Lice can look like most tiny insects but considering that they are blood sucking pests, it is important to identify them correctly. Consider the fact that millions of children suffer from head lice infestation each year and one in every ten child has head lice. Apart from the fact that they can cause skin infections, rashes and severe itching on the human scalp, they are also pretty disgusting to look at.
Commonly, lice come in three forms, all of them parasitic - the body louse, the crab louse and the head louse. The head louse makes its home on the human scalp, head and neck region where it feeds off blood. The crab louse, also called the pubic louse, is found most commonly in the pubic region. The body louse migrates to human skin just when it is feeding time, but otherwise makes its abode in clothing.
Considering that the head louse is the topic of interest, let us look at getting to know them better.
Head lice can be approximately 2 to 3 mm in length. They do not have wings and their method of locomotion is only through crawling which they do through the strands of hair and on the scalp itself. In color, they range from clear white to gray to dark brown. They turn a dark color only after they have finished feeding.
Their body is more or less an oval. Under a microscope one can see they have 6 legs. They are able to bite into and attach to human scalps with their 2 front claws.
The lifecycle of the louse goes through an egg stage, a nymph and then adult form. It starts with the female louse (which is bigger than the male of the species) laying around six to eight eggs or nits every day. These nits are a tan or a yellow in color. They are usually found adhering to the root of the hair shaft. Within eight to nine days, the nits hatch into nymphs which are miniature versions of adult head lice. The nymphs grow and thrive by sucking on human blood.
After three cycles of molting from their exoskeletons, the nymphs attain adulthood. This period is usually completed around twelve days from hatching. The life span of an adult louse is around 30 days but if it falls off a human scalp then it can perish within 48 hours.
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CDC: Head Lice