Head Lice Life Cycle

 

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Life Cycle of Head Lice - Three Stages
The head louse has three stages in its life cycle - Egg/nit, Nymph and Adult. The entire life cycle usually spans approximately 1 month and within this time the female adult louse can lay many eggs. Understanding the life cycle of head lice is important as it will help when you are looking to get rid of an infestation. As with other parasites (such as fleas), you must target each stage of the life cycle to ensure that all lice are killed and removed. Therefore, if you are using treatments that only kill adult lice (but do not target lice eggs) you will have to use at least two applications of that treatment so that any newly hatched eggs are killed on the second attempt. Below we detail the individual stages.

Life Cycle of Head Lice - Overview
Timeframes will vary slightly, however below is a high level overview of the head lice life cycle

  • An egg (nit) is laid and stuck to the base of the hair shaft, close to the scalp
  • After approximately 1 week, the louse nymph hatches from the egg
  • The nymph goes through its first molt after 2 days of hatching
  • The nymph goes through its second molt after 5 days of hatching
  • The nymph goes through its third molt after 10 days of hatching and is now an adult
  • The adult male and slightly bigger female mate
  • Female adult lays the first of its eggs approximately 2 days after
  • Female adult louse continues to lay eggs each day for approximately another 2 weeks and then dies

Life Cycle of Head Lice - Eggs/Nits
The life cycle begins when a female adult head louse lays her first eggs/nits in the hair which are attached to the hair shaft with sticky glue-like saliva. This 'cement' is so strong that the eggs will not easily wash out of the hair using an ordinary shampoo (hence the need for combs and lice treatments). In cooler climates around the world, the eggs will be attached to the very base of the hair shaft, close to the scalp. The purpose of this is to keep the eggs hidden and also where the temperature is warm and ideal for the hatching process. In warmer climates around the world, eggs can be found inches down the hair shaft away from the scalp as the surrounding temperature is already adequate. Louse eggs are tiny (no bigger than a millimeter) and oval shaped and difficult to see without the aid of a magnified glass. They range in color from white to a yellowish tan and can easily be mistaken for specs of dandruff. Once hatched, the eggs are usually referred to as 'nits' and remain on the hair shaft until physically removed. The nits can usually be identified as live, hatched or dead with closer inspection. Hatched will have a hole at the top, dead nits are usually concaved and withered and live ones will be round and swollen. If you squeeze the eggs/nits with you finger tips and it pops, this is a sign that they are live.

Life Cycle of Head Lice

head lice life cycle
 
Life Cycle of Head Lice - Nymphs
The life cycle continues with the hatching of nymphs. Louse nymphs look like adult lice but just smaller. Similar to adult head lice, the nymphs cannot live for very long away from their host and must feed on their host's blood to survive and grow. Nymphs go through three molts before reaching adulthood and they cannot reproduce until all three are completed (which takes approximately ten days). Nymphs cannot jump or fly (as they have no wings) but will move around by crawling on their six legs, using their claws to tightly attach them to hairs. When nymphs molt, they leave an external skeleton (discarded shell) which can often be mistaken for a live louse. Unlike the eggs, these should wash or fall out of the hair a lot more easily.
 

 

 

Life Cycle of Head Lice - Adults
The third stage of the life cycle is adulthood. Male adult lice are slightly smaller than their female equivalents. The picture above shows the female on top and the male underneath. The male adult louse also has larger legs at the front, used for holding the female whilst copulation takes place. Like nymphs, adult lice are wingless, cannot jump and they scurry around on their six legs making them very difficult to spot when checking for head lice. As they can sense any additional heat and light they will move away as to not be detected. When adulthood is reached the lice begin pairing with the first 12 hours and mating can take place during the day or night (although you are meant to be able to feel lice moving around more at night). Females can then lay between four and eight eggs a day, over the period of around a month. If the conditions are right and lice go undetected for some time, you can understand why infestations occur and outbreaks are common with schools.

Thousands of people search to find out about the life cycle of the head louse and how to get rid of them. Fortunately there are so many products available on line, you should be able to find what you want without too much of a problem. We hope that you have found this article on the Life Cycle of Head Lice a useful guide and that any questions you may have had have been answered. You will find that this website is a great resource, including this article, whether you are looking to learn more, purchase products or just seek some quiet information. Men, women and children are all affected by nits and we hope you have located the treatment you may need, be it a comb, lotion, cream, medication or shampoo. Nit treatments and nit remedies should be sought after quickly and if you have crabs you should seek medical advice so they cannot be spread or infect others.

Life Cycle of Head Lice

Life Cycle of Head Lice in humans

  • Combs, Liquids, Lotions, Insecticides and Medication for control
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Life Cycle of Head Lice - Getting Rid of Lice