out. Covered, covered, covered. They only made it to her lower body.
When we got back to the house I set her clothes in the sun and they all vacated into the seams and darker areas of her clothes. They hated the sun? I also noticed that they would raise there lower body into the air and try to barrow into my shoe. So I figured it was a tick?
I suppose they came from the park. Do we need to notify anyone? Can you help ID these suckers?
Signature: what does this mean? Please don’t worry about signing it?

Louse

Please don’t shoot the messenger.  You’ve got Lice.  While this is most certainly a Louse, and we are linking to images of Human Lice on BugGuide, we do not have the necessary skills to determine what species of Louse this is, however, we have a strong suspicion it is a Human Louse.  BugGuide indicates that Sucking Lice in the family Anaplura which includes the Human Louse are:  “Parasites of mammals. Most species are restricted to one or a few hosts” and that they are characterized by being “Wingless, flat-bodied. Resemble chewing lice but the head is narrower than the thorax. Mouthparts are fitted for piercing skin and sucking blood.”  It is possible that the person who sat on, or slept on the park bench prior to your arrival had poor hygiene habits, perhaps from a lack of bathing, and the Lice remained behind.  If there is a high indigent population frequenting the park, it is highly likely that would be the source of the Lice infestation.  We haven’t tagged anything as Worst Bug Story Ever in quite some time, but we think your experience warrants tagging in that category.  We would strongly recommend seeking professional attention to prevent any spread of this infestation to family and friends.

 

 

Louse, probably Human Louse

So yes,  I was informed yesterday that they are lice. Gross.  Lice that crawled up from the ground.  Interestingly,  if they were on the bench we were sitting on, they would have gotten on my shorts.  But they only got on my shoes and her shoes and pants pants.  They for sure climbed up from the ground not the bench in this case.
So it is day two.  After having the bug ID last night, I went and bought lice shampoo.  We both used it.  But, neither of us have yet had an itch yet.  So I am freaking out waiting to itch.  I have searched her high and low.  Ans myself. nothing so far.  No itching just yet.
I guess it would be safe to say if nothing serious happens after 7 days I am in the clear?
But this is only part way into day two.  So I am trying to aggressively dodge this bullet and not wait.
If we get lice I will let you know.  I am so disappointed.  So bizarre to.
Thanks
Antony

Hi Antony,
You are lucky you began treatment immediately.  Please keep us posted.

Dodging the Lice bullet
July 29, 2011
Well I think it is safe to say that we dodged the bullet here!
After my GF being cover, truly infested with lice, over 150 lice crawling all over her shoes and pants.  Well nothing made it higher.  I suppose most people find out they have lice after the fact.  We had the complete opposite.  We visually discovered it before they made it to the top.  I have never heard of a case like this.  Neither one of us have been itchy or have any bites, nit or egg looking particle in the hair, or anything and the discovery of adult lice swarming the lower body happened on Tues am. It is like a miracle.
I spoke to the ground crew at Douglass park in Santa Monica.  He mentioned there are so many bums sleeping around the park that one of them must have had clothes or items on the ground under that bench.  He had seen someone sleeping near the bench earlier that day.  We were in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is sad to because so many kids play there and parents and folks relax there, that to have bums laying around the park covered in lice is a terrible mix.   I will be forever scarred from the visual of 150-200 lice swarming the pant legs of my hysteric GF.  Me telling her they are aphids though I thought they were ticks.  Turns out they were lice…lol.
Happened Tues and it is Fri.  I think it is safe to say we made it?  We dodged 200 lice.  Go figure?  Thanks for your help, I have researched lice and seen way to many lice pictures on the internet that if I ever encounter this again I will not be as freaked out.
Thanks again,
Anthony

 

 

Letter 3 – Human Louse

 

Subject: Found this bug on my daughter’s forehead
Location: Okc ok
July 28, 2015 10:23 pm
Dear bug man please help me figure out what kind of bug this is I found on my daughters forehead on her hairline
Signature: Suzy worried mom

Human Louse
Human Louse

Dear Suzy worried mom,
You have legitimate cause for concern.  This is a Human Louse and we strongly recommend that you initiate treatment immediately.  You can get over the counter remedies from your local pharmacy.  You should also check family members as Lice can spread.

Letter 4 – Human Louse from Hawaii

 

Subject: What type of bug is this
Location: Oahu, hawaii
May 8, 2016 1:31 pm
Hello, we live in Hawaii and I found this bug on my daughters pillow. It did cause red small bites on her neck. The bites were itchy but not raised. I did not find any additional bugs after taking the mattress off, cleaning all bedding, taking out all stuffed animals. We did pet sit last week for a friends dog. Not sure if it a flea or possibly a kite or bedbug. Thanks for all your help!
Signature: Jennifer

Human Louse
Human Louse

Dear Jennifer,
This is a Human Louse, and your daughter may have gotten it at school.  If you found one, there are likely more in her hair and scalp.  They can be removed manually by carefully combing through her hair with a louse comb, and there are many over the counter remedies available.

Letter 5 – Lice found in home

 

Subject: What’s that bug?
Location: Boston
March 8, 2014 10:02 pm
Hi, I live in Boston and have been living in my apartment for almost 5 years. I have never seen a bug like this before. I found 3 of them crawling on the outside of a plastic sweater bag, which was sealed. Then I found one crawling on the blanket near by. Then I also found a live and a dead one on my sock I was wearing just now. I was in NYC yesterday and took Amtrak. Today, I had a workshop in an office space in downtown Boston. Any idea what it is and/or where it might have come from? Do they travel together/multiply? If there are more, what can I do? Thanks!
Signature: TK, Bugged in Boston

Louse
Louse

Dear TK, Bugged in Boston,
The images you attached are of a Louse, but we cannot say for certain if it is a Human Louse or a species that prefers other prey, like birds or mammals.  Since you have found numerous individuals, we would wager that this infestation originated in your immediate vicinity, and that it is not the result of a recent trip.

Thanks for your response, Daniel. I have had 2 obviously bad nights of sleep since finding these, but still haven’t found any in my hair (fingers crossed). I found a couple more on the floor and on the bench in my kitchen yesterday morning, but none since. Is it safe to assume that these are the kind that prey on animals? I do have a mouse problem, so I am thinking that they are the carriers. If this is the case, any idea on what I can do to keep them out? Unfortunately, I am stuck with the mice until I move out, which is hopefully soon.

You can try taking a specimen to your local natural history museum to see if it can be identified.

Letter 6 – Louse

 

Subject: Curious to what it is??
Location: North America (Oklahoma)
December 28, 2013 10:12 am
Hi, I found this little guy crawling on me. ( I assume it is a transfer from my dog) but not sure what it is. Thanks in advance
Signature: Sincerely, DH

Human Louse or other Louse???
Human Louse or other Louse???

Dear DH,
This is a Louse, and we don’t believe there is enough detail in your image to make a conclusive identification, but it looks suspiciously like a Human Louse,
Pediculus humanus, that is pictured on BugGuide.  You can get much helpful information from the Penn State University Entomology Department fact sheet on Human Lice, including:  “Anyone can get lice no matter how clean they are about their personal hygiene and their homes. Lice do not feed on dirt; they feed on blood! People get lice from people. They don’t come from pets. (Dog and cat lice do not infest man.)”  The image of the Dog Louse, Trichodectes canis, on Molecular Expressions:  Science, Optics & You as well as the image on BugGuide look different than your image.

Letter 7 – Louse

 

Subject: Louse?
Location: San Francisco, CA
July 4, 2017 12:17 pm
Is this a louse? Please have some benign alternative for me! It seemed to be a bit larger than a sesame seed. Initially, I didn’t think it was a louse because the bugs in the photos I’ve looked at seem more translucent but that’s the only difference. I’ve checked all the heads in the house and there are no other signs of lice, though the one in the photo may have been dead and the garment it was found on came out of luggage.
Signature: Getting itchy

Louse

Dear Getting Itchy,
Yes, this is a Louse, but it does not look like either a Human Body Louse or a Human Head Louse.  It seems too large and too dark for a Human Louse.  It might be a Bird Louse or some other type of Louse, but it is beyond our skill to classify it exactly.

Louse

Letter 8 – Louse

 

Subject:  Help!!! What is this bug???
Geographic location of the bug:  Johnson city, tn
Date: 04/25/2018
Time: 05:02 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Help!!!!   My daughter was infested with lice about a month ago.  She is clear.  In the meantime I’ve treated my head 2 times because I’ve pulled these bugs out of my hair and to be cautious.  This makes it the 3rd one I’ve seen.  Head is itchy in the back and sides.
How you want your letter signed:  Really desperate

Louse

Dear Really desperate,
Either your treatment was not effective or you have been reinfested.  This is a Louse.

Letter 9 – Louse from Australia

 

Subject:  ID help please
Geographic location of the bug:  Melbourne, Australia
Date: 01/30/2019
Time: 07:33 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hi Bugman,
We’ve had a heatwave here in Australia lately and a big increase in the suburban biting/sucking bug population. I found the one in the first image on my 2 year old daughter’s arm at breakfast, and subsequently found head lice on her scalp. It seems large (3mm) and very dark for a head louse, and I’m hoping to distinguish it from body lice (generalised itching in the household may well be psychosomatic of course!) I don’t think it’s a bed bug but would appreciate any input.
The second image is of a tiny (2mm x 2mm), round, shiny beetle I think, found on outdoor sofa. Could this be a type of ladybug as it seems very round?
The third was found on cot mattress while changing linen during lice treatment, it’s the most worrying given its location and I’ve no idea what it is. Measures 3mm long by 1mm wide.
My apologies for the image quality, all collected in tape before I found your site.
Many thanks in anticipation of some peace of mind,
How you want your letter signed:  Amanda

Louse

Dear Amanda,
The critter in your first image is definitely a Louse.  Though it is a North American site, BugGuide differentiates Head Lice from Body Lice by designating different subspecies of the Human Louse,
Pediculus humanusPenn State has a nice fact sheet on Lice.  We cannot make out enough details in image three and we will address 2 in a different response.

Letter 10 – Possibly Louse from Indonesia

 

Subject: Request for identification of a house bug
Location: Jakarta, Indonesia (tropical climate). Indoors environment.
January 1, 2014 2:02 am
Hello,
I’ve just ran into your informative website while I was trying to identify this little creature I came across while I was home. It is small like a regular size ant, let’s say 1mmx2mm, can be observed by naked eye.
I can say I kind of have a phobia against bugs and I was just wondering what actions should I take to get rid of them in my living space, and what they might give to me (sicknesses etc).
Would be glad to hear from you,
Thanks in advance!
And by the way, happy new year!
Signature: Jakarta Citizen

Louse
Louse

Dear Baris,
We cannot say for certain because your photo lacks critical clarity, however, based on the general shape and morphology as well as the stated size, we believe this is a Louse.  We are not certain if it is a Human Louse or an animal Louse.  Perhaps the information on the Penn State University Entomology fact sheet will be helpful.

Hello Daniel,
Thanks a lot for the info and comments, it did help me.
As I don’t have any pets at home I’m sure it is a human louse. I will follow the recommendations in the link you have provided.
Have a good day,
Best Regards,
Jakarta Citizen

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Reader Emails

8447

Letter 1 – Bug found on Baby

 

Bug found on Baby
Bug found on Baby

Subject: found this bug on my baby
Location: hudson ny
October 9, 2014 9:34 am
I went to changed my babys diaper and this bug was on her leg. Not sure what it is. Pic is hard to see im sorry but hopefully itll be of some help. It is brown has 6 legs and whatappears to be antennas . It widens towards his butt.
Signature: kim kallo

Dear Kim,
There is not enough detail in your image to make an identification.  We suggest you search through our Household Pests tag to help identify undesirable insects that can be found in the home.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Body Lice

 

Hi there bugman, It’s Amy again. I just wrote a rather wordy letter a little while ago. Well, I had to write you another letter after browsing the website a bit more. The part about the worst bug stories ever, and itching…I can tell you from personal experience (unfortunately) that the bugs causing big red itchy bumps on the skin in the one womans story about her three kids very well could have been "body lice". I know, sounds gross. I was sixteen when I got them from kids I babysat. Their mother had a very hard time trying to identify what was going on, even finding a bug to begin with was difficult. When we finally found the buggers, they were all over the bed underneath the sheets. We had to do the "magicians swipe" of the sheets to catch anything before they scattered. They look like ticks. I brought one to my dermatologist and he identified it as a body louse. The treatment is just like for headlice…pretty much, but you have to leave the lotion on for 24 to 48 hours then shower, and wash everything and spray mattresses and couches, etc. Pretty nasty experience, but I suspect that’s probably the problem this woman had with her children. I would encourage you to try to find a pic of a body louse, as well as other types of lice, so that people can try to identify them if need be. Talk about nasty bugs with no earthly good use…ick
Amy

Thanks for the tip Amy. Body Lice are not fun and should have professional attention. We only post photos supplied by our readers, but we will gladly post any images of Lice that come in..

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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12 thoughts on “Where Do Lice Come From? Unraveling the Mystery”

  1. Not a big deal. There are companies that you can pay about $75 to remove it from your head. Well worth it. Check your local area for one of these. It does NOT mean you’re unclean, and they are NOT dangerous or deadly. They’re just gross and give you that freaky feeling.

    Reply
  2. As stated, this is a louse. & it is worth checking the head hair of people who slept there for both lice & their eggs.

    However, it could be a body louse as opposed to a head louse.

    Body lice have a similar life cycle to head lice, but they tend to live in the hems and seams of clothing & only come out of hiding to feed on their host, before returning to their clothing or possibly bedding.

    So it is worth checking your clothing for more of these critters. Concentrate on the seams, hems, folds & pleats.

    Reply
  3. As stated, this is a louse. & it is worth checking the head hair of people who slept there for both lice & their eggs.

    However, it could be a body louse as opposed to a head louse.

    Body lice have a similar life cycle to head lice, but they tend to live in the hems and seams of clothing & only come out of hiding to feed on their host, before returning to their clothing or possibly bedding.

    So it is worth checking your clothing for more of these critters. Concentrate on the seams, hems, folds & pleats.

    Reply
  4. i found one on the top of my shirt which was nearby my hair and im a kid so i dont know if they are dangerous but i got scared when i found it on my neck

    Reply
  5. can no seeums Live in a human skin? I have been battles Sone Kind of of Creature in my hair for almost ayer. Went to several doctors who refuse to ever listen to me when I say that the are bugs in my hair.They are muco.sopic. I can see then with my bare eyes, But they just say that I do not have bugs. Please help me.I had thick Curly hair before Now it is straw and going bald,

    Reply

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