What do lice look like?

What lice look like depends on the species. There are 3 species of lice that can live on humans:

  • Head lice
  • Aphid
  • Body lice

In this article you will find both descriptions and pictures of the different lice species. Remember that all three species have the following common features:

  • They are small and have flat bodies
  • They have 6 legs
  • They are wingless and can neither jump nor fly

Also note that all lice go through several nymph stages before becoming adults. In these stages, they look very similar to adult lice, but are significantly smaller.


Head lice

Adult head lice are 2.5 - 3 mm long and (like crabs and body lice) have wingless and very flat bodies.

Head lice can be many different colors, but they are usually white, brown or dark grey - or a color in between such as white-brown, brown-grey, light grey, etc. Their color depends on the environment they were raised in. When they have ingested blood, their color can also become more reddish.

Head lice have claws on all their legs, which they use to crawl and hold on with. They can crawl up and down hairs quickly, which is an advantage when moving from one host to another. In other environments, they are not very mobile. On flat surfaces, for example, they can barely move.

Read more about head lice here.


Head lice are whitish, brownish or grayish in color - but after blood consumption they can turn reddish

What a head louse looks like



An adult crab is 1.3 - 2 mm long (slightly smaller than head lice and body lice) and can be distinguished from the other two lice species by its almost round body.

Compared to the other two lice species, crabs also have spinier front legs, thicker hind legs (two pairs) and thinner and longer claws.

Another characteristic is that the rear two pairs of legs are much thicker than the front pair. There are also large claws on the front pair of legs, which is not the case on the two rear pairs.

Read more about crabs here.

What crabs look like

Crabs have claws on the two rear pairs of legs


Body lice

Body lice are almost impossible to distinguish from head lice as their anatomy is almost identical. In practice, it is only possible to distinguish between the two with a microscope.

However, body lice are slightly larger than both head lice and crabs. Adult lice measure 2.5 - 3.5 in length and are typically brownish or grayish-white.

Like many other lice, body lice can become more reddish in color immediately after sucking blood. Once digestion begins, they return to their brownish or grayish color.

Read more about body lice here.

Body lice look very similar to head lice

What body lice look like