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What Types of Parasites Can a Microscope Reveal?

Last Updated: 29.11.21


If you are looking to learn how to use your new portable digital microscope to examine all kinds of parasites, you have come to the right place. In the informative article below we will show you all that you need to know to get started and then you may take a quick look for more info here about how you can use your iPhone as a microscope.



What is a parasite?

A parasite in an organism that lives on or within a host. The host in this situation is another living organism. Once attached to the host, the parasite will use the resources of the other organism to fuel its own life cycle. The types and size of parasites vary widely, but around 70% of them are not visible to the human eyes such as the malarial parasite.

There are also some parasites that will not require a microscope to see such as worm parasites that can reach close to over 30 meters in length. While parasites are not a disease, they are more than capable of spreading them, and each one can have its own unique effects.

There are three main types of parasites that you can study: protozoa, helminths, and ectoparasites. Examples of protozoa include Plasmodium, which is a single-celled organism. What’s unique about protozoa parasites is that they need a host in order to multiply or divide.

Helminths are also known as worm parasites and some examples of these include the roundworm, tapeworm, Trichinella spiralis, pinworm, and fluke. You won’t always need a microscope to reveal these parasites since a few of them tend to grow large enough to be visible with the naked eye, but close inspection will indeed require proper instruments.

Finally, we have the ectoparasites which don’t live in their hosts, but rather on them. Some good examples include fleas, lice, and ticks. While they too can be observed with the naked eye, it is only through a microscope that you can see a detailed image of them.


Protozoa parasites

The malaria parasite is a unicellular parasite that is spread by the female Anopheles mosquitoes, and a good example of protozoa. Once in the body, the parasite will infect the red cells where it will thrive and pose a significant health risk to infants and pregnant women.

If you have access to a positive slide to view under the microscope, it is very easy to reveal the parasite inside the red cells but also outside of them. To reveal it, you will need a compound microscope, clean microscope glass slips, clean microscopes slides, immersion oil, and a Giemsa-stained blood film.

Giemsa stain is composed of basic and acidic parts, which will cause the nucleic parts of the parasite which is acidic to appear purple when staining the smear. While the nucleic parts will appear purple, the background will appear to be blue since it is acidophilic. That should make it very easy for you to observe the malaria parasite.

When using Giemsa stain, you will need to cover the slide with a thin smear of 10% Giemsa stain and let it stand for about 30 minutes. You can then wash the slide with distilled water and drain the excess water with blotting paper and allow it to dry. You are now free to examine it under the microscope.

As always, you will need to be extra careful when dealing with blood. Make sure you always use a clean pair of gloves and dispose of needles and any other material used or contaminated with blood so as to avoid injury or infection.


Helminth parasites

If you want to observe a helminth parasite under the microscope, you will need to use the Kato-Katz technique. This technique is purposefully designed to help you detect and determine the number of helminth eggs in a sample of feces.

For this, you will need to get your hands on a standard Kato-Katz template, a spatula, an aluminum foil, a wire mesh, clean glass slides, and cellophane that was soaked in methylene blue for around 24 hours.

The procedure is not very complicated. You will need to position the Kato-Katz template on the clean microscope slide you have prepared and use the gloves and a spatula to pick up about 2 grams of the feces you have available and place them onto the aluminum foil.

You then need to press the wire mesh on the top of the sample to sieve it and use another spatula to rake the sieved material off until it can fill the hole in the template. Then remove the template gently so that the sample can stay on the slide. You can now place the piece of cellophane over the sample.

With the help of another slide, spread the smear until you have obtained a thick layer that is distributed evenly and leave it for about 40 minutes. Once the 40 minutes have passed, you can view and examine the number of eggs present in the sample.




Fleas are one of the ectoparasites that you can safely examine using a microscope. You may want to start with a non-parasitic species first, such as a water flea. To observe a water flea, you will need a stereomicroscope, glass slides with pre-prepared electrical tape chamber, paper towels, coverslips, a dropper, a petri dish, and a sample of Daphnia pulex (water flea).

With the use of a dropper, you must begin by sucking some water from a container that has pond water containing daphnia and place a drop on the sample on a microscope slide with the tape chamber.

Now, lay a cover slip gently on the sample so as to avoid pressing too much which can kill the Daphnia (if you want to see a live sample). Finally, place the sample under the microscope and observe it using 4x and 10x.

If you want to observe a body flea, the process is even more straightforward, and you will simply need to pick the flea using a pair of tweezers and place it on a stereomicroscope.



Ioana Moldovan

Ioana’s professional experience in the optics field has helped her understand the value of passing her knowledge forward. Her curious personality helps her gather useful information for her readers and her goal is to make technical information fun and accessible to everyone.

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