Bugs That Look Like Lice, But Are Not

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Published: November 26, 2022
© Pavel Krasensky/Shutterstock.com
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If you’ve noticed a bug on your clothes, in your hair, in your kid’s hair, or on your pet, there’s no need to panic, as it might not be a louse. Many insects have a lice-like appearance and are often found on or accidentally land on human bodies. Before going to the doctor or taking any treatment, make sure you’re not dealing with a different type of insect. But first, let’s see what lice are and where they’re found on their hosts’ bodies.

What Are Lice?

Lice are primarily divided into two groups: chewing lice and sucking lice.


Lice form the Phthiraptera clade. While people generally fear lice because they live on a human’s body, only three types can harm humans; others live on other warm-blooded hosts.

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These insects are obligate parasites. This means they require a host to complete their lifecycle. Lice can live on almost any bird and mammal species. However, they don’t choose monotremes, bats, or pangolins as hosts.

Lice are primarily divided into two groups: chewing lice and sucking lice. Chewing lice are typically larger than sucking lice and live among hairs or feathers, feeding on debris and skin. Sucking lice feed on sebaceous secretions and body fluids.

Humans are hosts only to three types of sucking lice: body lice, head lice, and pubic lice. Head lice live on the human scalp and feed on human blood. They are 0.09 – 0.1 inches long, wingless, and dorsoventrally flat. Head lice are gray, but some can feature other colors. After feeding, they may look reddish.

Body lice live on human clothing and visit their hosts only if they need to feed. They have tan-reddish, transparent-looking bodies and measure around 0.09 – 0.13 inches long. These lice live about 30 days as adults if they have a host and die within a week without one.

Pubic lice are found in pubic hair and sometimes in children’s eyelashes. Pubic lice are smaller than head and body lice, measuring up to 0.09 inches long. Unlike the other two, they have round bodies, and the second and third pairs of legs are much thicker. Moreover, pubic lice have large claws.

Head and pubic lice are considered medically safe because they do not carry diseases. However, they produce severe discomfort and itching. Scratching may lead to secondary infections. On the other hand, body lice are disease vectors and can spread trench fever, relapsing fever, and epidemic typhus, among other diseases.

Naturally, lice are unwelcome on people’s bodies. If you’ve found a bug in your hair or clothes that looks like a louse, you don’t have to worry yet, as many insects have a louse-like appearance. Let’s discuss some of them!

7 Bugs That Look Like Lice

We’ve found seven bugs that have lice-like bodies and sizes. Some things can help you distinguish them from each other. Keep reading to learn about each of them!

1. Bed Bugs

Types of bed bugs - Cimex hemipterus
Adult bed bugs have flattened, oval bodies and no hind wings.

©7th Son Studio/Shutterstock.com

Bed bugs aren’t necessarily a better option than lice, as they’re pretty difficult to get rid of, but establishing what kind of insect bit you is important for taking further steps.

Adult bed bugs have flattened, oval bodies and no hind wings. They have reddish-brown bodies and measure around 0.05 – 0.01 inches wide and 0.16 – 0.20 inches long. Like lice, they feed on blood. Because their saliva contains anticoagulants and painkillers, people often do not even feel it when they’re bitten.

2. Fleas

Super macro close up of brown, amber colored flea, Siphonaptera on human skin. It survives as external bloodsucking parasite of mammals and birds.
Fleas feed on their hosts’ blood and have legs and claws adapted to grasp the host and pierce its skin.

©Sahara Frost/Shutterstock.com

Like lice, fleas don’t have wings. They’re usually dark-colored and measure 0.06 – 0.13 inches long. They feed on their host’s blood and have legs and claws adapted to grasp the host and pierce its skin. They have laterally compressed bodies, meaning they can easily move through hair and feathers. Flea eggs are tiny, oval, and white. The larvae have pale, worm-like bodies covered by bristles.

3. Dust Mites

Dust Mites vs Bed Bugs-dust mites
Dust mites eat skin flakes from animals or humans.


Dust mites are known for causing allergies. They are tiny creatures, measuring 0.007 – 0.01 inches long. Dust mites have translucent bodies featuring a striated cuticle. They leave microscopic fecal pellets behind them.

Dust mites eat skin flakes coming from animals or humans. Sometimes they feed on mold, which is why they’re more common in humid regions. Unlike other bugs, dust mites are unnoticeable and don’t cause any discomfort besides allergies. In fact, 84% of the houses in the United States registered the presence of dust mite allergens in their beds.

4. Thrips

Thrips feed on plants and fungi.

©iStock.com/Tomasz Klejdysz

Thrips are slender insects measuring around 0.039 inches, although some can reach 0.55 inches. Their bodies are elongated and have a cigar-shaped body plan. Flying thrips have two strap-like pairs of wings folded back over their bodies when they aren’t flying. Thrips feed on plants and fungi and, occasionally, on pollen. Some thrip species eat crops and are considered pests.

5. Springtails

Springtails are pests of some crops, including tubers.

©Ihor Hvozdetskyi/Shutterstock.com

Springtails are hexapods measuring up to 0.24 inches long, although they may appear much smaller because they can reduce their body size by up to 30% when the temperatures are high. They have up to six abdominal segments. Some springtails have elongated bodies, while others have rounded bodies.

Springtails are pests of some crops, including tubers. On the other hand, they are also beneficial to agriculture. Because they feed on fungi that damage plants, they can control plant fungal diseases.

These small bugs live in leaf litter and other decaying materials. 

6. Booklice

Booklice or Barklice
Booklice are also called barkflies or barklice.


Booklice are also called barkflies or barklice. They are called this way because they eat the paste used in binding. If you have lots of books at home, especially old books, you definitely have booklice. Barklice are also found on trees, where they eat algae and lichen.

Most booklice measure 0.03 – 0.07 inches long. The wingless species can be easily mistaken for bed bugs or lice.

While this field hasn’t been fully studied yet, research shows that booklice can also cause allergies.

7. Gnats

gnats vs fruit flies
Gnats are flying insects with long, slender bodies and narrow wings.

©Henrik Larsson/Shutterstock.com

Gnats are flying insects with long, slender bodies and narrow wings. They measure around 0.01 – 0.07 inches long when they first emerge. While you can easily distinguish a gnat from a louse when it’s flying, it gets more difficult if it’s on your clothes.

Gnats can sometimes bite, causing redness and pain.

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Types of Bed Bugs
Bed bugs have reddish-brown bodies.
© Pavel Krasensky/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I hold seven years of professional experience in the content world, focusing on nature, and wildlife. Asides from writing, I enjoy surfing the internet and listening to music.

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  2. Fresh Heads, Available here: https://freshheadsliceremoval.com/bugs-that-can-be-mistaken-for-lice/