Scanning software streamlines parasite counts


Putting a jigsaw together: combining biology, lifecycle and technology to manage flatworm parasites of fish.

Many people love to eat fish and want it to be cheap and readily available. In response to this growing consumer demand, fish farming businesses are more prevalent, including those in Spencer Gulf, South Australia that culture yellowtail kingfish.

There’s a downside however: fish, like other animals, encounter health problems when they are forced to live in crowded conditions. For yellowtail kingfish, one health problem is infection by large parasite populations. Accurate monitoring and control of parasite levels in yellowtail kingfish farms is an ongoing battle for farm managers and can compromise the quality and volume of fish they produce for market.

Yellowtail kingfish and parasites.

Yellowtail kingfish with attached monogenean skin flukes, Benedenia seriolae.

Principal Research Scientist in the Museum’s Parasitology Section, Associate Professor Ian Whittington, is working with the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) and the University of Stirling, Scotland to develop a standardised and easy-to-use software counting system for parasites that infect farmed yellowtail kingfish in Spencer Gulf. Early prototypes are promising, with two parasite species collected from skin and gills of yellowtail kingfish able to be counted and assessed for maturity in less than three minutes. Currently, this procedure is done manually and is very time consuming. The counting system is portable, easy to use and relies only on a standard PC or laptop connected to a generic flatbed scanner. The parasite samples are poured and separated quickly into a single layer. The software is stored on a standard USB drive.

With further tweaking, this automated counting system should become a valuable on-farm tool to help improve the health and reduce stock losses of cultivated yellowtail kingfish. The counting system will also benefit future research projects that require rapid and accurate enumeration of parasites from yellowtail kingfish when investigating alternative treatments, infection pressures on farms and other elements of parasite biology.

Whittington, I. D., Shinn, A. P., Bron, J. E. (University of Stirling, Scotland) and Deveney, M. R (SARDI). Innovative Solutions for Aquaculture: Assessment of in situ monitoring techniques and life history parameters for monogenean skin and gill parasites. Funded by the Fisheries Research & Development Corporation.


The South Australian Museum's Biodiversity Gallery has several ‘concept cases’ about biological phenomena.  Some of Ian Whittington's research outlined above about parasites that infect commercially farmed fish in South Australia is featured.

Ian  Whittington in Biodiversity Gallery.

Ian Whittington in front of a model of a yellowtail kingfish infected by  a skin-parasitic monogenean, Benedenia seriolae. This display is in the Museum's Biodiversity Gallery.