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J Med Entomol. 2019 Sep 3;56(5):1204-1207. doi: 10.1093/jme/tjz060.

Head Lice Recognize and Prefer Head Odor Over Foot and Forearms Odors.

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Centro de Investigaciones en Plagas e Insecticidas (CONICET- UNIDEF- CITEDEF), J. Bautista La Salle, Villa Martelli, Buenos Aires, Argentina.


Human head lice, Pediculus humanus capitis De Geer (Phthiraptera: Pediculidae), are hematophagous parasites that infest human heads. They are extreme host specialists suggesting a strict selection behavior towards the human head by the parasites. Despite the public health relevance of P. humanus capitis, the role of chemical clues to select the human head is not well known. In the present study, we attempted to find out whether head lice recognize and select the odor of the head over the odor of other parts of the human body. Our results using a two-choice olfactometer demonstrated that head lice were highly attracted by the volatile compounds of the human odor air, but they did not show preference for the volatiles of head compared to the volatiles of other parts of the body (forearm or foot). Conversely, when head lice were exposed in an experimental arena to the whole human odor of different parts of the body, they showed a preferential response to the whole head odor compared with the whole foot or forearm odors. These results suggest that head lice can at short distance of the host, be oriented towards the head odor of the human host in the selection of the scalp environment.


Pediculus humanus capitis ; head lice; head odor; preference


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