Lice vs Bed Bugs – Ultimate Guide with Photos

This article will teach you the differences between lice vs bed bugs. The two are sometimes mistaken for each other, but they have some important differences. Because of their size, Bed bug nymphs are what people tend to confuse with lice.

Plenty of bugs are mistaken for lice, but bed bugs are one of the more common ones. More often, the body lice are confused with bed bugs due to their behavior of being in your clothing.

Lice are small, wingless insects that thrive off the blood of mammals. Depending on the species (Pediculus humanus capitis, Pediculus humanus corporis, and Pthirus pubis), they are usually found in the clothing or hair of humans. Still, there are also species-specific lice to animals.

Therefore, the lice that your dog gets won’t bite you. For example, two main types of lice affect dogs: Trichodectes canis and Heterodoxus spiniger. 

Bed bugs are small, blood-feeding insects. However, they don’t live on us like lice; instead, they live near us.

Lice vs Bed Bugs Photos

Lice VS Bed Bugs What's the difference?

Size (Lice vs Bed Bugs)

There are many differences between lice and bed bugs; size and shape are significant differences. Both body and head lice are smaller than adult bed bugs. For this reason, they are often mistaken for baby bed bugs.

Bed Bugs

The average bed bug is approximately 5-6 mm long as an adult.


The average louse is between 2-3.6 mm.

Lice VS Bed Bugs - next to a dime


Bed Bugs

Bed bugs are generally reddish-brown. In comparison, bed bug eggs are pearly white cylinders found near the bed bug harborage.


Lice are usually dark gray or brown. In comparison, their Eggs/Nits are yellow or white and attached to the hair shaft.

Life Cycle (Lice vs Bed Bugs)

Bed Bugs

Bed bug life cycle:

The bed bugs hatch from an egg ➡️ 5 stages of nymphs ➡️ adult.


Lice also go from egg (which are called nits) ➡️ 3 stages of nymphs ➡️ adult.

What Do Lice VS Bed Bugs Eat?

Bed Bugs

Bed bugs are parasitic creatures that feed on the blood of many mammals and birds. A bed bug cannot survive without a blood meal. Learn more about how long bed bugs can survive without food here.


Lice also need a blood meal to survive. It’s important to note that they do not eat dandruff but instead solely feed on blood.

How Long Do They Live?

Bed Bugs

Most bed bugs will live for 3-6 months, but they are known to live up to a year. However, they can also survive for prolonged amounts without feeding on blood. They do this by conserving their energy and staying still.


Lice will live for around 30 days if they get regular blood meals. Unlike bed bugs, they can’t survive without a regular blood feeding. If lice are not living on your clothing or hair, they will die in a few days.

How Do They Travel?

Bed Bugs

Do bed bugs jump? No, they do not jump like fleas. A bed bug travels by walking or being carried on our clothing.


Similarly to bed bugs, lice will travel by walking or being carried from place to place. One difference between bed bugs and lice is that lice have a claw. Their claw helps them travel. At the same time, bed bugs do not have claws.

claw on lice

How Fast Do They Spread?

You may find both lice and bed bugs on our list of bathroom bugs, but it’s not where they will set up shop!

Bed Bugs

Bed bugs spread slowly if you are careful not to cross-contaminate. They are hitchhikers and get from place to place by crawling or being carried on our belongings.


Lice spread through direct contact with an infected person. You can catch lice from being around someone who has them, especially if you share clothing, sit very close to each other, or lie in the same bed. People often wonder, “how long do lice live on a mattress?”; they can live 1-2 days on a mattress with no blood meal.

Furthermore, lice crawl but do not jump or fly. Another way lice spread is when a nit is attached to a piece of hair that falls out, then hatches and crawls onto a new person.

Bites: Body Lice Bites vs Bed Bug Bites

The bites from body lice will usually turn up around your collar, waistband, or armpit. The focus is on places where your clothing seams touch your skin, which gives them easy access to a blood meal.

Do bed bugs bite through clothing? No, they are not able to chew through fabric. On the other hand, bed bug bites will happen anywhere on your body, but usually on exposed skin.

Bed Bug crawling on skin vs a louse on skin

Bites: Head Lice Bites vs Bed Bug Bites

Head lice will bite your scalp because they live in your hair. Since bed bugs are not known to get in your hair, you won’t have bites on your scalp. Unless you are bald, getting a bed bug bite on your scalp might be possible, but it is not common.

Are They Nocturnal?

Bed Bugs VS Lice

Bed bugs are nocturnal insects, which means they’re most active at night and will bite you while you sleep.

Lice VS Bed Bugs

Lice are also nocturnal, so you will tend to feel itchy at nighttime. Nighttime is when they actively move around your body or hair, looking for a blood meal.

Treatment for Lice vs Bed Bugs

Bed Bugs

Bed bug treatment involves treating your entire home and clothing. You’ll be putting everything through the high-heat dryer, using a vacuum for bed bugs, and hiring a pest company specializing in bed bugs.


According to the CDC, Head lice treatment involves using a special comb for lice to remove the nits from your hair and then using an oil-based treatment to kill the nits. While treating your hair, you’ll also have to place all your bed sheets and clothing into the high-heat dryer to kill the eggs.

Body lice treatment involves washing and drying your bed sheets and clothing.

Are Lice and Bed Bugs the Same?

No, lice and bed bugs are entirely different creatures. However, they are both blood-sucking ectoparasites, which means they are external parasites that feed on blood. Furthermore, bed bugs are in the Cimicidae family, whereas lice are in the Pediculidae family.

Final Thoughts for Lice vs Bed Bugs – What’s the Difference?

After reading this post, you know the difference between lice and bed bugs! In spite of the fact that they are sometimes mistaken for each other, there are some critical differences between them. Bed bug nymphs are what people tend to confuse with lice.

If you think you may have either of these pests, call a professional for help and snap a photo for proper ID. A trained eye will be able to quickly identify which pest is causing you problems and get rid of them for good!