Use was made of seven FITC labelled lectins as tools to investigate the surface of Onchocerca lienalis larvae as they develop through to the infective third-stage in a natural vector, Simulium ornatum. The lectins were derived from Canavalia ensiformis (Con A), Lens culinaris (lentil), Triticum vulgaris (wheat germ), Arachis hypogaea (peanut), Helix pomatia, Phaseolus vulgaris (kidney bean) and Tetragonolobus purpureus (asparagus pea). Between 70 and 100 living parasites were examined for each developmental stage; i.e. skin microfilariae, late first-stages, second-stages, preinfective third-stages and infective third-stages isolated from the mouth parts of the flies. None of the lectins used bound to the surface of the microfilariae. However, progressive binding to the cuticle of the first- and second-stages was observed using Con. A, lentil lectin and wheat germ agglutinin (WGA). Following moulting to the third-stage, binding of these three lectins declined. Furthermore, as these lectins decreased, peanut and Helix pomatia lectins progressively increased in their binding, despite the fact that they showed little or no binding to the first- and second-stages; stages at which Con A, lentil and WGA were at their maximum. Asparagus pea and kidney bean lectins failed completely to bind to any of the larvae examined. Carbohydrate inhibition tests showed that the lectin was indeed binding specifically to glycoconjugates on the parasite surface. WGA binding was not inhibited by prior incubation with N-acetyl-D-glucosamine, even at high concentrations, but neuraminic acid did completely inhibit its binding. Judging from the patterns of binding on the nematodes themselves, the carbohydrates may not be vector in origin, but derive from the worms. The lectin specificities indicate that initially mannose/glucose type derivatives are present on the surface. Following moulting to the third-stage these are progressively replaced, or overlaid with galactosamine type derivatives, also present on the infective third-stage as it enters the bovine host. The availability of these surface glycoconjugates to attack mediated by natural insect lectins may be of importance in the parasite regulatory mechanisms of the blackfly. Variability in these surface carbohydrates, and in the response to them could well be a contributing factor in the cytospecific variation in S. damnosum susceptibility to geographical variants of O. volvulus.