Bed Bugs vs Head Lice – What’s Really Staying in Your Hair

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This time, we have no idea which is actually worse. But it’s important that we have to be able to tell them apart anyway. Bed bugs vs head lice – they can be problematic. But if we can differentiate them, we can find the right treatments to finally get rid of these parasites.

bed bugs vs lice

Bed bugs and head lice have given humans a lot of problems for years. CC Images courtesy of Gilles San Martin on Flickr

Differences in Appearance

Bed bugs and head lice are both parasites that feed on human blood, but they differ in how they look.

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Bed bugs have circular flat bodies. These bugs come in dark brown or black. They have all the parts that insects usually have, but their abdomen expand after feeding. Their six legs have hook-like parts that can help them grip on a lot of surfaces. And they have wing pads (vestigial wings) on their backs.

As for head lice (Pediculus humanus capitis), their bodies are also flat but they look more elongated. They also have regular insect parts on them, but a louse’s head and thorax are so much smaller than its abdomen.

Head lice are also completely wingless. And they spend their entire lifetime on your scalp.

To add, a head louse’s color usually depends on the environment it’s living in. RD Parasites did some digging on this and concluded that head lice can naturally adapt to the color of their background. That’s why you often see pictures of this insect in different shades, from tan, to ash brown to black.

In Asian countries, for example, virtually all head lice are black since majority of the people in those places have very dark hair.

Differences in Behavior

head lice up close

The most apparent difference between the two bugs is where they prefer to stay. Head lice can live comfortably on your head while bed bugs can only temporarily hide there. That’s until they’ll find a more suitable place to reside in.

Head lice also lay their eggs on your hair. As gross at it may sound, it’s the most ample place for these insects. Their eggs are stuck to hair strands to keep them from falling off.

In contrast, bed bugs lay their eggs in the places where they hide in. They can also lay them within bedding seams and crevices in your bed.

Finally, for their feeding habits, bed bugs don’t come around biting you every hour of the day. They mostly do this at night or when the host is readily available. Also, they typically target your arms, neck and the upper-middle parts of your body. They rarely go for the scalp since hair is difficult for them to deal with.

As for head lice, they can feed on your blood any time since they do live on your head. They also exclusively do all their blood sucking on your scalp, ears and upper neck.

How to Tell if You Have Head Lice

Head lice can be such a pain to deal with. So if you suspect some on you, here are signs that you need to watch out for.

  • Look for white sand-like particles in your hair. They could be lice eggs.
  • The most common symptom is an itchy scalp. This is because of the allergic reaction that you have on lice bites.
  • A small tickle or a feeling of something moving in your hair can also be a cue that you have an infestation going on.
  • Feel your scalp for sores and bumps. These are consequences of your allergic reaction.
  • And lastly, look for red bumps on your ears and upper necks. These are usual places where lice feed on.​

In general, when it comes to bed bugs vs head lice, there’s really no winning team. Both are equally annoying to deal with. But with the right precautions and treatments, we can get them off our homes.

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