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Head lice - what are they?

lice; nit; insect; headlice; head; louse; itch; hair; scalp; egg ;


Every body has heard of head lice. Every school has a visit from head lice from time to time and lots of kids want to know about them. When you have read this topic you might like to look at another which tells you how to treat them - called Head lice - what to do.

This is what some kids think about these critters

  • head liceThey fly from one kid to another.
  • Everybody knows if you've got them.
  • Everyone will think you're dirty if you've got nits.
  • You've got to have really stinky stuff on your hair to get rid of them.
  • You've got to stay at home for days until you've got rid of them.

Is this what you think?

So, what are they?

  • head liceHead lice are really tiny insects - about 2-3mm long.
  • They haven't got wings so they can't fly and they can't hop or jump but they can run or crawl fast.
  • They have 6 legs with claws on the ends so that they can cling to hair.
  • They're so small and move so fast that you can hardly see them.
  • They really like kids' (and adults') heads. Clean or dirty hair, it's all the same to them! They just want to get on a nice warm scalp!
  • They feed on the blood from the scalp of people.
  • Their bite makes the scalp itch.
  • They need the warmth from the human scalp to live.
  • They lay tiny white eggs, called nits, on hairs near the scalp.
  • After about 7 days the eggs hatch.
  • Head lice live for about 4-5 weeks.
  • They can lay eggs after 2 weeks.
  • They cannot live for more than a couple of days on your pets. They don't like dog or cat blood! Our blood must taste really good! 
  • They cannot live for more than about 2 days on furniture, bedding and soft toys - they like to stay warm on our heads!
  • They really look like this (only much, much smaller).
    head lice

Nits - what are they?

  • head liceNits are the eggs laid by head lice.
  • They are about this big [ . ] Yes about as big as this dot!
  • They stick to the hair strand close to the scalp. They use special glue so that it's hard to move them.
  • They look like tiny white dots.
  • They hatch out 7-10 days after they are laid.
  • The egg 'shell' stays stuck to the hair after it has hatched.
  • You can tell which eggs are dead or hatched because they are further away from the scalp. If they are more than a centimetre from the scalp they will be hatched or dead eggs
    (Feeling itchy? Me too!)

How do you get them?

  • Head-to-head touching.
  • Being very close to someone who has them - like a friend, someone in your family, someone you work with at school.
  • Sharing hairbrushes, combs, clothes, hats, helmets, pillows, cushions and hair ties.

Dr Kate says:

Dr Kate

Get someone to check your hair often - especially behind your ears - and do not share hats or brushes with other children.

Look at our topic 'Head lice - what to do' if you think they've moved in on you.

Head lice quiz

The answers to the quiz can be found in both the topics on head lice but if you think you might already know the anwers before reading both topics then give it a try, you might surprise yourself!

CLICK HERE to open the quiz window.

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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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