Did you know…/Of Lice and Men

Cover of first English language edition. The d...

Cover of first English language edition.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

…that human lice is not one but and three varieties from the different species   and one of the species came from a gorilla?

Of Lice and Men

The most vivid image in  “All quiet at the Western Front” by E. M. Remarque for me was a soldier, who had lice in his eyebrows – yuck!

Evolutionary relationship between the great apes – chimpanzee is close to humans, than gorilla. By JWSchmidt , from Wikimedia Commons.

What I didn’t know: the “eyebrow lice” was not even the same species as head and clothes lice. The head and body lice are subspecies of the same human lice,  while the  “eyebrow lice” is the infamous sexually transmitted  “crabs” or pubic lice, which live on coarse hairs – pubic, underarms and surprisingly eyelashes and brows.  Even more surprisingly, this lice closest relative is not the chimpanzee lice  –  expected from the apes evolutionary tree, but the gorilla lice. What did we share with gorillas?

Pthius pubis

Pubic louse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Male head louse, adult

Head louse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Human lice have a story as well.  Body (or clothes) lice split from living in hairs lice  100 000 – 70 000 years ago,  when humans wrapped some animal skins around themselves after moving out of Africa into colder climates. The body lice, capable of surviving in cold temperature were doing fine for a while – delousing by heating and treating uniforms with chemicals was a temporary measure during the  World War I and II, but washing machines had almost completely eradicated the subspecies.

In the meanwhile head lice survive all shampoo and soap and, like hospital bugs,  have been acquiring  drug resistances like merit badges. While girls hug (often, my friend, who has a daughter, says she has lice on average every six month) and boys shove each other (sometimes), the head lice will survive to the horror of parents and nonchalance of children.

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