How Lice Spread. Do Lice Jump? Do Lice Fly or Have Wings?

With 12 million cases of head lice in the United States every year, it is an understatement to say that lice are contagious, lice are EXTREMELY contagious! Lice are the second most prevalent childhood ailment in the US, second only to the common cold. So, how do these highly evolved pests keep spreading? Do they jump or fly? Discover today what makes lice so contagious, how they spread, and how you can arm yourself against getting them.

What Are Lice?

Lice are small insects. They range from being almost invisible at birth to about the size of a sesame seed as adults. Lice require a human host as they need to feed on human blood frequently. Three types of lice live on humans: head lice, body lice, and pubic lice. While each type of lice has the same body structure, they have adapted to different areas of the body. Head lice are the most common by far and are the focus of this article.

The fourth type of lice that is making big news these days is a new strain of head lice, super lice. Super lice and regular head lice are virtually the same, except super lice has mutations that make them very difficult to kill. These super lice are becoming the “new” strain of head lice. 

Do Lice Jump? How Far Can Lice Jump?

Lice Claws

With as contagious as lice are you’d assume that they jump long distances to get from head to head. How else could they spread so quickly in a classroom? But, believe it, or not head lice DO NOT JUMP! But beware! Even though lice don’t jump, they are very good at moving quickly. When lice decide to infest a new head, they don’t just meander; they are determined to get there as fast as possible using their best traveling techniques.

Lice move deftly through hair and can make a Tarzan-style transfer within seconds. Lice use their claws to grip hair, enabling them to transfer from one hair to another quickly and without a chance of falling off. All it takes is one of their little claws grabbing a strand of your hair, and soon enough, you’ll have a full head lice infestation.

Can Lice Jump?

Head lice are incapable of jumping due to their anatomy. While their legs are perfectly designed with claws to grip and move through hair, they do not have hind legs with the capability of jumping. Most people think of head lice and fleas as the same or at least very similar bugs. After all, they are both small insects, and both suck blood. However, lice and fleas have significant differences regarding their anatomy.

flea vs lice

A Fleas hind legs are perfect for jumping, but they don’t have the same skills of moving and transferring in hair well. So, when fleas transfer, they move by jumping. Head lice, however, do not have hind legs; instead, they have perfectly equipped claws for transferring within the hair.

If there are bugs in your child’s hair or on your carpet that are jumping, those are fleas. Children can have fleas on them from pets, but usually not a “flea infestation,” because fleas do not generally stay on a human head for long.

Can Lice Fly?

One would think that with as contagious as lice are, they would fly like mosquitoes. But, no, lice CAN NOT and DO NOT fly. They must rely on their claws to transfer quickly into the hair. But, similar to mosquitos, their goal is to feed on your blood. And, just like mosquitos seem to prefer some people’s blood over others, lice also seem to have preferences. That is why some people are more susceptible to lice. Want to learn how you can avoid lice? Keep reading…

Do Lice Have Wings?

lice with wings appearance

It’s not uncommon for head lice to appear to have wings on them at first glance. However, head lice do not have wings. They have to rely on their claws to move from head to head. Head lice can “appear” to have wings because their body is often translucent and has a dark squiggly line down the middle of it. That line is a lice bug’s stomach, but it can give the appearance of a separation of two wings on a glance. If you hold the belief that lice have wings, then your mind will see what it thinks it should see.

If you find a bug in your child’s hair and confirm that it has wings then it is not head lice. There are no “queen lice” with wings as there are for ants and other insects.

How Does Lice Spread?

Head lice are spread predominantly from DIRECT head-to-head-contact. Scientists estimate that about 90% of head lice pass this way. Because lice do not jump like fleas and they do not fly like mosquitoes, they have to rely on their claws to grip onto hair and spread directly from one person to another. But, then how are they so contagious?  

Remember that if lice are within reach of a hair strand, they can do a Tarzan-style transfer from one hair strand to the other very quickly.

I’m sure that it doesn’t seem like your head touches other people’s heads very often. But, you’d be surprised how often humans touch heads. Take a small child; for instance, here are some examples:

How Lice Spreads Head to Head...

  • Hugging when greeting or leaving someone
  • Snuggling on the couch watching a movie
  • Snuggling while reading a book together
  • Resting your head on someone’s shoulder
  • Whispering close to someone’s ear
  • Looking over someone’s shoulder
  • Standing back to back in PE class
  • Looking at the same device like a tablet with heads touching
  • Sleeping on the same pillow or in the same bed at sleepovers
  • Taking “selfies” and other pictures that require people to get close

Head lice also spread via inanimate objects, but it is less likely. The main items to be cautious of are those that have frequent and close contact with hair. Stray hairs may come off on the object with lice attached to it. If another human head comes near, then those lice will likely transfer to a new head. Here are a few more examples of how lice may spread...

How Lice Spreads on Objects...

  • Sharing hats
  • Sharing hairbrushes, bows, combs, or accessories
  • Sharing jackets or clothing
  • Sharing pillows or blankets
  • Sharing fuzzy headphones
  • Sharing sporting helmets like baseball, riding, football

Why Does Lice Spread?

What is it that makes lice want to transfer from one head to another? Blood. Just like sharks, lice have a keen sense of smell. If your head is near and they smell your blood, then they instinctively sprint over to your head and start a lice infestation. But, fortunately, they can only transfer to your head if your hair is within reach because lice can not fly or jump. They only move well in hair, not on other surfaces. And, they do not like to leave the safety of a head of hair to go onto an object that is not hair. Living on a human head is essential to their survival. They must frequently feed on human blood. If they are off of a human for more than 48 hours, they will die.

How Do I Prevent Getting Lice?

Lice prevention begins by minimizing head to head contact with others. Many people do not have symptoms of head lice until having it a full month, which means that within that month, they’ve been hugging and snuggling people and spreading lice around. You don’t want to be one of those unsuspecting people.

Next, implement a “no-sharing” policy when it comes to items that could transfer head lice. Anything that comes in contact with hair regularly shouldn’t be shared.

Make Your Head Smelly to Lice

One of the best forms of prevention is making your hair undesirable to lice. You can use lice’s powerful sense of smell against them by putting scents in the hair that repel lice. There are 19 Fragrances that lice hate, and if you have those scents in your hair, then lice are more likely to leave you alone. 

Scents that deter lice are often called lice repellents. You can make your own lice repellent spray using my DIY tutorial or purchase a commercial lice repellent spray. But, don’t just buy any repellent thinking they’re all excellent. You can check out my article to find out which ones work to deter lice, or you can buy one of my top picks on Amazon below.

(This article contains affiliate links, and I earn a commission if you purchase through them, but I only recommend products I believe in).

More on Lice Prevention

I’ve outlined just a few ways you can prevent head lice. But, if you want to know more about ways to protect your family from lice, 21 Ways to Prevent Head Lice.

If You Have Lice

In the unfortunate event that you have lice, I am sorry. Dealing with lice is the worst! It is especially difficult these days because the new strain of super lice is resistant to almost all over the counter products. Lice treatments that were effective 20 years ago no longer work on today’s head lice. If you have tried an over the counter treatment and you keep getting lice back then, you most likely have super lice. Anyone with lice should always use a lice treatment that is effective at killing both regular head lice and super lice because most of today’s lice are super lice. 

Before, you could only get super lice treatments at professional lice centers, but many lice centers have started selling their super lice treatments on Amazon. If you’d like to read my full review on lice treatments, check out my article here. These are my top picks for the best lice treatments on the market.

Best of luck on your lice journey! (1)

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