Insect logo

HomeWho We Are List of Orders References Contact Us

Insect Identification Key
Suborder Mallophaga: the chewing lice

Anoplura and Mallophaga
The order Phthiraptera includes two suborders: Anoplura (left) and Mallophaga (right). The two suborders can be distinguished by the size of the head. If the head is narrower than the thorax, it is a member of Anoplura. If the head is broader than the thorax, is is a member of Mallophaga. Illustration credit: Centers for Disease Control.

Based on your answers to the questions, you have identified your insect as being in the order Phthiraptera, suborder Mallophaga: the chewing lice!

Members of this suborder include: chewing lice, including bird lice and biting lice.

General characteristics:
• small (10 mm or smaller)
• wingless
dorsoventrally flattened
chewing mouthparts
• small compound eyes, absent altogether in some species
• no ocelli
• antennae, if visible, with three to five segments
• hard larger than the thorax
forelegs held up near the head
hemimetabolous metamorphosis (egg — nymph — adult)

Number of species worldwide: about 3,500

These chewing lice are parasitic on animals. They are ectoparasites, meaning that they feed at the surface of the host animal. (An endoparasite lives inside the host's body. An example of an endoparasite is a tapeworm.) In this case, the chewing lice eat such things as feathers, hair, scales and dried blood.


Kingdom Animalia
   Phylum Arthropoda
      Class Insecta
         Order Phthiraptera
            Suborder Mallophaga
            Suborder Anoplura

For a list of all of the orders in this key, click here: List of Orders.

Classification note: Mallophaga was once described as an order rather than a suborder. Today, the classification of this group is still in flux. Some scientists have now discarded the name Mallophaga altogether, and instead split the group up into three separate suborders:
• Rhyncophthirina, which are the elephant lice and warthog lice
• Ischnocera, which include lice that are parasitic on mammals and birds
• Amblycera, which also include lice that are parasitic on mammals and birds

In this key, we are using the classification that places only two suborders within the order Phthiraptera: suborder Mallophaga and suborder Anoplura.

Oops! If this doesn't appear to be the correct identification for your insect, go back through the key and look more carefully at your insect while answering the questions again. Your perseverance will reward you!

I would like to return to the start of this key.

HomeWho We Are List of Orders References Contact Us

Unless noted otherwise, photographs on this website are the property of the photographers and may not be reused without written permission from the photographers. To obtain permission, request it here.

Photos at the top of this website are (from left to right): potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) — photo credit: Scott Bauer, U.S. Department of Agriculture; ebony jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)— photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; sweat bee (Agapostemon splendens) — photo credit: Natalie Allen and Stephanie Kolski, U.S. Geological Survey; preying mantis, monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), hellgrammite (aka toe biter) larva and eyed click beetle (Alaus oculatus) — photo credit: Leslie Mertz; Halloween pennant (Celithemis eponina) — photo credit: Kay Meng, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Reproduction of material from any webpages without written permission is strictly prohibited.