Head lice

Updated 27 January 2016

What are pubic lice?

Pubic lice or crabs are yellow-grey insects that live in pubic hair and are commonly spread through sexual contact.

Pubic lice (Phthirius pubis), also known as crabs, are a type of lice found in the pubic region. They are yellow-grey in colour and are typically spread during sexual contact.

The size of a pinhead, they are slightly translucent and barely visible against light-coloured skin. With their shorter, rounder body shape and crab-like claws with which they cling to hair, they resemble crabs – hence their popular name.

Read: What are body lice 

Once you have been infected with adult lice, they will attach their eggs (nits) to hair shafts on various parts of the body.

The eggs, which are barely visible, are tiny white particles glued so firmly to hair shafts that they cannot be removed by normal washing.

The nits hatch in eight to ten days, producing more lice. Lice can live up to a week on items such as bedding, sleeping bags, clothing and towels.

Read more:

Symptoms of pubic lice

Diagnosing pubic lice

Treating pubic lice

Reviewed by Prof H.F. Jordaan, MBChB, MMed (Derm).