The use of a selective schedule of tests to identify a viable population of isolated adult Onchocerca volvulus (Nematoda: Filarioidea) has been investigated in a large worm population. The study was initiated to develop methodology appropriate to test new candidate macrofilaricides for their in vitro activity against O. volvulus. After removal from the host the viability of isolated intact parasites was estimated by assessing the motility indices of male worms, and the colorimetric quantification of the reduction of the bioreducible tetrazolium reagent XTT and lactate output by female worms. Additionally the motility of whole females and the movement of inner organs of female worms were scored quantitatively. These response parameters were used to sort the adult worms into viability groups at the start of the in vitro culture. The adult worms were then observed for 6 days and viability was assessed regularly during the culture period. At the end of the culture period, the reduction of the water-insoluble tetrazolium reagent MTT was used to determine the formazan formed by the entire male and female worms. The response parameters used at the start of the culture proved to be highly predictive for detecting viable and non-viable adult worms. In the group of worms selected as ‘viable’ around 70% kept their motility and metabolic activity at a high level until the end of the culture compared to the initial level. In contrast, none of the female worms and only 13% of the male worms categorized as ‘poorly viable’ demonstrated a motility index or metabolic level at the end of the culture period that was comparable to that of the worms in the ‘viable’ groups. For female worms the lactate output correlated significantly with weight whereas no correlation was seen between MTT reduction and weight.