What Do Head Lice Look Like?

When your child is bringing head lice home, the first thing you’ll want to do is check if this is really head lice. And your first question will probably be: What does head lice look like?

This will depend if we are looking for adult lice, nymphs, or head lice eggs, also called nits. In this article we’ll focus on adult head lice.

The louse is a small insect without wings, whose body is flattened. His abdomen is wider than the rest of his body. Females are usually larger than males. As lice have no wings, they cannot fly.

A louse has six legs, but cannot jump. It moves quickly though, at the speed of 23 centimeters per minute under normal conditions. It clings to the hair tightly with its three pairs of short legs, in fact with the hook like a claw that they have at the end of each leg.

Watch this video to see an adult louse moving in the hair, and you’ll discover what head lice look like in the hair:

 

What size and color are head lice?

Adult head lice measure between 2 and 4 millimeters. This is about the size of a sesame seed. This is tiny, but head lice can still be seen by the naked eye.

The adult louse is tan to grayish-white in color. The color of head lice is white, but once the louse is soaked with blood, it turns red or black.

Lice can be hard to spot when not moving, but here are a few tips to help you detect them:

  • scrutinize the head under good lighting conditions, and ask the person to slowly move the head under the light so that you can have different angles. This will help you spot moving adult head lice.
  • look for head lice close to the scalp, as well as around the neck and behind the ears, as this is where female lice lay their eggs.

Male and female head lice pictures

(keep in mind that their real length is less than half a centimeter):

Important Note: most of the images presented on this site are magnified because pictures of lice on hair would not allow you to really see them, as they are really very small. You should anyway take a magnifying glass when you are checking for lice, to be sure that you have lice and not something else.

adult-head-louse-on-swab

Adult head louse on a swab

Eran Finkle, CC-BY-SA

 

head-louse-and-louse-egg

Eran Finkle, CC-BY-SA

Male head louse attached to the hair with claws

Gilles San Martin, CC-BY-SA

 

Male louse crawling on hair

Male louse crawling on hair.

Gilles San Martin, CC-BY-SA

 

Female human head louse on hair

Female head louse on hair.

Gilles San Martin, CC-BY-SA

 

Adult Male Head Louse

Adult Male Head Louse. Center For Disease Control.

 

adult-female-louse

Adult female louse. Eggs can be observed in the abdomen. Center For Disease Control.

 

Frequently Asked Questions – What Does Head Lice Look Like

  • What does head lice look like on a head?

You will not see them on the head as they are tiny. You’ll have to scrutinize the areas near the scalp, in the neck area and behind the ears. Head lice look like a sesame seed and is usually white, but not when eating, and in people with dark hair, the adult louse usually looks darker, as head lice are known to be able to adapt to its host’s hair color.

  • What does the hair look like with head lice?

The hair with head lice doesn’t look anything special from a normal distance. This is why you will not know that you have head lice unless you have itching symptoms or someone scrutinizes your scalp and hair carefully.

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