'Sabi ng nanay ko, liliparin ako ng kuto': Can head lice really fly?

"Bahala ka, liliparin ka ng kuto niyan!"

This is the line that I commonly hear from my mother when I was a child. Whenever I disagree to remove the "lisa" or "kuto" that has infested my scalp and hair, she would usually scare me by telling me that once I fell asleep the lice would fly me and would take me to their kingdom so I could never go back to our home.

Being a child, I once believed my mother. For a while, I thought that it was only me who got threatened by her spooky claim. But, I have learned that other children are also being told that lice can take you up in the sky. In some provinces, people would even say that these tiny insects can fly you in the middle of the sea or in the forest.

Maybe, the lice, having the ability to lift a child by how many feet from the ground, has been a common story to scare and encourage kids to treat the infestation. But I still wonder, can lice really fly?

What is actually lice?

"Kuto" or head lice (louse in singular form) have a scientific name of Pediculus humanus capitis. They are parasitic insects that are fed by human blood several times a day. Usually, they can be found on the head, eyelashes, and even the eyebrows of their host which are the people. This kind of insect is different from those that infest the pubic area and those that can be found among animals.

Lice cannot survive for a long time without their host that is why they are called parasites. They reside closely in the scalp so they can maintain their temperature. And for them not to be washed away when we take a bath, they cling to the hair strands.

Lice have 3 developmental stages.

Egg or Nit. The  egg or nit is commonly known to us as the "lisa '' that we usually mistake as dandruff, scabs, or hair spray droplets. These are being laid by an adult female louse at the base of the hair shaft nearest the scalp. They take about 8-9 days to hatch.

Nymph. The egg or nit produces a nymph once hatched. A nymph is an immature louse. In Tagalog, they refer to it as "kuyumad.” They look like an adult louse except for the fact that they are smaller and usually lighter in color.

Adult louse.  After 9-12 days, the nymph will become an adult louse. It is fully grown, developed and has reached about the size of a sesame seed with six legs. By then, female louse can lay about six eggs each day.

Can lice fly at any stage of their life?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nit, and lymph cannot fly even if they mature into an adult louse. They just move by crawling and also have no ability to hop. They are transmitted  by having close head-to-head contact with the infested person or by sharing combs, hats, bed, pillow, and many other things where louse can easily crawl on.

The bottomline? The story that I and other children used to be scared of is just a myth. Since  experts say that lice cannot fly, therefore, even if your hair or scalp is infected by hundreds of lice, they could never fly you away from your home. 

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