Haematomyzus elephantis

Geographic Range

Haematomyzus elephantis commonly known as the elephant louse, lives and feeds on the skin of elephants (Arnest 1985). Areas such as in the African plains where herds of elephants roam are suitable environments for these lice to dwell. The elephant louse follows the elephants whenever they move. They are transmitted from one elephant to another when two elephants come in contact with each other. Zoos are also areas where this louse is found (O'Toole 1986). The number of lice present in zoos is low however, due to the veterinary care given to elephants (O'Toole 1986).


The elephant louse thrives in habitats suitable for elephants to survive. These are the warm climates of India and the African grasslands (O'Toole 1986). The louse has adapted itself to survive the extremes that elephants endure in this part of the world. This is because the elephant louse can only survive on elephants. The tough, flexible skin also permits the louse to survive in the climate (Grzimek 1972).

Physical Description

Haematomyzus elephantis is oval or elongated and ranges between 0.5 to 6 mm in length. The body and head are dorso-ventrally flattened with the head being larger than the thorax (Grzimek 1972). The skin of the louse is tough and flexible with the coloration being pale to tan with some having yellowish markings or dark brown or black bands on their body (Grzimek 1972). The head has very small eyes; in some the eyes are absent. They also have short antennae on the head (Klots and Klots 1979). The front of the head is prolonged into a rigid snout, called the rostrum, with biting parts on the tip (Klots and Klots 1979 ). These lice never had wings. They have reduced legs with large adhesive pads for better traction on the legs. Cerci are also absent on this louse (Grzimek 1972).


Eggs of the elephant louse are attached to the fur of elephants. The parents use a sculpturing or a plumelike process to embed the eggs into the skin. The eggs are singularly attached to the host by a drop of waterproof glue (Grzimek 1972). The base of the egg and hair shaft is surrounded by this glue to keep it stationary. The zygote inside the egg develops into a nymph and hatches from the egg and joins the adults in feeding immediately (Grzimek 1972). The nymphs resemble adult elephant lice and have the same habits as well. With age, the louse molts, but little change in appearance occurs (Grzimek 1972).


Haematomyzus elephantis is a social species (Grzimek 1972). The lice attack and maintain contact colonially with the elephants. Unless they are removed or the whole colony moves, they remain sessile on the elephant eating off the elephant (Grzimek 1972).

Food Habits

Haematomyzus elephantis acts more like a scavenger than a parasite (Grzimek 1972). It does not take in food by sucking. It possesses incredibly strong biting mandibles on the rostrum located on the head (Klots and Klots 1979). The louse uses these mandibles to bite through the tough skin of elephants. This louse is not known to drink the blood of elephants, as was long thought, but instead eats off the hairs and miscellaneous debris on the elephant.(Klots and Klots 1979).

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Haematomyzus elephantis does not posses any threat to humans (Klots and Klots 1979). They do not infest man and are not involved in human disease transmission. These lice are ectoparasitic and can only live on elephants (Grzimek 1972). However, the elephant louse does have a veterinary importance in zoos in particular (Grzimek 1972). Massive infestations of the elephant louse in elephants at zoos can be fatal to the offspring of elephants. Infections can cause a massive drop-off of the female elephant eggs released in the ovaries (Grzimek 1972). The elephant population can decline from an onslaught of the Elephant Louse.

Conservation Status

The elephant louse is not in danger of extinction. They are very tiny and are capable of reproducing in large numbers over and over (Klots and Klots 1979). The only threat to the elephant louse comes to the decreasing population of elephants throughout the world.


Pablo Gomez (author), Southwestern University, Stephanie Fabritius (editor), Southwestern University.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

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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.


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

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

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scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


Arnest, .. 1985. American Insects: A Handbook of the Insects of America North of Mexico. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.

Grzimek, .. 1972. Grhizmek's Animal Encyclopedia: Volume 2 Insects. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.

Kellogg, V. 1905. American Insects. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

Klots, .., .. Klots. 1979. Living Insects of the Wind. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc..

O'Toole, .. 1986. The Encyclopedia of Insects. New York: Facts on File Publications.