The heads of biting lice are large. They have mouth parts that are adapted to chewing structures that are part of their diet such as hair, feathers, skin debris, scabs, wool wax, and even their own eggs. They do not actually bite but a few species are known to be able to suck tissue fluids from their hosts.
Species of biting lice that live on birds possess colonies of bacteria in the cells of their digestive system which help them digest the keratin of feathers. Biting lice, like the species that occur on goats and sheep are thought to damage hair by eating into the shaft almost like felling a tree.
These lice prefer to live at the base of the tail, between the legs, on the shoulders, head, neck and along the back, but can appear anywhere on the goat in a heavy infestation.
When the louse pierces the skin, saliva is injected into the wound which prevents the blood from clotting. The reaction to the saliva causes severe irritation to the goat such as biting, scratching, restlessness, loss of sleep and interruption of feeding. A large infestation can also cause anemia from loss of blood.
These lice feed almost constantly resulting in oozing blood which clots on the surface of the skin. This can cause a secondary bacterial skin infection as well as attract flies. These lice are usually found on the legs.
The female louse attaches her eggs (called nits) to the hair shaft with a strong glue-like substance. The first nymph developes inside the egg and looks very much like an adult louse except that it is smaller and is not sexually developed. The first nymph hatches out of the egg in 1 to 2 weeks. A week or so later the first nymph will molt its skin becoming a second nymph which becomes a third nymph which will then metamorphose into the adult stage. The entire cycle from egg to adult is completed in about 4 to 6 weeks depending on the species.
Lice at any stage will die in a short time if they fall off of the host. Eggs cannot hatch at all if they fall off the host. Skin temperature is a critical factor in hatching of eggs. Higher temperatures prevent eggs from developing. This may account for the fact that populations of lice are higher in the winter than in the summer months or why some lice prefer the cooler temperatures of the legs in the summer and the warmer temperature of the host's body in the winter. One species of biting lice that infect horses are parthenogenic -- females can lay fertile eggs without mating.