The Tragic Extinction of Pubic Lice

Dubious and far-fetched ideas.
Jan. 14 2013 3:33 PM

Pubic Lice in Crisis

The timeline of a crotch catastrophe.

Pubic louse close up.
Pubic louse close up.

Courtesy CDC.

Jan. 13, 2013: Bloomberg reports that pubic lice are on the wane worldwide, as young people become increasingly likely to remove some or all of their pubic hair. “Pubic grooming has led to a severe depletion of crab louse populations,” says entomologist Ian F. Burgess. “Add to that other aspects of body hair depilation, and you can see an environmental disaster in the making for this species.”

Dan Kois Dan Kois

Dan Kois is Slate's culture editor and a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine.

Jan. 15, 2013: The World Wildlife Fund  confirms that the pubic louse, Phthirus pubis, is on its watch list of threatened species. “This animal’s habitat is being shorn away, one Brazilian wax at a time,” the agency’s press release notes.

Feb. 1, 2013: Researchers at the University of North Carolina report the results of a 10-year study. The data suggest that pubic lice are on the verge of a catastrophic species collapse of the sort that hasn’t been seen in millions of years. Says one scientist: “Pubic lice are the dinosaurs, and Sex and the City was the asteroid.”

March 14, 2013: Greenpeace launches its Save the Lice campaign. T-shirts reading PLEASE DON’T SHAVE MY HOME and featuring the organization’s trademarked character Larry the Louse, grow in popularity on college campuses.

April 10, 2013: In a historic move, the EPA officially places Phthirus pubis on the endangered species list. “Americans must reforest their nether regions,” an agency spokesman says at a press briefing, explaining that pubic louse is basically extinct outside hardy colonies in the Pacific Northwest, Vermont, and Berkeley.

Advertisement

April 16, 2013: The National Zoo announces a $6.2 million pubic lice breeding program. Eight hundred mating pairs are secured from Ralph Schumacher, a zoo visitor from Milwaukee. A hastily erected exhibit, which features unclothed models lounging around a precise re-creation of a 1970s New York apartment, quickly eclipses the giant pandas as the zoo’s most popular. Tragically, the entire breeding stock is lost when the models book a calendar shoot.

May 30, 2013: With the pubic louse exploding in popularity if not prevalence, the Obama administration comes under heavy pressure from environmental groups to regulate genital waxing. New guidelines from the administration limit waxing to no more than 60 percent of extant pubic hair, and requires aestheticians to replant hair in areas of former clear-cutting. The outcry from salons is sharp and immediate. “What’s more important?” asks the head of the Aesthetics International Association. “American lice, or American jobs?”

June 1, 2013: Lena Dunham appears in a coy online PSA urging a “return to the bush years.” Public response is bitterly divided. Slate’s Brow Beat declares the ad “an artistic and pubic triumph.”

June 8, 2013: A pubic louse appears on the cover of Time with the headline “The New Spotted Owl?” The issue also features a theological survey, “What Would Jesus Do (about Pubic Lice)?”

June 14, 2013: PETA infiltrates the J Sisters salon on West 57th Street in Manhattan, covering the elegant waiting room with red, spray-painted graffiti. CROTCH GENOCIDE, reads one message. WAX IS MURDER, reads another.

June 17, 2013: Anne Josephson, a waxer in St, Paul, Minn., loses a finger when she attempts to wax a mons pubis that has been “spiked” with a tiny explosive charge. Porn stars and congressional Republicans decry the “eco-pubic-terrorists.”

July 28, 2013: The EPA announces that the world’s last wild pubic lice have been located in Schenectady, N.Y., on the crotch of florist Jessica Fletcher-Boomhauer. “The long-term prognosis for this species is grim,” notes an agency spokesman. “Ms. Fletcher-Boomhauer says she has sworn off the dating scene, because, quote, ‘Dudes are garbage.’ ”

Aug. 15, 2013: The world’s last pubic louse dies in captivity at the National Zoo’s Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Va. “Even the smallest creatures deserve to live,” says Bob Smith, the keeper present as the louse expired. “All he wanted to do was crawl around your private parts and bite you over and over again.”

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

The GOP Senate Candidate in Iowa Doesn’t Want Voters to Know Just How Conservative She Really Is

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

The Supreme Court, Throughout Its History, Has Been a Massive Disappointment

Why Indians in America Are Mad for India’s New Prime Minister

Damned Spot

Now Stare. Don’t Stop.

The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 12:04 PM John Hodgman on Why He Wore a Blue Dress to Impersonate Ayn Rand
  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 30 2014 2:36 PM This Court Erred The Supreme Court has almost always sided with the wealthy, the privileged, and the powerful.
  Business
Building a Better Workplace
Sept. 30 2014 1:16 PM You Deserve a Pre-cation The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.
  Life
Education
Sept. 30 2014 1:48 PM Thrashed Florida State’s new president is underqualified and mistrusted. But here’s how he can turn it around.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 2:56 PM How Faithful Is David Fincher’s Gone Girl?
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 2:38 PM Scientists Use Electrical Impulses to Help Paralyzed Rats Walk Again
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.