Identifying Parasites

Something else I've noticed--in my short tenure as a reptile enthusiast--is how difficult it can be to find good photographs of reptile parasites, especially for people like me who like to check up on the health of their reptiles on their own. I hope this page will help remedy things a bit (though I don't think I can claim my photos are particularly "good;" with any luck, they're simply "good enough").

The information here is true to the best of my knowledge. I have consulted my reptile vet (who has decades of experience treating reptiles) and one of his former vet techs on many occasions about the parasites shown here, so hopefully, I've learned a few things from them. All of the photos here were taken by me with a little Canon point-and-shoot looking through one of the eyepieces of my Omano OM124 microscope. These are all from samples of bearded dragon feces (hence the cricket parts), but these parasites will look the same in snake stool samples as well. By the way, I did nothing special to the fecal matter--just used a q-tip smear the poo onto a microscope slide.

PLEASE NOTE: I AM NOT A VETERINARIAN. If you think your reptile is sick, take him/her to an experienced reptile vet! Advice from random people on the Internet can help sometimes, but if you're really worried, get off the computer and take your reptile to a vet! It's the best thing you can do for the creatures whose health you are directly responsible for.

First off, we have a ciliate (1) at 100x magnification. These guys can be very large and are quite mobile, making them nice and easy to see. These critters are so named for the little hair-like structures (cilia) that enable them to move around. The best part is that ciliates are harmless to your reptile. Coccidia, on the other hand (2), can definitely be harmful, especially in large numbers. Typically, if a reptile has low numbers of coccidia and is eating and acting normally (i.e., there's no reason to believe anything is wrong), then there's probably no need to treat them. If the reptile gets sick or has a depressed immune system, though, any parasite like coccidia can take advantage of this and cause even more problems, so it's best to get them treated.

Here's another image of the same ciliate (1) and coccidia oocyst (2). (Oocysts are kind of like the "egg" of a parasite.) The ciliate was fun to watch. He's bendy!

A coccidia oocyst at 400x magnification. There are several different types of coccidia, of which the two most common are of the genus Iospora and Eimeria. The ones shown here are Iospora and can be identified by the two clumps of stuff in the middle. (Like my super-scientific terminology?) Eimeria has one messy-looking clump in the center instead of two.

Some of the most common parasites in reptiles are generally referred to as flagellates. Along with a coccidia oocyst (2), this picture shows several flagellates of the genus Monocercomonas (3). These types of parasites tend to be relatively harmless in small numbers. Also, 400x magnification, as shown here, is overkill for identifying most parasites. Usually 100x will do just fine. Too high a magnification causes things like bacteria to become visible, which can easily be misidentified as parasites.

Here is the same slide but focused on the Monocercomonas (3). I call these guys (and the other common flagellate, Trichonomas [not pictured]) the "dancing jigglies." They jiggle and bounce around like they're loaded up on caffeine. Sometimes I wonder how they actually get anywhere!

Another of the more common parasites is the pinworm. Shown here are pinworm ova (4); pinworms themselves actually look like...well...worms. As with the others, in small numbers, these guys are okay. It's possible they could even be beneficial.

A couple more pinworm ova by their little lonesomes.

Here's a pinworm ovum at 400x magnification. The glob in the middle is a developing baby pinworm. Aww, how cute! (Not really.)

This large fellow is a tapeworm ovum (5), along with a couple cricket hairs. Tapeworms are one of those things that need to be treated; they're not good for your reptile. Thankfully, tapeworms are fairly uncommon.

Tapeworm ovum at 400x magnification. The bony structures in the middle threw me off for a long time when I was trying to figure out what these things were. Those structures will be the jaws of the tapeworm, which it uses to hang onto the inner lining of the intestine of its host.

Not pictured yet: Eimeria (coccidia), Trichonomas (flagellate), Microsporidium oocysts.

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