Cook Islands Biodiversity & Natural Heritage

Pediculus humanus

Kutu Tangata

Human Louse

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Open this image in pop-up window Image: Adult female & male 38KB
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General Information

COMMON NAMES: Human Louse, Head Louse and Body Louse [if there are 2 subspecies]; German Kleiderlaus

TRADITIONAL NAMES: Kutu Tangata (RR AK), Kutu Tangata / Kutu Pa‘uru (MG), Kutu (MK), Kutu / Ri‘a (MT), Kutu / Sopeloa < Lia [nit] < Kutu (TS), Kutu / Soperoa < Ria [nit] < Kutu (TW), Wutu / Piki-lauulu < Lia < Wutu (PK); Other Polynesian - Kutu (Indonesia, Fiji, Tonga, Cook Islands, Marquesas, Mangareva, New Zealand), ‘utu (Samoa, Tahiti), Gutu (Tuamotu), ‘Uku (Hawai‘i); COMMENT: Mangaia general name for Human Louse is Kutu Tangata, while Head Louse is Kutu pa‘uru.

GLOBAL DISTRIBUTION: RANGE global, including ancient Polynesia

COOK ISLANDS STATUS: Introduced - Polynesian, Naturalised; S.Group - common; N.Group - common; Land, parasite on people

SIGNIFICANCE LIST: ; Ectoparasite of people - mild

KEY FEATURES: A minute narrow-oval louse in the hair of the head or body. THORAX narrower than abdomen. ABDOMEN with lateral notches marking segments. LEGS 3 pairs similar. EGGS oval to 0.8x0.3mm, pale yellow, attached to hair or fibres. The subspecies overlap in features. Head louse is smaller with shorter thicker antennae and the lateral abdominal notches are less distinct. The main difference is head louse attach their eggs to hairs, while Body Louse attach theirs to clothing or bedding.

SIMILAR SPECIES: Pubic Louse (Pthirus pubis) differs by having thorax wider than abdomen (vs narrower), and forelegs distinctly more slender than hindlegs (vs similar).

Enlarged Image of 'Pediculus humanus'

Cook Islands Distribution

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Southern Group: Present    Makatea: Present

Northern Group: Present

Key to Symbols

Pests & Hosts

Relationship Hosts
Parasite - external Homo sapiens

Scientific Taxonomy

Pediculus humanus L., 1758
SYNONYMS: Pediculus humanus humanus [for Body Louse as a subspecies]; Pediculus humanus capitis [for Head Louse as a subspecies]; Pediculus capitis [for Head Louse as a separate species]

TAXONOMY: ANIMALIA; ARTHROPODA; ATELOCERATA; HEXAPODA; INSECTA; PTERYGOTA; Phthiraptera; Anoplura; PEDICULIDAE. COMMENT: There is much taxonomic confusion between the Body Louse and Head Louse on people. The Body Louse was named first: Pediculus humanus Linnaeus, 1758. Nine years later, in 1767, de Geer named the Head Louse as a subspecies: Pediculus humanus capitis. If each is recognised as a subspecies the Body Louse's correct name is Pediculus humanus humanus. In recent years there as been increasingly strong evidence that the Body Louse and Head Louse cannot be separated by behaviour, morphology, or molecular composition. Therefore most experts remove the subspecies recognition and combine them as: Human Louse (Pediculus humanus) (as in this database). An extreme and increasing difficult position to justify maintains that there are actually two species: Body Louse (Pediculus humanus) and Head Louse (Pediculus capitis). [3/2004, G.McCormack based on data on]

More Information

NEGATIVE SIGNIFICANCE: Ectoparasite of people - mild. Comments: A common louse NBSAP - Te Au-o-Tonga (11 of 11 animal pests), NBSAP - Aitutaki (10 of 10 animal pests), NBSAP - Mauke (8 of 10 animals)

GENERAL NOTE: Eggs hatch in about 9 days, nymph stages last about 9 days, and adults can lay eggs within four days and live about a month. (sometimes 7 weeks). Reactions of people to the bite vary from unnoticed to severe itching. Usually each bite develops in a few hours into small, reddish papules that itch. Head Louse can transmit diseases. For example Epidemic Typhus can spread in louse faeces, and has been epidemic in the past. It has also been said that "it is more dangerous for a man to bite a louse than a louse bite a man", for example, Budonic Plague and Relapsing Fevers are spread when infected louse are crushed on the body or bitten with the teeth. The Head Louse was a feaure of ancient Polynesia. For example, in Hawai‘i the louse known as ‘Uku appears in the place name Wainaukepo‘o on Hawai‘i island and refers to a place for streamside delousing. Delousing was "nauke" and snaping them between the fingernails is "ho‘u‘ina", and between the teeth is "aki". Head Louse were ‘Uku-po‘o, while Body Louse were ‘Uku-kapa, meaning "louse of the Tapa cloth".

Vouchers & References

Pukapuka: fieldspecimen, 2/2004, G.McCormack with ID as Pediculus humanus.

None recorded.

Data Update History (information):
zTX, zB02, zM04a, zD02

Web Resources

Citation Information

McCormack, Gerald (2007) Cook Islands Biodiversity Database, Version 2007.2. Cook Islands Natural Heritage Trust, Rarotonga. Online at Copy citation to system clipboard
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