LICE form a small group of insects known as the Anoplura,
to the entomologist because they are now entirely wingless, though it
believed that their ancestry were winged. They are all parasites on
In quite recent books the Anoplura are described as 'lice or disgusting
insects, about which little is known'; but lately, owing to researches
on at Cambridge, we have found out something about their habits. As
play a large part in the minor discomforts of an army, it is worth
considering for a moment what we know a bout them.
Recently, the group has been split up into a large number of
but of these only two have any relation to the human body. I do not
in the present chapter, to consider one of these two genera--Phthirius
frequents the hairs about the pubic region of man and is conveyed from
human being to another by personal contact.
We will confine our attention to the second genus, B
which contains two species parasitic to man, Pediculus capitis,
the hair-louse and Pediculus vestimentis,
Both of these are extremely difficult to rear in captivity, though
their natural state they abound and multiply to an amazing degree.
human beings are gathered together in large numbers, with infrequent
of changing their clothes, P. vestmentis is
to spread. It does not arise, as the uninformed think from dirt, though
it flourishes best in dirty surroundings. No specimen of P.
exists which is not the direct product of an egg laid by a mother-louse
and fertilised by a father-louse. In considerable collections of men
from the poorer classes, some unhappy being or other-often through no
of his own wil1 turn up in the community with lice on him, and these
spread to others in a manner that will be indicated later in this
Like almost all animals lower than the mammals, the male of the
is smaller and feebler than the female. The former attains a length of
3 mm., and is about 1 mm. broad. The female is about 3.3 mm. long and
1.4 mm. broad. It is rather bigger than the hair-louse, and its
are slightly longer. It so far flatters its host as to imitate the
of the skin upon which it lives; and Andrew Murray gives a series of
between the black louse of the West African and Australian native, the
and smoky louse of the Hindu, the orange of the Africander and of the
the yellowish-brown of the Japanese and Chinese, the dark-brown of the
and South American Indians, and the paler-brown of the Esquimo, which
the light dirty-grey colour of the European parasites.
The latter were the forms dealt with in the recent observations
by Mr. C. Warburton in the Quick Laboratory at Cambridge, at the
of the Local Government Board, the authorities of which were anxious to
find out whether the flock used in making cheap bedding was
in distributing vermin. Mr. Warburton at once appreciated the fact that
he must know the life-history of the insect before he could
attack the problem put before him. At an early stage of his
he found that P. vestimenti survives longer under
conditions than P. capitis, the head-louse.
The habitat of the body-louse is that side of the under-clothing
is in contact with the body. The louse, which sucks the blood of its
at least twice a day, is when feeding always anchored to the inside of
underclothing of its host by the claws of one or more of its six legs.
lice are rarely found on the skin in western Europeans; but doctors who
have recently returned from Serbia report dark-brown patches, as big as
half-crowns, on the skins of the wounded natives, which on touching
to move - a clotted scab of lice! But the under-side of a stripped
is often alive with them.
After a great many experiments, Mr. Warburton succeeded in rearing
delicate insects, but only under certain circumscribed conditions: one
which was their anchorage in some sort of flannel or cloth, and the
was proximity to the human skin. He anchored his specimens on small
of cloth which he interned in small test-tubes plugged with
which did not let the lice out, but did let air and the emanations of
human body in. For fear of breakage the glass tube was enclosed in an
metal tube, and the whole was kept both night and day near the body.
meals a day were necessary to keep the lice alive. When feeding, the
of cloth, which the lice would never let go of, were placed on the back
of the hand, hence the danger of escape was practically nil, and once
access to the skin the lice fed immediately and greedily.
His success in keeping lice alive was but the final result of many
the majority of which had failed. Lice are very difficult to rear. When
you want them to live they die; and when you want them to die they
and multiply exceedingly. A single female but recently matured was
in a test-tube, and a male admitted to her on the second day.
The two paired on the sixth day and afterwards at frequent
Very soon after pairing an egg was laid, and during the remaining
days of her life the female laid an average of five eggs every
hours. The male died on the seventeenth day, and a second male was then
introduced, who again paired with the female. The latter, however, died
on the thirtieth day, but the second male survived.
The difficulty of keeping the male and female alive was simple
with the difficulty of rearing the eggs. Very few hatched out. The
of cloth upon which they were laid had been carefully removed and
in separate tubes, at the same time being subjected to different
It was not, however, until the eggs were left alone undisturbed in the
where they had been laid and placed under the same conditions that the
lived in that eight, and only eight, of the twenty-four eggs laid on
cloth hatched out after an incubation period of eight days. The
sixteen eggs were apparently dead. But the tube in which they were was
subjected to normal temperature of the room at night (on occasions this
fell below freezing-point), and after an incubation period of upwards
a month six more hatched out. Hence it is obvious that, as in the case
many other insects, temperature plays a large part in the rate of
and it becomes clear that the eggs or nits of P. vestimenti are capable
of hatching out up to a period of at least from thirty-five to forty
after they are laid.
Difficult as it was to keep the adults alive, and more difficult
was to hatch out the eggs, it was most difficult to rear the larvae.
small size made them difficult to observe, and, like most young
they are intolerant of control, apt to wander and explore, and less
to clinging to the cloth than their more sedentary parents. Naturally,
want to scatter, spread themselves, and pair.
Like young chickens, the larvae feed immediately on emerging from
egg. They apparently moult three times, at intervals of about four
and on the eleventh day attain their mature form, though they do not
until four or five days later.
Mr. Warburton summarises the life-cycle of the insects, as
by his experiments, as follows:--
Incubation period: eight days to five weeks.
From larva to imago eleven days.
Non-functional mature condition: four days.
Adult life: male, three weeks; female, four weeks.
But we must not forget that these figures are based upon
and that under the normal conditions the rate may be accelerated. From
Warburton's experience it is perfectly obvious that, unless regularly
body-lice very quickly die. Of all the verminous clothing sent to the
Laboratory, very little contained live vermin. The newly hatched larvae
perish in a day and a half unless they can obtain food.
With regard to the head-louse:--
it is smaller than the body-louse, and is of a cindery grey
female measures 1. 8 mm. in length and 0. 7 in breadth. Like the
it varies its colour somewhat with the colour of the hair on the
branches of the human race. It lives amongst the hair of the head of
who neglect their heads; it is also, but more rarely, found amongst the
eyelashes and in the beard. The egg, which has a certain beauty of
is cemented to the hair, and at the end of six days the larvae emerge,
after a certain number of moults, become mature on the eighteenth day.
The methods adopted by many natives of plastering their hair with
clay, or of anointing it with ointments, probably guards against the
of these parasites. The Spartan youths, who used to oil their long
before going into battle, may have feared this parasite. Some German
before going to war, shave their heads: thus they afford no nidus for
P. capitis. The wigs worn in the late seventeenth
at the beginning of the eighteenth centuries undoubtedly owed something
to the difficulty of keeping this particular kind of vermin down. The
powdering of the hair may have been due to the same cause.
This book, however, attempts to deal more with the troubles of the
and P. capitis is in war time less important than P.
The former certainly causes a certain skin trouble, but the latter not
affords constant irritation, but, like most biting insects, from time
time conveys most serious diseases. P. vestimenti is
to be the carrier of typhus. This was, I believe, first demonstrated in
Algeria, but was amply confirmed last year in Ireland, when a serious
of this fever took place, though little was heard of it in England.
P. capitis also conveys typhus, but undoubtedly both convey
forms of relapsing or recurrent fever. The irritation due to the
weakens the host and prevents sleep, besides which there is a certain
disgust which causes many officers to fear lice more than they fear
Lice are the constant accompaniment of all armies; and in the South
War as soon as a regiment halted they stripped to the skin, turned
clothes inside out, and picked the Anoplura off. As a private said to
' We strips and we picks 'em off and places 'em in the sun, and it kind
o' breaks the little beggars' 'earts ! '
In conjunction with the Quick Professor of Biology at Cambridge, I
drawn up the following rules. None of them will be possible at all
but some of them may be possible at some time in the campaign. At any
by acting on these rules, a relative of mine who took part in the South
African War was able to escape the presence of lice on his body, and
General commanding his brigade told me on his return that he was the
officer- and in fact the only man in the brigade who had so escaped.
In times of war*, when men are aggregated in large numbers and
cleanliness- but especially an adequate change of clothing - cannot be
infestation with lice commonly takes place. The prevalence of lice in
in the South African War was a source of serious trouble in that their
caused much irritation to the skin and disturbed men's sleep.
Lice occur chiefly on the body (Pediculus vestimenti)
and head (P. capitis). They are small greyish-white
The female lays about sixty eggs during two weeks; the eggs hatch after
nine to ten days. The lice are small at first; they undergo several
and grow in size, sucking blood every few hours, and attain sexual
in about two weeks. The eggs will not develop unless maintained at a
of 220 degrees C. or over such as prevails in clothing worn on the
body or in the hair of the head. This is why, when clothing is worn
men are more prone to become infested with lice derived from habitually
unclean persons, their clothing, bedding, &c. P. capitis
lives between the hair in the head, and the eggs, called ' nits,' are
to the hairs. P. vestimenti lives in the clothing, to
it usually remains attached when feeding on man; it lays its eggs in
clothing, and usually retreats into the seams and permanent folds
This is of importance in considering the means of destroying lice.
To avoid these pests the following rules should be observed:--
1. Search your person as often as possible for signs of the
of lice - that is, their bites. As soon as these are found, lose no
time in taking the
measures noted under paragraph 5.
2. Try not to sleep where others, especially the unclean,
slept before. Consider this in choosing a camping-ground.
3. Change your clothing as often as practicable. After
have been discarded for a week the lice are usually dead of starvation.
Change clothes at night if possible, and place your clothing away from
of others. Jolting of carts in transport aids in spreading the lice,
also become disseminated by crawling about from one kit to another.
clothing and blankets, until dealt with, should be kept apart as far as
4. Verminous clothes for which there is no further use
be burnt, buried, or sunk in water.
5. If lice are found on the person, they may be readily
by the application of either petrol, paraffin oil, turpentine, xylol or
benzine. Apply these to the head in the case of P. capitis.
Remember that these fluids are all highly inflammable. When
soap and wash the head twenty-four hours after the last application of
&c. The application may be repeated on two or more days if the
is heavy. Fine combs are useful in detecting and removing vermin from
head. Tobacco extract has been advocated failing other available
In the case of P. vestimenti, the lice can be killed as
Under-clothes may be scalded-- say, once in ten days. Turn
waistcoats, trousers, &c., inside out; examine beneath the folds at
the seams and expose these places to as much heat as can be borne
a fire, against a boiler, or allow a jet of steam from a kettle or
to travel along the seams. The clothing will soon dry. If available, a
flat-iron, or any piece of heated metal, may be used to kill vermin in
Petrol or paraffin will also kill nits and lice in clothing. If no
means are available, turn the clothing inside out, beat it vigorously,
and kill the vermin by hand---this will, at any rate, mitigate the evil.
6. As far as possible avoid scratching the irritated part.
7. Privates would benefit by instruction in these matters
8. Apart from the physical discomfort and loss of sleep
by the attacks of lice, it should be noted that they have been shown to
be the carriers of typhus and relapsing fever from infected to healthy
Typhus, especially, has played havoc in the past, and has been a dread
Dr. R. F. Drummond has drawn my attention to a common folklore
emplanted in the minds of our poorer people. Incredible as it seems,
uneducated and ignorant folk believe that lice on the person is a sign
productivity, and that should they be removed their hosts will become
or sterile. They transfer, by a process of sympathetic magic, the
of the lice to the lousy. As Dr. Drummond writes, these ignorant
and aunts believe that the nits and the lice arise spontaneously, and
'an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible fertility.'
who try to cleanse the heads and the bodies of our primary
are 'up against' the superstitions of the little ones' guardians, and
guardians unfortunately often prove the stronger. Similar views are
widely by the various peoples of India and the East-people we call
and, apart from the connexion thought to be established between
and lice, the presence of the latter is considered both at home and
to be a sign of robust health.
The rather obscure connexion of the louse and the pike (Esox
is probably due to the fact that the Latin name for the pike is
The poor pun in 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' on the Lucy family is due
a similar resemblance in sound.
The Editor of the Morning Post has given me leave to quote the
paragraphs from an article by his able Correspondent at Petrograd.
"All armies, after a few weeks' campaigning, what ever
hardships may come their way, are sure of one- namely, certain
Even officers under most favourable conditions are unable to keep clear
of this scourge. Silk under-clothing is some palliative, but no real
Various measures have been proposed to relieve the intense annoyance
by millions of parasites of at least two species. Flowers of sulphur,
in bags round the neck, were supposed to be a preventative, but proved
What seems likely to prove perfect prophylactery is recommended by M
who writes from Bokhara, where he has noted the habits of the Sarts and
their preventative measures.
"The Sarts never wash, and hardly ever in lifetime change
their clothes; therefore their condition would be impossible without
preventative measures. They take a small quantity of mercury, which
bray into an amalgam with a plant used in the East for dyeing the hair
nails - probably henna. This paste is evenly laid on strands of flax or
other fibres. One string thus prepared is worn round the neck and the
round the waist next the skin the heat of the body producing
which kill parasites. The string lasts quite a long time
"M. Agronom has made experiments with the ordinary
ointment prepared with any kind of fat, and finds the effect precisely
Preparations of mercury are also used in India: not only against
lice, but against the Mallophaga or biting-lice which infest the Indian
birds used in falconry. It is difficult for a zoologist to believe the
paragraph of the Morning Post correspondent. The temperature of boiling
water coagulates animal protoplasm as it does that of the white-of-egg;
and what would the lice do then, poor things ?
Early in the year, Mr. C. P. Lounsbury, the well-known Government
in South Africa, wrote that they were supplying the troops there with
which were supposed to keep the lice away. The sulphur is put in small
of thin calico, and several of these are secured on the under-clothing,
next to the skin.
The bags are about two inches square, and I am told that it is
to have one worn on the trunk of the body and one against each of the
limbs. Whether this is effective will probably be known soon; but that
of sulphur do play an effective part in keeping down these troubles is
by a letter of Dr. Harding H. Tomkins:--
"Over thirty years ago, when house-surgeon at the
Infirmary, Liverpool, I used this with absolute success in all cases of
plaster-of-Paris jackets who formerly had been much distressed by
getting under the jacket. The sulphur was rubbed well into the
But still more interesting evidence is given by Dr. N. Bishop
"When I was serving in the South African War, and attached
to No. 2 General Hospital at Pretoria, I was detailed to take medical
of the camp of released prisoners that was established a few miles out
the town on the Delagoa Bay railway line. I moved into the camp the
they came in. Next day an inspection was held. I do not think I ever
such a sorry sight. The men were in the most nondescript garments, and
were flabby from the effects of the food the Boers had given them,
pap for the most part. They had had no washin facilities, and they were
dirty in the extreme. Amongst them were a number of men of the D.C.O.
many of them Cambridge men, and when these came to me for special
unwarily I invited them into my tent to strip, and their clothes were
on the only available support my bed. The next day or two was spent in
up the men and refitting them. By the end of the week I noticed in the
an unpleasant itch about the lower part of the trunk: a sub-acute sort
itch, it did not seem like a flea, and I could find nothing. But after
most diligent search with all the candles I could borrow, I found, to
horror, a louse. It was a genuine body-louse. Then I remembered my
in inviting strangers into my tent. Water was scarce, the morning tub
only the splash from a can. Laundry was impossible. But after some
I managed to get a can of hot water and get some sort of a hot wash. My
man did the best he could with my shirt and pants. What to do with the
- dark brown blankets- I did not know, except to expose them to the hot
sunshine. I rode into the town, but insect-powder could not be got. It
into my mind that I had read or heard that people who took
smelled of H2S, so on the chance that an outside application might be
some service I got a supply of flowers of sulphur. This I liberally
all over my clothes, bedding, and rubbed into the seams of my tunic and
riding breeches. The itching was stopped in a day, and it never came
But I soon noticed another circumstance: all the bright brass buttons
my tunic, although freshly polished by my man every morning, were
before evening, even inthe clean, dry atmosphere of the dry veldt. Also
my silver watch-case went black. There was no doubt that the sulphur
acted upon by the secretions of the skin and Hydrogen Sulphide was
and this I had no doubt killed off any lice that could not be got at by
washing. Subsequently, I always used it when I was in likely places.
some places were very likely! In Cape Town, I had to inspect all the
lodgings in view of the spread of the plague. And, again, I had charge
a Boer prison-ship, and never once did I catch so much as a hopper. The
prison-ship was literally alive with cockroaches of all sizes; our
swarmed with them, but they avoided my clothes and kit like a plague,
there was never a nibble-mark to be found. I gave the hint to many men
they confirmed my experience. I have since met other men who hit on the
same device with equal success.
"In this war I have told the tip to many friends, and some
relatives, who have gone out, and so far they have been free from the
You will note that I used all the other measures I could, but my
and uniform were not washed, and the lice must have come through the
there was no other possible means I could trace. Yet the flowers of
killed off all that might be therein."
A very effective method for exterminating vermin in infected
carried out by Dr. S. Monckton Copeman, F.R.S., at Crowborough. To put
matter briefly, I append a copy of his able and concise memorandum
was distributed to all the medical officers of the Division; but
details may be obtained by referring to the British Medical Journal
No. 2824, Feb. 13, 1915 or the Lancet of
To the Medical Officer . . . . . .
Treatment for Destruction of Vermin.
Arrangements should be made for the bathing of affected
and other inmates of infected tents.
After drying themselves, men to lather their bodies with
solution (water 10 galls., Jeyes' fluid 1 oz., soft soap lb.),
over hairy parts and to allow the lather to dry on.
Shirts to be washed in cresol-soap solution made with boiling
Tunics and trousers to be turned inside out, and rubbed with same
especially along the seams. Lather to be allowed to dry on the garment.
The materials can be obtained from the A.S.C. on indent
A.D.M.S. in the form attached.
Infected blankets were at first treated by soaking them in
solution, after which they were sent to a neighbouring laundry to be
a small contract rate having previously arranged. In the first week in
however, a portable Thresh's steam disinfecting apparatus was supplied
the Division, through the Second Army, since when no difficulty has
experienced in the disinfection both of clothing and blankets.
As a matter of fact the simple and inexpensive method which
been employed by us over a period of several months has proved so
that no necessity has arisen for a trial of any other means of
Professor Lefroy, of the Royal College of Science and
recommends two effective remedies, known respectively as 'Vermijelli'
Lieut. Colonel E. J. Cross has successfully treated the
and bedding of his men with a powder consisting of three parts of black
hellebore root and one of borax and many similar powders are produced
the manufacturers of insecticides.
Let us end up this chapter cheerfully !
The importance of lice is equalled by their unpopularity. A
driven to extremes by well let us call it - the want of gallantry of
Johnson, called him 'a louse.' The great lexicographer retorted, '
always talk of things that run in their heads ! '