I surf around on WordPress every now and then and see what other people are writing about insects. Good news: Are you troubled by dreams of ectoparasites?  Now there is a solution!
The symbolic meaning of Lice (at Symbolic-Meanings.com).

In fact, this site has a whole section on the symbolic meanings of various insects.  She also talks to Ladybugs, and will provide an analysis of your insect tattoo.

But I digress.

Generally, the more florid my dreams, the more likely that I’ve eaten something regrettable just before bedtime. (Burritos before bed–not a good idea.)  Dreaming of lice perhaps means that you are concerned for your health, or that you saw something on the news that made you fear them. Head lice are a pretty common occurrence in kids, and it’s a major problem I’ve covered before.  But — a spinal condition? Overwork?  From her post:

“When Lice come to our attention in our dreams, it can be an indication that our subconscious is trying to tell us to let go of some pesky people or ideals in our lives.  When we are being “sucked dry” by too many responsibilities, too many obligations, or torn in too many directions by well-meaning people, the Louse will come to our attention as a message to withdraw ourselves and resist being pulled into situations we do not wish for ourselves.

The fact that you were dreaming of Lice around your head and down the spine indicates that you may be dealing with some challenging thoughts (the head & spinal cord being symbolic of the nervous system & the origin of thought), that there are many choices before you – and all of them may be “bugging” you.”

This seems a little over elaborate.  How about just “you’re freaked out your kid will get lice. They are creepy”?

From farther down in her lice post:

Furthermore, the Louse never takes more from its host than either can handle (for to do so would destroy its own livelihood).  This is a message that we can all learn from.  Sometimes when Lice are in our dreams it indicates that we are either asking too much from our loved ones, or they are asking too much of us.

That is not true.  Exanguination by lice does happen, although it’s usually limited to small animals.  This idea that nature is in balance and as it should be is overly romantic, and a common mistake in New Age-y types.

My grandparents had Edgar Cayce’ dream books when I was a kid, and I spent some time thinking about his system of symbolism. Carl Jung also mentioned insects occasionally; but mostly in a way to relate to synchronicity.  Which… is completely unsupported by evidence.  Like this dream interpretation stuff.   Eventually, I rejected it all.

There is a fairly large body of work about dream interpretation that has a more scientific background.  Some of the coolest insights comes from neurological work on dreaming deficits in brain-damaged patients; it’s helped locate a lot of the actual brain structures involved in dreaming.

Generally, bizarre dreams are hugely over reported; most dreams are simply the same as everyday experiences.  From a scientific review paper:

“Taken together, these detailed descriptive studies provide a consistent picture of REM dream reports as portraying a reasonable simulation of the dreamer’s waking world. The dream scenario is original, but not usually fantastic, and the emotions are generally appropriate to the situation when they are present….

Despite the originality and creativity that is displayed in the cognitive production of dreams, and even given the aspects of dream content that are not understood, most dreams are more realistic and based in everyday life than is suggested by any traditional dream theory. In addition, much dream content seems more transparent than might be expected by clinical theories that emphasize disguise and/or symbolism in understanding dreams.” [emphasis mine]

Feel free to offer up your more interesting insect dreams in the comments!


Domhoff, G. W. (2005). The content of dreams: Methodologic and theoretical implications. In M. H. Kryger, T. Roth, & W. C. Dement (Eds.), Principles and Practies of Sleep Medicine (4th Ed., pp. 522-534). Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders.

S. Schwartza, T. T. Dang-Vuc, A. Ponza, S. Duhouxa, P. Maquetc. (2005).  Dreaming: a neuropsychological view. SCHWEI ZER ARCHIV FÜR NEUROLOGIE UND PSYCHIATRIE 156:  427-439.

Posted by Gwen Pearson

Writer. Nerd. Insect Evangelist. Have you heard the good news? BUGS!


  1. Sadly, I generally don’t remember my dreams when I wake up, and the few I remember I then forget, so I don’t have any to share. I interpret this to mean that my dreams are forgettable.

    I’ve always been skeptical of dream interpretation based on symbolism regardless of the source. It seems too easy to take the interpretations too far, especially when simpler explanations might suffice.

  2. This matches with my general experience. My last dream was about attending a conference about something or other. Dreams about working, or running into a friend at the grocery store. It makes me wonder how people can be so certain about whether or not they are dreaming.

    One notable dream was the negotiation of a treaty with Stalin on the bridge of submarine which navigated the waters of a sewer somewhere – I doubt this had any deep significance.

    I’d love to see a method to record a good statistical cross-section of dreams; comparing anecdotes is unsatisfying. Memory provides a strong bias; I don’t know what methods psychology uses to try to get around this.

  3. a lot of the research is from sleep studies; they wake people up and ask them. There’s also some pretty elaborate journaling methods. My dreams would be a fairly uninteresting journal, and mostly be a reflection of the book I was reading before I fell asleep!

  4. Dreams about everyday things tend to take place during NREM sleep, while the more bizarre, illogical dreams tend to take place during REM sleep.

    I agree that the most accurate and unbiased way of getting statistical samples of dreams is through sleep studies.

  5. You ask about interesting dreams so I won’t go on about the endless trips requiring numerous connections between buses, trains, boats, and planes in giant, oppressive cities full of teaming masses of strangers (besides, these dreams are so similar to modern travel that I wonder if they aren’t mixed memories).

    The interesting dreams invariably take place in lush green habitats full of vivid and spectacular flowers, insects, mites (usually far too large to require a microscope to study), other arachnids, and the occasional too colourful bird. Usually I’m watching the animal engage in some previously unknown behaviour or the animal itself is some amazing new discovery. I really hate waking up from these dreams.

    Other than the obvious delusions of grandeur, I interpret these dreams as indicating I need more field work, more greenery, less snow, and more of all the things I thought biologists got to do when I was young and foolish. Alas, its another day at the microscope and computer in a frozen wasteland.

  6. About the exanguinations…there have apparrently been cases where cattle were exanguinated by mosquitoes or black flies. I’ve tried to find the research to back this up, but have never been able to verify this. There are reliable accounts where ceratopogonids could attain densities of 40,000 individuals landing on people at a time in Scotland (Journal o’ medent circa 2009, I believe) so while I’m skeptical, I don’t find it completely implausable.

    There’s also tick toxicity, which happens when an individual animal is overloaded with ticks and dies because of the combined effect of their saliva. It usually takes one per couple kilograms.

    So…yeah. The whole nature in balance thing is absolute bull.

    Also…I tagged you with a meme.

  7. No one seems to be interested in their lousy dreams, so I guess I’ll weigh in on exanguination. I would expect death from exanguination to be exceedingly rare, since anaphylactic shock from all the salivary proteins injected should kick in well before a significant amount of blood could be withdrawn. Shock is the usual reason given for death from too many biting insects. Anemia and complications thereof are possible causes of mortality associated with blood feeders, but this isn’t really ‘true’ exanguination. The example, of the mule deer from Lance’s Durden’s chapter (that you link to above) is ‘exanguination anemia’, so ambiguous, and from an atypical host-louse association (I couldn’t bring myself to read yet another master’s thesis, so I passed on the pig lice). So, I remain skeptical that true exanguination by biting insects is likely.

    On the other hand, I once worked a project on testing BTI on snow melt mosquitoes in the Cascades. We were supposed to do landing counts – how many mosquitoes landed on us in a five minute period. So many mozzies were after our blood that we had to reduce the time period to one minute and only those landing on the victim’s back – and our estimates were in excess of 300 per back per minute. We spent most of our out-of-tent time running from pool to pool in the forest followed by monstrous clouds of mozzies and we were extremely glad when the helicopter finally showed up to take us out. If not for the more likely immune over-reaction to mosquito saliva, I could well believe that birds, deer, or a passed out entomologists wannabe could be exanguinated.

    Re any balance between ectoparasite and host: the host immune system and host grooming behaviours would be the strongest factors in any lack of over-exploitation by the parasite. And as for tha balance of nature: epidemic typhus is transmitted by body lice. Typhus is not only highly lethal to the host (us), but the fever caused by the body’s response to the microbe cooks the lice or makes them crawl off onto a not-yet-feverish host. Eventually the typhus rickettsia kills the louse too.

  8. I agree-it’s hard to make the call between immune response and loss of blood.
    In small birds, exsanguination is pretty commonly reported for chicks.

    Either way, no, nature does not play nice :)

  9. HA! I dreamed I was working for Lady GaGa last night.

    It was…about as freaky as you might expect. And not unlike some of my regular work days.

  10. Louse dreams could be because your scalp itches. I’ve had dreams of worms in my teeth when I had toothache and a big, elaborate, novel-worthy saga about a big battle as part of an on-going war between humans and an alien species, taking place within the corridors of a big castle that the humans lost when I was coming down with a gastric upset resulting in violent diarrhea.

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