Itchy exploration

The following images will make your head itch. If you are wondering what they show, let me tell you I have two kids and we live in Argentina (we’re in summer now). Yes! Lice! Never before I thought a louse would be a source of gratification for me. And that’s only because of Foldscope. Have a look.

Two lice have been filmed in this video: one female adult (from 1:19 to 2:01) and one nymph (rest of the video). I used the low mag lens and an iPhone 6 to record them.

It’s absolutely amazing the details Foldscope is able to resolve. From 1:07 to 2:16, we can see the inner parts of the abdomen with its digestive tube filled with my son’s blood. From 1:28 to 2:00, the two gonopods are seen in the dark shape of a } at the end of the abdomen. Two legs terminating with a single claw and opposing “thumb” the louse uses to grasps the hair of its host are seen between 2:18 and 2:41. Just after that until 2:55 and in the featured image of this post, we can clearly see the trachea –the air-pipes used by insects for respiration. And in the last part of the video, we go back to the mesmerizing movements of the digestive system.

If you enjoyed it as much as I did, maybe you would like to watch the raw images I used to edit the video:

12 Comments Add yours

  1. mherring says:

    wow! The digestive movement really is amazing! The combination of forward and backward peristaltic motion as well as the extreme extent of the contraction (the radius of the gut got so small!) is really quite impressive. Great capture!

  2. Cristina Bosch says:

    Amazing! It even looks beautiful under your foldscope. Congratulacions!

  3. Manu Prakash says:

    Stunning stunning stunning.

    It’s got “blood” on its hands – or claws really. In the early pet of the video. Some really strange features about that peristaltic motion. How come the digestive tube is bifurcated and joins in the end.

    I can’t wait to get some “head lice”.. On the search now.

    Beautiful work. Thank you for sharing; it inspires everyone in the Foldscope community to be curious about the world. who knows what we will find 🙂


  4. javiercanteros says:

    Thank you very much for your comments. I’m really enjoying Foldscope a lot!
    See you in the next post 🙂

  5. Manu Prakash says:

    @javier: it’s people like you who share the fun and enjoyment that this little tool brings – to everyone. It’s a incredible reminder to “watch” out for those unusual moments in life; when a spark strikes. I have had the Foldscope for 2 years; and never thought of imaging lice (I am sure I got some in my head).

    Quick tip: try using glass slides and cover slips; your resolution will improve significantly. As you slowly join the group of Foldscope super users; every small tip helps. Give it a try 🙂

    Can’t wait for your next adventure. Say thank you to the kids that provided the lice – from the entire Foldscope community. Thank you.


  6. Manu Prakash says:

    @javier: Also; the mystery of this bifurcated gut is really incredible. Would your kids be willing to sacrifice one more “lice” for the sake of science.

    Would love to see another fantasy from you (n=2) of this bifurcation. The question is; does the gut actually start at one place; split into two and join back again. From your first video; that’s what I infer.. But I can’t say for sure.


  7. Thank you Manu for the tip! I noticed that the glue in the stick slides blurs or polarizes the image, specially with the high mag lens. But after a couple of hours this effect vanishes a little. Anyway, I wanted the lice to keep still, so when I put them on the stick slide they didn’t walk away. Next time, I’ll try with the stick slide and a glass cover slip.

    Any other tips will be welcome!

    The bifurcation you mention, is it in the thorax (minute 1:04)? I’ll grab some more to look at it more deeply.

  8. Manu says:

    @javier: Yes; I see a bifurcation of the gut at 1:04 and several times later. I want to understand how this connects to the mouth. I am not aware of any insect with a gut that bifurcates into multiple branches; only to join again. @Laks might know the answer already.

    Also; I notice a large “ciliate” like thing sitting right in the middle of the gut. If it is inside the gut; that is very neat.

    Finally, I think I see ovaries very clearly at the end of the video. It’s just such a beautiful video – I have watched it so many times.

    When you image “live” things; you ought to be surprised. Life is almost so transparent; its screaming out loud to be understood.


  9. laksiyer says:

    @Manu those are known as gastric cecae, extension of the midgut. Many insects have them and these often contain protozoa/bacteria that aid digestion. I am just wondering if that ciliate like structure in the begininng of the hindgut is the mycetome, which is filled with bacteria. One thing if you get another sample @Javier, could you also film the ventral side. That way we can play some segment counting games and it will as usual be very interesting as a learning tool. I think teachers can use this video to describe louse anatomy :). Its just brilliant and shows an intimate knowledge of insects. cant wait to see whats next.

  10. Wow! I had learned about cecae but never imagined it could be that way, @Laks! And I just realized the adult female has at least one big egg probably ready to be ovoposited. I completeley agree with you, @Manu, the more we understand the images we see, the more beautiful they become!

    I’ll pick other lice to image the again, but it’ll have to wait a little bit as my wive have been very efficient with her louse’s slaughter 🙂

  11. Manu says:

    @javier: I am so excited; I had never heard of cecae before. Imaging something live really changes your views about something.

    Quick tip: Try using a glass slide; with cover slip with tiny silly putty or clay on the side; so as to not crush it. You will see further improvement in your resolution. Although I like the tape since it makes them not move 🙂

    Can’t wait for the next post..


Leave a Reply