Lice are very small and flat-bodied parasitic insects that do not have wings. Their size ranges from 1 to 8 mm, depending on their species, and they live a full life cycle on the body of birds, humans, and other mammals. Bird lice can cause nuisance, itching, general weakness, stress, decrease in egg production, damage to feathers, and stunted growth in young birds.
Types of lice
Lice are divided into two groups:
Bird lice or biting lice (Mallophaga order)
This order contains different types of lice that primarily target birds, and hence the name bird lice. However, around 15% of lice in this order target mammals, excluding humans. Biting lice do not feed on the blood of birds but rather on dry scaly skin and feather debris. However, they can feed on blood when skin or feathers are ruptured. On mammals, they feed on hair and skin.
Almost all types of biting lice target a specific species of birds and mammals. In other words, a particular species of louse prefers to parasitize on specific species of bird or mammal. But more than one type can target the same victim. For example, there are at least seven species of lice that prefer to live on chickens. Some of these types are:
The body louse (Menacanthus stramineus)
It usually lives on the chest, thighs, and around the feathers surrounding the vent; it lays a cluster of eggs at the base of feathers.
The shaft louse (Menopon gallinae)
It lives on feathers and lays eggs in the feather shaft. Similar to the body louse, the shaft louse, needs 4 to 7 days to hatch, 10 to 15 days to mature, and lays 50 to 300 when it reaches 3 weeks old.
Bird lice can be detected by exposing a flashlight between the feathers. The examiner should be able to spot them at the base of feathers. Using anti-parasite powder or spray on the feathers can kill the bird lice. The treatment must be repeated because lice eggs can hatch a remerge again.
Consult your veterinarian about the best anti-parasite available, and frequency of usage, the appropriate duration of treatment. Be careful not to get the treatment on the eyes or ear of the bird.
Certain types of biting lice live on cats, dogs, and other mammals as mentioned. In addition to using the powder as a treatment, you can use a shampoo designed for these animals, consult your veterinarian.
Note: don’t confuse bird lice with red mites, the former lives and reproduce on the animal body, and the latter doesn’t.
Sucking lice (order Anoplura)
This order contains approximately 500 species of lice and differs from bird lice in that they feed on the blood of their victim sucking blood. There are only three types in this order that target humans and they are:
It lives and spreads on the head and lays its eggs at the base of the hair. This louse neither transmits diseases nor does it transmit from pets to humans. However, transmission from human to human occurs by close or direct contact.
The body louse
It lives and breeds on clothes and it crawls to the human body only to feed on it. This louse transmits diseases to humans and it spreads among the homeless or those who live in crowded and unhygienic areas. Animals do not transmit the body louse to humans. Maintaining hygiene, washing clothes periodically, and always getting clean clothes are the most important methods of prevention.
The pubic louse
It lives on pubic hair, but it can be found in other places on the body that are covered with hair, such as eyelashes, beard, chest hair, and other areas. Pets do not transmit this type of lice and sexual contact is the primary source of transmission. Anti-lice treatment is available at pharmacies without a prescription.
The rest of the lice species in this order is host-specific so a certain type of louse targets a specific mammal species. For example, dog lice do not spread to humans, and cat lice do not spread to livestock, and so on. There are species that only target horses, others that target dogs, etc.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lice. September 24, 2013. Retrieved September 20, 2017 from https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/lice/index.html
- University of California, Division of Agricultural and Natural Resources. Common Lice and Mites of Poultry: Identification and Treatment. 2005. Publication 8162. Retrieved September 20, 2017 from: http://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/pdf/8162.pdf
- Abivardi, Cyrus. Iranian Entomology – An Introduction Volume 1: Faunal Studies. Volume 2: Applied Entomology. (Springer: 2001). Page 614
- Anne M. Zajac (Editor), Gary A. Conboy (Editor). Veterinary Clinical Parasitology, 8th Edition. (Willey Blackwell: 2012), page 266
- Editors: Eldridge, B.F., Edman, John (Eds.). Medical Entomology: A Textbook on Public Health and Veterinary Problems Caused by Arthropods. (Springer: 2000). Page 60