Tuesday, December 18, 2018

An Entomologist's Perspective on Lice

We've all probably dealt with it at least one time or another.  I certainly have with my children.  Yes, it's a little bit of nightmare, but no, it isn't the end of the world.  The dreaded letter comes home from school or a the gossipy mother shares the news... there's lice in the classroom!!!!

I hear all sorts of remedies and false information being spread around about lice.  What amazes me, is that rarely does anyone imagine an entomologist might have some perspective on how to get rid of them.  The internet and mom blogs are always the go-to for most parents dealing with lice on their children.  But I have news!  They aren't always (and are usually rarely) right.

Here are some tips from me to you on how to handle a lice situation....

Looking for Lice:
Photo by B. Brewer
Lice are insects, they have a lifecycle, they lay eggs and they use human hair as their host.  They are spread by close head to head contact, sharing brushes or other hair accessories, or sleeping together on the same pillows.  Children often get lice more than adults because they touch each other more often, have sleepovers, and generally share more items than adults do.  Girls often get lice more than boys - they have longer hair, hug each other, play with each other's hair etc.

When a louse is transferred from one person to another, it takes about 21 days for that one "mother louse" to lay eggs and those eggs to hatch and grow and get to a point where the lice are noticeable.  Really vigilant lice pickers, may catch it sooner, but in general, 21 days after you get that letter from the school, you should really start to look closely.  At that time you should see adult lice and eggs (nits) on the hair.  Don't look for a few days, see nothing, and assume you are safe.  That's when you have a really bad infestation on your hands about a month later.

Photo by Bart Drees
Nits will appear different from dry flakes and sand in the hair because, if a louse is inside, they are darker when pulled off the hair, not totally white.  You can see an unhatched and hatched nits in the picture above. 

Lice combs are a great way to look for lice and nits.  The nits are glued to the hair and no amount of shampooing or brushing will remove them.  There is also not scientific research that says lice prefer clean hair over dirty hair.  I think this was an urban legend started by parents and teachers to make kids who get lice feel better.  Lice could care less how much product you use or how many times you shampoo your hair.

I like to have a cup of alcohol next to me when I'm using a nit comb, so I can clean the brush off and the nits will dry out and die in the alcohol.  It will also kill the adults and nymphs that you get from the comb.

Treating for Lice:

When you detect lice, call your pediatrician or primary doctor.  Don't go to the store and buy products over the counter.  Lice are now known to be resistant to permethrin, which is what most over the counter products are.  You are wasting your time and money and exposing your family to pesticides unnecessarily.  Call and get a prescription instead.  It is more expensive, but at least you get results and I'd rather spend money on something that works than throw money away.

Be sure you ask a doctor, like a pediatrician, who sees this regularly.  They are more likely to be up to date on what products work best.  Don't call you neighbor anesthesiologist, friend cardiologist, cousin urologist and ask them what to do.  That isn't their specialty!

What to do about the house:
I've heard of people spending a lot of money to call a company to come out and do a major cleaning to kill all the lice in the house. If you don't mind spending money, do it.  If you don't want to spend that kind of money, there is absolutely no reason you need to.  Just take the sheets, bed spreads, pillows and stuffed animals you sleep with and put it in the dryer on high heat for at least 30 minutes.  Heat treatment will kill the eggs, nymphs and adults.  Do the same with hoodies, jackets, or other clothes that have been previously worn.  Washing is fine as well, but if you don't want to wash everything, just stick it in the dryer.

Do NOT use a fogger.  Lice aren't in the air, they are on the human.  Foggers are a waste of time, money, and unnecessary exposure to pesticides.

Preventing Lice:
The only real way to prevent lice is avoid people with lice.  Easier said that done!  Tea tree oil doesn't repel lice or make it so they don't want to be on your hair.  It may be great for the health of your hair, but don't fool yourself that it will keep lice away.  So far, no studies have shown it to be very effective.

Bottom line - don't use over the counter products, really check the child 21 days after the first notice of lice gets to you, stick bedding in the dryer, and call your pediatrician for a prescription if you spot lice or nits (you can't have nits without a momma louse!).

All this should really only take a day to complete.  No need to sell the house and kids!  Lice are manageable and actually pretty easy to manage.  They just invoke panic in a normally calm person for some reason.

Monday, December 3, 2018

5 Gifts for the Entomologist in Your Life

Sharing again this Christmas Season...

Are you wondering what to buy the entomologist on your list ....  here are a few ideas that are sure to make your little (or big) entomologist a happy one this holiday season!

1 - Insect Collecting Kit.  Bioquip (bioquip.com) sells a couple of these, ranging from around $42 to $120.  These collection kits have everything you need to collect and mount insects for amateurs to professionals.  Both basically contain the same materials, one is just a better quality and "really fancy".  They have the basics you need: pins, insect net, forceps, a spreading board, and a collection box.

2 -Display Case for Collections.  Every entomologist loves to show off their collections and there are a number of options out there, in various sizes.  Glass covered display cases can be mounted to the wall or placed on tables as art work - everyone loves to look at an insect collection!  Craft stores sell shadow boxes with a fabric backing that insect pins fit into.  You can find these are Hobby Lobby or Michaels.  While these are great to hang on walls because they already have the hardware and are an inexpensive option, they are not air tight, so you'll need to remember to use moth balls or ??? to prevent dermestid beetles from ruining your collection.  Bioquip, hobby stores and scientific stores may carry more airtight boxes.

Shadow box with burlap backing.

3 - A Professional Insect Net.  Dinky nets can be found at the dollar store, but a real entomologist needs a good net!  Hobby and science shops and Bioquip sell a range of nets.  You can find various diameters for the nets and various lengths of the stick.My personal favorite is the dual net - they are strong enough to take a beating in some brush, but light enough to catch butterflies out of the air.

Bioquip.com. Heavy Duty Aerial Net.

4 - A Good Identification Field Guide.  There are soooo many out there!  My suggestion is to try to find one that is local to your region or state.  At the very least, chose a field guide for insects found in North America.

A Field Guide to Texas Insects by Drees an d Jackman

5 - A LIVE TARANTULA!  Every entomologist has some live arthropod they keep as a pet.  You can find suppliers everywhere, even pet stores.  I enjoy shopping from breeders.  They generally know more about the specimen they are selling you and can help you choose the right species for you tastes: something you can handle easily versus something flashy and pretty.  You can find breeders at reptile and exotic shows or online.  My suggestion is to ask to hold the tarantula first - that way you know if you are comfortable with it before you take it home.  You'll also know if its too fast or skitzy for you.
If you are local to San Antonio a good breeder with a variety of tarantula species is Nature's Exquisite Creatures.  Look them up on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/NaturesExquisiteCreatures/