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Difference between Parasite and Saprophyte

There are various organisms on this earth. Cells, plants, animals, bacteria, etc., are some of the classified life forms. All these organisms feed on one another for sustenance. Some organisms can be fatal as the host organism can die in the process. However, today we will be discussing about the two organisms, i.e., parasites and saprophytes out of these several organisms. Now, what are parasites and saprophytes? And what are the significant contrasting points between them? Well, parasites and saprophytes are single-celled or multiple-cell organisms that feed on their host for survival. So, let us begin by understanding the primary meaning of these terms.

Parasite vs Saprophyte


A parasite is defined as an organism that resides or feeds upon the host organism. The food is obtained by the parasite. Now, a parasite can be a plant or an animal organism that can live on another plant or animal for nourishing itself. There are three significant kinds of parasites, namely, protozoa, ectoparasites, and helminths. There are several diseases associated with the parasites. Particularly infections are seen on the host organism that has been affected by the parasites. Examples of parasites include fleas, tapeworms, fungus, mites, ticks, leeches, etc. Parasites harm the organisms resulting in their death. Parasites are also seen in humans. They enter into the human body through contaminated water, food, uncooked food, especially meat, etc. Due to these parasites, the human body can suffer from chronic ailments and allergies. Now, how to get rid of these parasites? Well, these parasites can diminish or disappear on their own if the immune system of the host is quite well. If the parasites do not go on their own, then one can take help from the doctors. The doctors generally prescribe oral medication. Through this, the parasites can diminish and disappear.


Saprophytes are defined as the organisms that feed on the dead organisms for their survival. Saprophytes are found in decaying plants and animals. Saprophytes are also known as decomposers as they feed on dead matter or organisms. They are heterotrophs who are the consumers in the food chain. Examples of saprophytes include yeast, cheese, mold, fungi, etc. Saprophytes are generally the fungal and bacterial organisms that feed on the dead. The word 'saprophytes' has come from the Greek word 'sapros' and 'trophe,' meaning 'rotten' and 'nourishment,' respectively. Saprophytes are one of the important organisms in soil biology. They are used for breaking complex matters into simpler substances. These substances are then taken by the plants for their activities. Now, let us look at some of the differences between saprophytes and parasites.

1. Parasites are defined as living organisms that feed on the host organisms for their survival. On the other hand, saprophytes are defined as living organisms that feed on dead and decaying matter.
2. Parasites can be found in humans, plants, and animals. Saprophytes are only found in plants and animals.
3. Parasites can vanish on their own or through oral medication. Saprophytes do not need any medication as they are found only in plants and animals.
4. Parasites are eukaryotic organisms. Saprophytes can either of eukaryotic or prokaryotic organisms.
5. Parasites can cause harm to the host organism and can even result in their death. On the other hand, saprophytes cannot harm the host organism as they are already dead.
6. Parasites have intracellular digestion. Saprophytes have extracellular digestion.
7. Parasites absorb nutrients through haustoria (a root-like structure that grows around the other organism). Saprophytes absorb nutrients through the cell wall.
8. Parasites are mostly specific to their hosts. Saprophytes are not specific to their hosts as they can feed on any decaying matter.
9. Parasites do not contribute to the cleanliness of the environment. On the other hand, saprophytes contribute to the cleanliness of the environment.
10. Examples:
  • Lice
  • Mites
  • Tapeworms
  • Stomach worms
  • Leeches
  • Fungi
  • Bacteria
  • Yeast
  • Cheese
  • Mold

So, these are some of the significant points of contrast between parasites and saprophytes. The major difference among them is that of feeding. Both gain nutrition through different processes. Now, there are several kinds of parasites and saprophytes. So, let us take a look at them.

Types of Parasites

  1. Protozoa: Protozoan is a living organism that can multiply and divide itself within the host organism. One of the significant examples of protozoa is plasmodium.
  2. Helminths: Helminths are defined as worm parasites. Helminth parasites can cause schistosomiasis. Examples of helminth include pinworm, tapeworm, roundworm, fluke, etc.
  3. Ectoparasites: Ectoparasites live in the host organism in the form of lice, ticks, fleas, etc.

Types of Saprophytes

  1. Fungi: Fungi is one of the significant kind of saprophytes. Examples of fungi include mushroom, mold, penicillin, yeast, etc.
  2. Bacteria: Bacteria survive by breaking the complex matter into simpler substances. The nitrogen-fixing bacterium is one of the important saprophytes. Lignin, cellulose, etc., are other examples of bacteria.
  3. Flowering Plants: Most plants survive through the process of photosynthesis, but there are certain plants that feed on dead and decaying matters. That is why they are called saprophytes. Burmannia, sebaea, etc., are some examples of flowering plants.
  4. Algae: Algae is included in the kingdom Protista. Algae is capable of photosynthesis. But organisms like genus polytoma lack chlorophyll, due to which it feeds on the dead. Thus, they are considered as saprophytes.

So, these are some of the types of parasites and saprophytes. Well, there are many features of parasites and saprophytes. Out of these, the major feature is that parasites feed on the living, while saprophytes live on the dead and decaying matter. So, let us look at some of the characteristics of parasites.

Characteristics of Parasites

  • Endoparasites depict restricted movements. The locomotion is not present in these parasites.
  • The exterior of parasites so not have enzymatic digestion.
  • Sensory organs are absent in parasites.
  • The nervous system is not present in parasites.
  • Parasites have a small body that can be present internally or externally in the organism.
  • Internal parasites have increased chemo-sensitivity.
  • Internal parasites respire anaerobically.
  • HIV and Plasmodium are two significant kinds of parasites that are found internally in humans.

Characteristics of Saprophytes

  • Saprophytes are heterotrophic in nature.
  • They produce filaments and are unicellular.
  • Saprophytes do not have stems, roots, or leaves.
  • Saprophytes secrete digestive enzymes.
  • Saprophytes cannot undertake the process of photosynthesis.
  • Saprophytes undertake the process of chemo-heterophic digestion.
  • This nutrition is seen in bacteria and fungi, which expand in a moist environment.

So, these are the characteristics of parasites and saprophytes. Both these organisms feed on others for their survival. Thus, both parasites and saprophytes are the living organisms that are prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells feeding on other living/ dead organisms.

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