Bovicola bovis

Geographic Range

Cattle-biting lice are found in temperate regions worldwide and are abundant in North America. (Bland and Jaques, 1947)


Bovicola bovis lives only on cattle, but occupies hosts of all ages and all breeds. (Geden, et al., 1990; Gojmerac, et al., 1959)

Physical Description

Cattle-biting lice are flattened, wingless lice typically 1.0 to 1.8 mm in length. Their bodies are yellowish-white, while their heads are reddish brown in color. This species is easily identifiable by both its color and by eight dark crossbands that span the abdomen. Bovicola bovis has filiform antennae that usually contain three segments and are directed outward from the head as opposed to being situated within a sclerotized groove. The lice are also characterized by a lack of maxillary palps and the presence of tarsi with one claw. The mouthparts of cattle-biting lice are modified for chewing and the mandibles are designed to assist the lice in gripping tightly to the hair of their host. (Bland and Jaques, 1947)

  • Range length
    1.0 to 1.8 mm
    0.04 to 0.07 in


Bovicola bovis undergoes hemimetabolous development, and its life cycle consists of an egg followed by three nymphal instars, which then develop into full adults. Eggs typically develop for eight days. The nymphs then proceed through their three instars for a duration of 18 to 21 days. The nymphs are smaller but similar in appearance to the adults and share adult feeding habits. The complete life cycle is approximately three to four weeks long. (Bland and Jaques, 1947; Roberts and Janovy, Jr., 2000)


No information is available on mating in this species. Females are known to reproduce asexually, via parthenogenesis. (Bland and Jaques, 1947)

Females reproduce by parthenogenesis. They oviposit on the hairs of their host very close to the skin. The eggs are small, white and barrel-shaped, and they usually hatch in about eight days. These lice reproduce most fervently in winter and early spring. (Bland and Jaques, 1947; Roberts and Janovy, Jr., 2000)

  • Breeding season
    Most activity takes place in the winter and early spring
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3 to 4 weeks

Eggs develop within females until they are laid, and then the eggs are abandoned.

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female


These lice live an average of forty-two days. (Bland and Jaques, 1947)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    42 days


Bovicola bovis thrives at the normal body temperature of its host. Infestations are the heaviest in winter and early spring, and are light in the summer due to the shedding of the host coat and excessive ambient temperatures.

These lice are unable to live apart from their host and are transmitted from one host to another by direct contact. (Bland and Jaques, 1947; Lewis and Christenson, 1962)

Communication and Perception

No information is available on how these lice communicate with one another or perceive the environment.

Food Habits

Bovicola bovis feeds predominantly on the top of the head, neck, shoulders, and rump of cattle. Its feeding behavior consists of chewing rather than sucking and it feeds primarily on hair, skin, and cell secretions of its host. It is typically non-blood feeding. (Bland and Jaques, 1947; Geden, et al., 1990; Lewis and Christenson, 1962)

Ecosystem Roles

Bovicola bovis is a permanent ectoparasite of cattle.

Species Used as Host

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Cattle may try to remove lice via rubbing and licking, ultimately leading to abrasions, hair loss, and possible anemia. Additional symptoms include poor weight gain, reduced feed conversion efficiency, diminished productivity and reduced milk production of the cattle. For this reason, B. bovis is responsible for a decrease in earnings in the livestock marketplace. Control of infestation is best achieved through prevention with pour-on insecticides. Hair clipping can also be an effective method of removal. Though harmful to cattle, B. bovis has not been linked to disease transmission. (Geden, et al., 1990; Gibney, et al., 1985; Gojmerac, et al., 1959)

Conservation Status


Allison Poor (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Jennifer Koepsell (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Solomon David (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


reproduction that is not sexual; that is, reproduction that does not include recombining the genotypes of two parents

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


having a worldwide distribution. Found on all continents (except maybe Antarctica) and in all biogeographic provinces; or in all the major oceans (Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific.


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


an organism that obtains nutrients from other organisms in a harmful way that doesn't cause immediate death


development takes place in an unfertilized egg

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Bland, R., H. Jaques. 1947. How to Know the Insects. Dubuque, Iowa: Wm. C. Brown Company Publishers.

Geden, C., D. Rutz, D. Bishop. 1990. Cattle Lice (Anoplura, Mallophaga) in New York: Seasonal Population Changes, Effects of Housing Type on Infestations of Calves, and Sampling Efficiency. Journal of Economic Entomology, 83(4): 1435-1438.

Gibney, V., J. Campbell, D. Boxler, D. Clanton, G. Deutscher. 1985. Effects of Various Infestation Levels of Cattle Lice (Mallophaga: Trichodectidae and Anoplura: Haematopinidae) on Feed Efficiency and Weight Gains of Beef Heifers. Journal of Economic Entomology, 78: 1304-1307.

Gojmerac, W., R. Dicke, N. Allen. 1959. Factors Affecting the Biology of Cattle Lice. Journal of Economic Entomology, 52: 79-82.

Lewis, L., D. Christenson. 1962. Induced Buildup of Populations of Bovicola bovis on Cattle in Oregon. Journal of Economic Entomology, 55(6): 947-949.

Roberts, L., J. Janovy, Jr.. 2000. Foundations of Parasitology (sixth edition). New York: McGraw Hill Publishers.

Watson, D., J. Lloyd, R. Kumar. 1997. Density and distribution of cattle lice (Phthiraptera: Haematopinidae, Linognathidae, Trichodectidae on six steers. Veterinary Parasitology, 69: 283-296.