What Lice Look Like: Pictures of Lice (Color, Size, and More)

good catch

Discover exactly what lice look like with this informative article filled with more than 30 pictures of lice, and easily identify lice using these these five distinct features:

Lice Colors

Lice Shape

Actual Lice Size

Lice Eggs

Lice Signs & Symptoms

Head Lice

There are three types of lice that can live on humans: head lice, body lice, and pubic lice. Head lice is by far the most common, affecting about 12 million Americans every year. It is the second most common childhood ailment in the US, second only to the common cold. 

bug on finger

Head lice live exclusively in human hair and rarely come off the head unless physically removed. They feed on human blood several times a day, but fortunately do not spread diseases. Head lice are no respecter of persons, and anybody can get head lice, no matter their age, race, or cleanliness.

Though this is far from typical, here is an example of a severe (and obvious) head lice infestation:

severe infestation

Super Lice

A super lice bug at high magnification.

A fourth type of lice making big news these days is a new strain of head lice: super lice. Super lice and regular head lice are virtually the same bugs, except super lice have mutations that make them (and their eggs) extremely difficult to kill. These super lice are becoming the “new” and more prominent strain of head lice. 

How Can You Tell The Difference Between Regular Head Lice and Super Lice?

Regular head lice and super lice look and act exactly the same; the only difference is that super lice will not die using traditional treatments. Unfortunately, almost all lice in the world today are now immune to over-the-counter treatments. The most recent studies in the US show that 98% of lice are "super lice" which means that they are resistant to traditional lice treatments.

 

Why Is It So Hard to Get Rid of Lice?

Parents around the world are all asking me the same question…. "Why is it so much harder to get rid of lice now?"

Lice have become immune to everything that used to work in the past. Perhaps you remember your mom using a typical lice treatment or mayonnaise and that doing the trick. The new strain of head lice is no longer killed by those treatments, that’s why lice today are termed by people, “super lice,” because they are immune to those treatments. 

I’ve cured thousands of people of lice in my lice center and let me tell you, I don't do it with over-the-counter lice treatments. 

Most people struggle with lice because they focus all of their attention on killing lice bugs and not enough attention on GETTING RID OF LICE!

If you want to get rid of lice you have to address all 3 of the problems of lice:

  1. Lice Bugs
  2. Lice Eggs
  3. Getting Lice Back

The best way to get rid of lice is to tackle all 3 of these problems at the same time, which is what I teach in Get Rid of Lice Like A Pro.

Lice In Hair

Lice Claws

The legs of head lice are designed with claws on the end of each “foot,” designed perfectly to grip hair strands without falling off.

A lice quickly crawling through a woman's blond hair.
Lice Move Quickly Through Hair (Copyright myliceadvice.com)

Of course, you can’t see these little claws without a microscope, but you can see them in action. Lice grip onto hair and tightrope walk their way up and down strands easily. If you see a bug maneuvering this easily in hair, it’s certainly lice.

#1: Lice Color

Let’s get this first myth out of the way right at the beginning. Head lice are not only tan or white. Head lice are a wide variety of colors including dark brown, light brown, tan, gray, red, and even translucent white! You can imagine those mostly transparent lice are especially difficult to see and they are extremely common.

These are all lice I have pulled off people and photographed in my lice center.

Colors of lice

Why are there different colors of head lice?

Head lice are experts at blending in, and that includes blending in with both hair and skin color. When head lice first hatch, they are almost completely see-through.

A translucent looking head lice bug on a blond hair strand

As lice reach adulthood, they tend to darken in color according to their surroundings.

For those with blonde or light brown hair, you’ll typically see tan or light brown adult lice.

Blond lice

For those with black hair, you’ll typically find dark gray to black lice.

Lice Black hair

Why are some head lice red?

9217_lores

Don’t be terribly horrified if you find a few head lice that are red. Head lice are like vampires, feeding on human blood multiple times a day! In fact, if lice fall off the head and cannot feed on human blood, they usually die within 24 hours.

After lice feed, they get nice and fat on blood. Their stomachs fill up with this blood and their entire abdomen plumps up.

The creepiest part is that the red color seeps into every part of their body. Shortly after feeding, lice appear completely red. It kind of looks like something out of a horror film, but it’s all real.

red-lice-after-feeding

#2: What Lice Look Like

Lice Shape and Appearance

Head Lice Anatomy

The defining characteristics of both super lice and regular lice are:

  • Six legs attached to upper ⅓ of body (not attached to their abdomen)
  • No wings
  • Varying colored (see above) bodies, darker body as they get older and after they die
  • Black stomach/intestines visible through translucent body (larger after feeding)
  • Antennae
  • Tapered/claw-like legs
Stages of lice

Ages and Stages

A translucent/blond lice bug camouflaging in blond hair

Initially lice are laid in eggs (called “nits”) in the hair. They hatch in about 7-10 days and are very small. Small baby lice are called nymphs. Nymphs have all the same features of adult lice, including 6 legs, but the difference is they are EXTREMELY small, almost invisible to the naked eye. Additionally, they are almost entirely clear (see picture below). Usually the only thing that you can spot on transparent lice is their dark brown or black stomach.

#3: Lice Actual Size

Lice around penny

You’ve probably seen lots of pictures of head lice close up, but it can be difficult to determine the actual size of lice from these types of photos. Some sites claim that lice are the size of a sesame seed, but that’s not entirely true. Adult head lice may be the size of a sesame seed (about 3mm long), but nymphs are much smaller, usually closer to only 0.5mm long. It is these very small lice that are so difficult to spot.

ACTUAL SIZE

What is the actual size of lice? Here is a lice bug on the tip of a finger.What is the actual size of lice? Here is a lice bug on the tip of a finger.

bug on finger

#4: Lice Eggs

Lice eggs in black hair

Lice eggs, also known as “nits,” are one of the first signs of a head lice infestation. Lice lay between six and ten of these nits in the hair every day, and it adds up quickly. Nits are often mistaken for dandruff or dirt in the hair because they are small and their shiny appearance can make them look white.

HOT SPOTS

Nits are most commonly found in the “hot spots” of the head. These hot spots are the places that lice most like to lay their eggs. The hot spots are behind both ears, on the nape of the neck, and on the crown of the head.

A common misunderstanding is that nits are white. Nits have a shiny appearance and can appear white, especially in dark hair, but most lice eggs are not actually white. They vary in color, from light golden to dark brown, depending on how close they are to hatching. (You can learn more by clicking through to my Dead vs. Live Nits article.)

A lice egg (nit) is attached to a hair strand. A finger in behind the nit and a white arrow points at the nit.

They are extremely small, just a little smaller than a poppyseed. They are also teardrop shaped (not circular) and glued on the side of the hair strand.

A lice egg (nit) is shown on a hair strand. A woman tugs at the nit repeatedly, attempting to make it move.

The tell-tale sign of nits is that they cannot be flicked, blown, or brushed off. Aside from a high-quality lice comb, the only way to remove a lice egg from the hair strand is to squeeze it between two fingers and manually drag it down the entire strand.

 

Not Hatched vs hatched

As we discussed above, lice eggs range from golden to very dark brown in color before they hatch. This dark color is the nymph growing inside. After the nymph hatches out of the egg, the eggshell remains on the hair strand and appears “white” in dark hair. Similar to a chicken egg, after you crack open the egg and remove the insides, all you have left is a white shell.

If you’re looking for lice eggs, check out the articles How to Check for Lice or What Lice Eggs and Nits Look Like. Both are loaded with pictures of nits.

What If I Discover Lice?

Now let't talk about exactly what to do if you discover lice.

IF YOU DISCOVER LICE WHEN YOU'RE CHECKING...

Be sure to WATCH THE VIDEO above and learn the biggest mistakes parents make when it comes to discovering lice and exactly what to do.

Here are the links I mentioned in the video:

  1. How to Check For Lice Tutorial
  2. House Cleaning For Lice Checklist
  3. How to Get Rid of Lice Like A Pro

#5: Lice Signs & Symptoms

Itchy Scalp (some do, some don’t)

scratch head

Talking about lice makes most heads itch. (You’re probably itching your head at this very moment). However, when I say “lice cause an itchy scalp,” I’m not talking about a little scratch here and there. After a full month of having head lice, most people’s heads begin driving them crazy. The itch is a deep, internal nagging that you just can’t seem to scratch enough to satisfy. 

Most people assume the itchiness is caused by lice moving around on the head, but it is actually the result of an allergic reaction to lice saliva, which is why it takes most people a full month to begin itching.

Black head lice

Each time lice feed on your blood, a small amount of their saliva shoots into your scalp. A little bit of this saliva goes unnoticed, but after a month of this repeated feeding, your head develops an allergic response to the lice bites and saliva, which causes these symptoms.

Itching Around the Ears and Neck

scratch neck

Similar to the deep “itch you just can’t scratch” feeling on the scalp, many people have the same feeling in the hairline near their ears and at their neck. This makes sense when you consider that behind the ears and neck are the “hot spots” where lice prefer to lay their eggs.

Neck Rash or “Lice Bites”

Neck Red Bumps

Another sign of lice (also caused by an allergic reaction to lice saliva) is a neck rash or red bumps on the neck. For many people, this sign can show up even before the itching begins. Many people refer to this symptom as “lice bites.”

neck rash

Most commonly, a blotchy, painless (or itchy) rash develops at the nape of the neck in the hair. The rash sometimes spreads to below the hairline at the nape of the neck. More severe neck rashes like this usually itch quite a bit.

Rash Behind the Ears

rash behind neck

Rashes behind the ears are also quite common. These rashes are typically bright red, blotchy red, or also have a “lice bite” appearance.

Restless at Night, Sleepy During the Day

sleepy child

Parents, if you see your child scratching her head frequently while they’re sleeping, it is a tell-tale sign of head lice!

Lice are nocturnal, which means they do most of their moving and feeding at night. This movement and feeding usually increases feelings of discomfort and itching in the night hours. It is not uncommon for someone with lice to “sleep all night,” but wake up completely exhausted because they have been scratching their head all night, which in turn leads to sleepiness and fatigue during the day. 

What's the FASTEST Way To Get Rid of Lice?

The purpose of My Lice Advice is to help parents get rid of lice as fast as possible. And the fastest way to get rid of lice is to get rid of lice in one day, no re-treatments. This is how lice professionals like myself get rid of lice in lice centers. Most people assume that lice professionals use some kind of crazy strong lice product or something. But the truth is that's not how lice professionals get rid of lice so fast....

When I treat lice in my lice center I don't use any toxic chemicals or special treatments. In fact, you can do a professional lice treatment at home without buying any lice products. I teach parents how to do this professional technique on their children at home, on my page Get Rid of Lice Like A Pro!

In Get Rid of Lice Like A Pro! you learn how to get rid of lice in less than a day by doing what the pro's do. And it's gone permanently- there are no re-treatments, and no messing around with lice kits. You do the professional  technique on your child at home, you kill all of the lice and the lice eggs in one session and then you're done with lice. 

That's the FASTEST and MOST EFFECTIVE way to get rid of lice. You can learn how to do it by clicking here.

If It's Lice...

If what you are finding is lice, the most important thing for you to remember is that most of today’s head lice are super lice. That means the traditional treatments and pesticides at the store won’t kill them. In fact, the most “popular” treatments are usually among the very worst at killing lice, so don’t be fooled by big name brands or hollow promises of “killing super lice” on the treatment box. 

But if it's lice no worries, go to the article How to Get Rid of Lice Like A Pro and get rid of it in less than a day.

All the best,

Theresa, My Lice Advice

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Theresa is a lice expert with years of experience curing children of lice. She currently works with government agencies and non-profit organizations to help children with the most severe head lice infestations in the US.

Originally trained as a Registered Nurse, she changed specialties to study lice. Later, she opened a lice treatment center where she perfected the PRO technique she teaches in the Get Rid of Lice Like A Pro online course. She now works helping those struggling with lice around the world.

She is the creator of MyLiceAdvice.com, one of the top lice informational websites in the world and she teaches parents around the world how to get rid of lice in less than a day in the Get Rid of Lice Like a Pro online course.

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