Automontage microscopy and SEM: A combined approach for documenting ancient lice

Karl J. Reinhard, Elisa Pucu de Araújo, Nicole A. Searcey, Jane Buikstra, Johnica J. Morrow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Human ectoparasites, including lice, have been recovered from a wide range of archaeological materials. The human head louse, Pediculus humanus capitis, has been identified from mummies and sediments for decades. Louse eggs are the body part most commonly encountered and therefore the most frequently quantified. Typically, several types of microscopy are applied for egg documentation. For studies in which quantification of infestation is a goal, counting is done with the naked eye or with the aid of handheld lenses. For determination and stage classification, stereomicroscopy is commonly used. For more detailed examination of microstructure, light microscopy, scanning electron microscopy (SEM), and confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM) can be employed. In most reports, researchers use two or more techniques to accomplish interrelated goals. Automontage microscopy is used to document prehistoric arthropods with good success. Herein, we report the results of a combination of SEM and automontage microscopy to document lice and eggs recovered from South American mummies. This combined approach allows for simultaneous examination of internal and external characteristics. Thirty automontage composite images of 2 adult lice and 16 eggs showed that egg internal morphologies were easily examined showing the within-egg anatomy of emergent nymphs. SEM imaging of 9 lice and 129 eggs was completed. In the case of two adults and several eggs, SEM imaging was accomplish after automontage image capture of the same specimens. This one-to-one image comparison of SEM and automontage shows that transmitted light of automontage reveals egg internal structures and details of the adult lice. SEM allows for high magnification examination of egg, nymph and adult microstructures. We conclude that automontage imaging followed by SEM results in efficient graphic documentation of rare louse specimens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102931
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Automontage
  • Lice
  • Microscopy
  • Mummy
  • Nit
  • Pediculushumanus Scanning Electron Microscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)
  • Cell Biology


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