Difference Between Parasite and Saprophyte


Main Difference

The main difference between parasite and saprophyte is that parasite lives on another organism whereas saprophyte is an organism that uses decomposing matter as a food source.

Parasite vs. Saprophyte

The parasite is an organism which depends on other organisms for its nourishment and growth, and that organism is called the host. Saprophyte is an organism which depends on the dead or decaying matter for its food and growth. Parasites use intracellular digestion to get energy. Intracellular metabolism involves both phagocytosis and autophagy. Saprophytes use an extracellular type of digestion. In this process, digestive substances are secreted on the surrounding to break down the organic matter into pure substances, and then degraded substances are absorbed back. Parasites show different relations with their hosts. Sometimes they cause harm to the hosts and even prove lethal for hosts, and sometimes it takes nutrition from the host and gives benefit in return; this type of relation is called a symbiotic relationship. Saprophytes depend only on the dead matter, or decomposing matter so causes no harm. Saprophytes are very beneficial to the ecosystems in the carbon cycle, nitrogen cycle, hydrogen and minerals cycles.


Comparison Chart

The parasite is an organism that lives on or into another organism (host) temporarily or permanently and also using it as a source of food.Saprophyte is an organism which feeds on the decomposing matter of dead organisms.
Eukaryotic organismBoth prokaryotic and eukaryotic organism
Specialized to parasite on specific hostsNot strictly specialized
Food Source
Alive hostDecomposing matter of the dead organism
Harmful for the hosts, sometimes cause deathNot dangerous for living organisms, beneficial for the environment
Type of Digestion
Intracellular digestionExtracellular digestion
Wasps, Plasmodium, Calcutta, etcBacteria, certain fungi, plants and animals

What is Parasite?

Parasites vary widely in size and types. Almost 70% of the parasites cannot be seen with naked eyes, for example, malarial parasite, but some worm parasites can reach up to 30 meters in length. The parasite is not a disease itself, but it can spread diseases in hosts. Different parasites have different effects. Unlike predators, parasites do not kill the hosts directly or do not kill it at all. But there is a form of parasitism in which the parasite directly kills its host. This type is called parasitoids. Its example is some species of wasps parasitizing on spiders. This type of relationship is a transient between parasitism and predation. Depending on the relationship between the parasite and its host concerning time and space, parasitism can be of different types. Obligate parasites live at least in one stage while facultative parasites are the free type of organisms, but they find suitable hosts, they switch to the parasitic life. Ectoparasite lives on the surface of its host; skin, feathers, fur or grills whereas endoparasites live inside the host’s body; tissues, cells or body cavity. Some parasites are the ectoparasites at a particular stage of life and then become endoparasites. Temporary parasites spend their lives outside the host but become attached to the host when they need to feed while permanent parasites spend their entire lives within the host’s body. Most of the parasites are specialized to parasites at specific hosts. The obligatory parasites are more specialized than the facultative parasites. In hyperparasitism, parasites are also hosts.


What is Saprophyte?

Saprophytes generally refer to the plants. It can also point to a specific type of orchids and a family of flowering plants called monotropic. Monotropes do not use photosynthesis to make nutrition. Instead, they extract nutrients from dead organic matter. Saprophytic organisms play a significant role in the ecosystem and the circulation of substances in the biosphere. Saprophytes process organic materials from both heterotrophic and heterotrophic microorganisms. This is because of the saprophytic relationship that the ground is not covered with dead organic matter. Some groups of saprophytes decompose complex organic substances to simple substances. For example, proteins are broken down into pure amino acids by breaking the peptide bonds; lipids are broken down into glycerol, and fatty acids by lipase and starch are broken down into simple disaccharides by amylases. Some groups of saprophytes process simple organic substances to inorganic substances. All varieties of the saprophytic organism convert the organic substances formed by autotrophic and consume by the heterotrophic organism into inorganic ones. For any saprophytic nutrition, there are some optimum conditions that must be available; the presence of water, oxygen, neutral or acidic pH and low-medium temperature 1 to 30°C. 80 to 90% of the Fungi are made up of water mass, so they require water content available for nutrition. Similarly, very few saprophytes can survive in anaerobic conditions.

Key Differences

  1. Parasites are eukaryotic organism whereas saprophytes can be both eukaryotic and prokaryotic organisms.
  2. Parasites are specialized to parasite on specific organism or hosts whereas saprophytes are not strictly specialized on specific hosts, they can feed on a variety of matter.
  3. Parasites get their food from the hosts when they are alive whereas saprophytes get their food from the organisms when they are dead.
  4. Parasites show intracellular digestion whereas saprophytes show extracellular digestion.
  5. Some parasites develop haustoria to absorb nutrients from the host whereas saprophytes secrete enzymes and degrade organic matter for absorption.
  6. Parasites prove very harmful and dangerous for the hosts whereas saprophytes do not show any harm for living organisms.


From the above discussion, it has concluded that parasites are most dangerous for other organisms while saprophytes are beneficial for the ecosystem.

Janet White

Janet White is a writer and blogger for Difference Wiki since 2015. She has a master's degree in science and medical journalism from Boston University. Apart from work, she enjoys exercising, reading, and spending time with her friends and family. Connect with her on Twitter @Janet__White