What Crab/Pubic Lice Look Like and How They Are Spread

A person can become infested with crabs or pubic lice by having sexual intercourse or by sharing clothing or bedding with an infected individual. These little insects live by sucking blood from people. Although crabs or pubic lice are normally found on the pubic and groin area, they are sometimes in the hair of the eyelashes, abdomen, anus and armpits.

What Crabs/Pubic Lice Look Like

Like the name, with the help of a microscope, crabs or pubic lice look like tiny little flat crabs. They are usually gray or tan in color and are approximately the size of the head of a pin, but can be seen with the human eye once they are mature crabs. The crabs have six legs and antennae. They have small claws that attach to the hairs and where they lay their eggs (nits).

Nits or Eggs

Pin-head sized brown, white or yellow oval-shaped nits or eggs can also be found in the hair, closer to the skin. The females lay the nits and are normally larger than the male insects. Nits or eggs usually take about 5 to 10 days to hatch.


The primary symptom of crabs or pubic lice is intense itching and scratching, as well as redness and inflammation. This usually begins within one week of catching the infestation. If the lice are on the eyelashes, the eyes may become inflamed and swollen. Some individuals may take several weeks before noticing that they are there, as breeding could take a while. The lice feed on the blood from human skin. With their mouths, they have the ability to puncture the skin and suck the blood. They normally move around from one hair shaft to another.

Contrary to some myths, crabs or pubic lice will not live underneath the skin and hatch other insects there. That is incorrect. With the sucking, protein from the saliva of the lice goes into the skin. After a few days, the body’s antibodies release chemicals that cause itching. Gray or blue spots may be seen on the pubic area and thighs, as well as scabs from excessive scratching. Brown spots may be noticed on underwear and panties. The tiny lice themselves may at times look like scabs. With too much scratching, an infection could develop. If a fever or unusual discharge is noticed, a healthcare provider or physician should be contacted immediately.

How They Are Spread

Pubic lice or crabs are normally spread and transmitted by sexual contact with an infested individual, but there are cases and other ways that a person may contract these infestations. They are with shared clothing or linen, from towels, or simply by laying down on a surface where an infected person has been. These insects can only live for two days without a human host to feed on, so contact would have to be within two days if it is from an object or surface. Crabs or pubic lice can live much longer on a human host if the infestation is not treated with medical treatments.

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