Head lice are tiny. The largest are only about as big as a sesame seed. These oval-shaped bugs have no wings. They have six legs with tiny claws on the end. (Of course, you won't be able to be able to see the claws without a microscope.)
Head lice are gray or brown, and may appear either light or dark in color. They're tan, dark gray, and every shade in between. The full-grown lice are between 2 and 3 millimeters long (about 1/8 of an inch).
Here's a photo of a louse. It's magnified quite a bit – if you spot a louse on a child's head, you won't be able to see nearly this much detail. (The first time I saw an actual head louse, I thought it had wings, simply because of the shape of the body.)
Actual size of the creature?
Remember, they often escape notice for quite a long time. Check out this graphic from the CDC.
Yep, they're tiny!
This YouTube video shows you what head lice actually look like on a child's head:
Sometimes when you first examine a child's head, you won't see any moving lice right away … they're fast! But you can check near the scalp for nits, which stay in one place.
A nit is a hard shell which contains a lice egg. It's oval-shaped and white to yellow in color. You'll find it securely attached to a hair strand, close to the scalp. Nits are so small you can hardly see them – each is less than a millimeter long! (Look at the period at the end of this sentence … that's how small these things are.)
It's easy to confuse nits with dandruff flakes or bits of lint. Here's how to tell the difference … if you can flick or pick the particle off easily, it's not a nit. Nits are attached to the hair very strongly. Usually you can only remove a nit by pulling it all the way down and off the end of the hair strand.
The first image below is a CDC photo of an unhatched nit. You can see the angle at which nits are attached to a hair strand.
The next two images are also astonishing photos from the CDC, taken with a powerful microscope, which actually show a louse about to hatch, and a louse hatching!
Come to think of it, I'm glad we can't see all that detail when we're actually dealing with nits. Remember, you're looking for teeny light-colored ovals, attached securely to the hair near the scalp.
Got lice or nits? Don't panic. They're really not that difficult to deal with, once you know how to treat head lice.
So now you can answer the question "What do lice look like?" You're in good company. Few parents get through the child-rearing years without having to deal with this question!
Head lice can be removed safely and successfully. Just stay calm, follow through, make sure all lice and viable nits are gone.