The Herps & Habitats Bearded Dragon Parasitic Float Page

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How To Do Your Own Fecal Floats

Supplies you'll need:

Now, go and collect a sample that is as fresh as possible. The low humidity environment Beardies live in is hard on flagellates and will dry them up pretty quickly. Retrieve your sample from the middle of the poop as this will be the least dried out. I'd take about a cubic centimeter or so (1/4") of material.

From here, I'm going to explain how I suggest you folks do it, not necessarily how I do it. The difference is that the fecal float has a time limit before it goes bad. I set up the direct, glance at it through the scope to make sure I have the correct amount of sample, then set up the float. I then read the direct while the float is "cooking". By the time my timer goes off, I'm finished with my direct and ready to read the float. Most of you will take a while to read your direct smears so, I would advise you finish the direct before setting up the float.

Direct Smear Procedure- Take out a slide and place 1 drop of saline on it. Then take a tiny bit of the sample and mix it in with the saline. When I say tiny, I mean it... Less than 1 cubic millimeter. You'll have to practice to get the mix just right. You want enough sample on the slide to make the read valid but not so much that the sample becomes opaque. Place a cover slip over the sample.

Take your slide and place it on the scope. Start with the lowest power and focus the image. Then go up lens by lens, focusing each time, until you get to the 40x, or "high dry" lens. Start your scanning at one corner of the cover slip and move in a methodical way to scan the entire slide.


The above diagram shows how I scan. I start at the "s" and read until I reach the edge of the cover slip then go up just a bit, slightly overlapping my last field and go back the way I came. I continue this process until I've scanned the entire slide.

Remember this is a three dimensional "world" you are looking at. Move the focus up and down as you scan so you see all depths. If you are scanning at one level all the time, you will likely miss something. The main thing to look for in a direct smear is movement. You may see ova but the float will concentrate them making the ova much more visible there than on the direct. Note them, but the primary focus of a direct is to look for flagellates. If you see something moving, stop. Some of these guys move pretty quick so be alert.

If you see something moving, focus your scope in on him. He'll likely keep moving so stay with him! Note how he swims and movement around him. You can tell how many flagella (if any) he has and their location by the movement created when he swims. Also look for anything else on his edges. Some have pseudopods they use for swimming, others have a "sail" that undulates. Many have a combination of the above. A flagellated protozoan will usually swim relatively straight while amoeboid organisms often swim rather randomly. Giardia absolutely zooms across the field... they're the speed demons of parasitology.

Identification is difficult, if not impossible, when they won't sit still. Yell all you want but, they won't listen to you. I'm sorry but, you'll have to kill 'em. To do this, take the iodine and place a small drop just on the outside edge of the cover slip. Capillary action will draw the iodine across the slip and kill everything. Now you can grab your reference book and see if you can identify the lil' bugger. The flagella will now be nearly invisible which is why its important to watch him closely while he swims.

Now, here are a couple of tips. Giardia looks like a flounder. He is rounded on one end and tapered on the other. He also has two "eyes". These are actually the suckers he uses to attach to the intestinal wall. Trichomonas will have a strange rippling around him usually on one edge. This is his "sail" he uses to get around. He also has flagella. The best way to describe this rippling is to think about how a flag moves in the breeze. Identifying the specific genus and species if fun and challenging but not necessary. The treatment for flagellates is the same, regardless of the parasite's specific species.

Now it is time to do the float. Take your remaining sample and place it in the pill bottle. Fill the bottle about half way up with your fecal float solution. Take a stick and mix it thoroughly. Break up all the big chunks until you get a good consistency. Don't be too picky as you DO have a time limit. Fill the bottle the rest of the way up with float solution to where it is just about to overflow. If you did it right, when you put the slide on top it will spill just a bit. Put a slide on the bottle and wait for 8-10 minutes. I wouldn't wait any longer than 15 as the float solution is a salt and it will draw the water out of the ova (eggs) causing them to crenate (implode).

After 10 minutes, gently lift the slide straight up, keeping it parallel to the ground. There will be a drop of solution stuck to the underside of the slide. Gently but quickly turn over the slide and place a cover slip on the sample. Place the slide on the scope and read at 10x. Keep your light level relatively low as you want a good contrast. Scan the slide as described above. What you are looking for now is regular shapes. Debris is randomly shaped and doesn't generally have distinct edges. You will eventually learn to scan a slide like you scan the page of a book looking for a certain word. If you relax your eyes you'll be able to go quickly and still not miss anything. If you see something suspicious, stop and investigate. Grab your book and start attempting to identify it.

Here are some tips for identification.

Now, here are a few that may mess with your heads but they are harmless - welcome to the world of pseudoparasites.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to contact the author or Herps & Habitats.

© 2002, by Ed Barnes, RVT.

Reprinted here by the kind permission of the author.

Note: Please be aware that neither the author nor I endorse medicating or diagnosing your own lizards. All beardies should have regular check-ups and preventative medicines prescibed by a vet. This page is simply provided for your enrichment, detailing the processes that are entailed when your vet begins talking about conducting fecal floats and smears.