While ticks are similar to lice in that they prefer consuming human blood, they’re actually arachnids and don’t stay attached to your body. There are other differences.

Lice are a type of insect that can attach to your body using your hair to consume your blood. Most people are familiar with head lice, but there are other kinds of lice in the United States.

Ticks will usually bite through your skin, drink until they’re engorged with blood, and fall off after a few days. Ticks are also known to carry and spread severe infections like Lyme disease.

It can help to know the difference between the two so that you know what to do next if you have found them in your home.

Read on to learn how to identify ticks and lice, what symptoms to watch out for, and how you can prevent lice infestations and tick bites.

Ticks often appear as small, round, dark dots on your skin, especially on your arms and legs.

Lice are much harder to spot, but they can often look like tiny white dots or flakes when they are in your hair near the scalp.

Ticks are usually much bigger, rounder, darker, and easier to spot than lice. They also have eight long, segmented legs, while lice have six shorter legs with points or hook-like appendages on the end.

Lice also tend to concentrate where your body hair is thickest, such as your scalp and genital area. Ticks can appear anywhere on your body but are often found on your lower body because they latch onto your skin in areas where they breed and live like dense woodlands or grassy areas in humid climates.

And one of the biggest differences is how they interact with your body.

Ticks latch on and fall off after a short time once they’ve had their fill of blood. But lice attach to your body and lay eggs, feeding themselves and their offspring off your blood until you remove them.

Tick bites

Symptoms of tick bites tend to happen around the area of a single tick bite. You’ll usually notice a small red bump at the site of the bite.

You won’t always feel any symptoms that result from a tick bite. But if you’re allergic to ticks, you may notice some of the following symptoms near the bite:

Lice bites

Symptoms of lice bites tend to happen around the area where the lice are living and breeding, such as your scalp or genital area. Here’s what you usually experience:

  • pronounced itchiness that doesn’t go away for a long period
  • feeling like something’s moving around
  • red bumps or sores in clusters or lines
  • feeling irritated
  • having trouble sleeping
  • seeing tiny white circular objects in the affected area

Lice can cause irritating infestations but don’t tend to cause any long-term health effects after they’ve been removed.

Itching bites can cause rashes and sores that open and become infected, but antibiotics can be used to treat these infections. Eyelash lice can also cause swelling or pink eye.

But ticks can carry a variety of diseases, such as:

Some research also suggests that tick bites may cause red meat allergies even if you’ve never had an allergy before.

You’re most likely to get a tick bite while you’re outdoors. Here’s what you can do to help prevent tick bites:

  • Cover your arms and legs when you’re in the woods or in areas with tall grass.
  • Walk on paths or trails that aren’t right next to dense areas of trees or grass.
  • Apply a tick repellant to your skin, especially one with 20% DEET or more.
  • Check your skin for any signs of ticks or bites in your armpits, around your ears, and around each leg.
  • Bathe or shower within 2 hours after you get home from being outside.
  • Use 0.5% permethrin on clothing and gear you plan to bring.

Lice are usually transmitted from person to person. Here are some ways you can help stop lice from moving from one person to another:

  • Don’t share personal hygiene products that touch hair like brushes or combs.
  • Don’t leave your clothing or personal objects in shared spaces like locker rooms or coat closets.
  • Wash your hair regularly with shampoo and conditioner to help keep it clean.

Get medical help if you notice any of the following symptoms:

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about ticks and lice.

Do lice or ticks jump?

Neither lice nor ticks jump. Lice crawl from person to person when two bodies make contact. Ticks tend to latch onto your skin when you brush against trees or grasses — or fall on you when you walk under trees.

Are lice bigger than ticks?

Ticks are usually easy to spot with your naked eye. Lice are much smaller and may not always be visible without the help of a magnifying glass or microscope, especially when they nest closer to your skin or scalp.

How do I know if I have lice or ticks?

Lice live in colonies in dense areas of hair. They’ll leave itchy red bumps and rashes behind. Ticks usually attach alone and leave painless red bumps on your skin. They can appear almost anywhere on your body but are most common on your arms and legs.

What other bugs are mistaken for lice or ticks?

Some insects and some arachnids that are often mistaken for lice or ticks include:

Ticks and lice are different kinds of parasites with very different behaviors.

If you spot a tick, pull it off right away and get medical help if you notice any symptoms like fever or chills. If you spot signs of lice, comb them out and wash everything you’ve touched until you no longer see any signs of lice.