Whether we like it or not, most animals — including humans — share their bodies with parasites such as worms, fleas, lice and ticks.

The South Australian Museum is home to Australia’s most important repository of preserved parasites, the Australian helminthogical collection, also known as the parasitology collection. There are over 42,000 specimen ‘lots’ in total. They have been collected over the last 130 years from many different species of land and marine animals, from Australia and further afield.


Importance & history

The parasitology collection is an extremely important and significant scientific resource. Australian and international scientists regularly use the specimens in it as a starting point to identify and describe parasites they encounter in domestic, rural and aquatic situations. This allows them to better understand the evolution and life cycles of parasites, and describe and manage new species that are found on animals we encounter in our built and natural environments. 

More than 5,000 of the parasitology collection specimens are type specimens: this means they formed the first physical examples on which the description of new parasite species are based. Such specimens have enormous historical and scientific value. 

The parasitology collection is an important and internationally renowned collection. A large proportion of the worms in this collection were donated by one of Australia’s most famous parasitologists and zoologists, Professor T. Harvey Johnston. Some of Johnston’s specimens were collected when he travelled to Antarctica as Chief Zoologist with Sir Douglas Mawson in 1929 as part of the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expeditions.  


Important information for researchers returning loans or depositing new material

When you return borrowed slides and/or unmounted material in ethanol or if you intend to deposit new material for registration in our parasitology collection, please follow these instructions.

For all new material sent to us for registration, this Excel spreadsheet shows the data we require.  Please complete the template accurately to ensure our database will contain correct information about your specimens and email to Dr Leslie Chisholm in advance of sending the shipment to avoid any difficulties with Australian customs and/or Australian quarantine.

The Australian Helminthological Collection database

The South Australian Museum’s Australian Helminthological Collection consists of over forty-four thousand lots. Within the collection are representatives of over 3600 parasitic taxa which have been collected from over 2400 host taxa.

The entire collection has been databased and that data is provided here for researchers and other interested parties.

We are able to make our data available in this form thanks to the generosity of The Australian Society for Parasitology.

The Society provided funding for Parasitology section staff  to undertake a major data audit to ensure that the data could be presented publically in an authoritative state. The goal of this work was to maximise the utility and availability of this, Australia’s most important collection of helminths. With this in mind in addition to  providing the data here, we will also be delivering it to the Atlas of Living Australia.

The work undertaken in this project included systematically verifying and updating all parasite taxonomy to correspond with the current classifications, linking host taxonomy to the updated internal host taxa lists and revising/standardising many other data fields.

Access the most recent Excel version of the Australian Helminthological Database.

  • Prefix: Always “AHC” for the Australian Helminthological Collection

  • Registration Number: A unique integer

  • Parasite Identification: The identification of the parasite to the lowest level identified

  • Phylum: The Phylum of the helminth

  • Class: The Class of the helminth

  • Order: The Order of the helminth

  • Family: The Family of the helminth

  • Genus: The Genus of the helminth

  • Species: The species of the helminth

  • Subspecies: The subspecies of the helminth

  • Identification Comments: Any additional comments on the helminth identificationHost Identification: The identification of the host(to the lowest level identified) in or on which the helminth was found. Note that free living helminths are recorded as having the host “Free living”. Host Phylum: The Phylum of the host

  • Host Class: The Class of the host

  • Host Order: The Order of the host

  • Host Family: The Family of the host

  • Host Genus: The Genus of the host

  • Host species: The species of the host

  • Host subspecies: The subspecies of the host

  • Host Category: An informal category used to assist in grouping hosts: “Mammal”, “Fish”, “Arachnid” etc.

  • Site on Host: Where in or on the host the parasite was found

  • Locality: The locality from where the specimen was collected

  • Collectors: Who collected the specimen

  • Date Collected: The date on which the specimen was collected

  • Slide or Bottle: Whether the parasite specimens are stored in a bottle (“W” for “wet”) or on slides (“S”). This both identifies the type of preparation and identifies where in the collection the specimen is stored: there are also “LW” (“Large wet” – i.e. larger specimen jars). In addition, both “S” and “W” collections have a “Types” storage area.

  • Quantity: The number of jars or slides

  • Type Status: If the parasite is a type specimen

  • Field Numbers: Any numbers assigned to the parasite specimen by the collector

Coming up next


Up next:

Reptiles and amphibians