Bed Bugs or Lice?

If you find a bug on yourself, odds are good that identifying it is not your primary concern. However, it behooves you to know whether it's bed bugs or lice, as proper identification is key to determining if you have a pest problem, and how to best resolve it. It may seem unimportant to know whether you have lice or bed bugs, but treatment and control methods differ.

Bed bugs vs. lice – what do they look like?

Bed bugs, Cimex lectularius, are small, reddish-brown insects with flat, oval-shaped bodies and six legs. Adults are one-fourth of an inch long, but eggs and nymphs are only one-sixteenth of an inch in length. To put that in perspective, a bed bug nymph is roughly the size of the "R" in the word "LIBERTY" on a United States penny.

Lice, Pediculus humanus spp., are tiny, six-legged insects that range from white to shades of brown or darker-grays. Most have oval-shaped bodies. Adults are up to one-eighth of an inch in length, but nymphs and eggs are the same size as the immature bed bugs – one-sixteenth of an inch long.

Bed bugs or lice – why should I care?

Bed bugs are not known to carry diseases, however, they are considered a parasite by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and nobody wants signs of bed bugs in their home as it means taking steps to remove the infestation and possibly loss of property depending on the scope of the problem.

Lice are a different story. There are three main types of lice common in the United States: the head louse, the body louse and the crab or pubic louse. Of the three types, body lice are the only type to carry diseases. They have been known to spread louse-borne relapsing fever, trench fever and louse-borne or epidemic typhus.

Lice or bed bugs – can they fly?

Neither bed bugs nor lice can fly. If the insect is flying, it may be a cockroach nymph or a carpet beetle, both of which look similar to the bed bug and the louse.

Related: Bed Bug Facts and Myths

Bed bugs vs. lice – where can you find them?

Bed bugs, as the name suggests, are commonly found in beds, bedding, near beds and in the cracks and crevices of walls, furniture and items such as curtains or couch cushions. They may also be found in luggage or clothing if someone has recently traveled from an infested location.

Lice, on the other hand, travel almost exclusively on the host. Head lice attach their eggs to the hairs at the base of the scalp, usually at the nape of the neck or behind the ears. Body lice are found in clothing, attaching to the host only when they need a blood meal. Pubic lice are found where coarser hair is present on the body.

With small infestations of body lice or bed bugs, a thorough cleaning and sanitizing of all items and persons in a home may be enough to stop the spread. But why take chances when you don't have to? Whether it's lice or bed bugs – call in the experts to identify your problem. Terminix® has more than 85 years of experience handling pest-related threats, so call today for your free bed bug inspection.