Circulating microRNAs (miRNAs) have received considerable attention as a novel class of biomarkers for the diagnosis of cancer and as signalling molecules in mediating intercellular communication. Schistosomes, the causative agents of schistosomiasis, live in the blood vessels of a mammalian host in the adult stage. In the present study, we characterized schistosome-specific small RNA populations in the plasma of rabbits infected with Schistosoma japonicum (S. japonicum) using a deep sequencing method and then identified five schistosome-specific miRNAs, including four known miRNAs (Bantam, miR-3479, miR-10 and miR-3096), and one novel miRNA (miR-0001, miRBase ID: sja-miR-8185). Four of the five schistosome-specific miRNAs were also detected by real-time RT–PCR in the plasma of S. japonicum-infected mice. In addition, our study indicated that schistosome Argonaute 2/3 may be an excretory-secretory (ES) protein. In summary, our findings are expected to provide useful information for further development of novel biomarkers for the diagnosis of schistosomiasis and also for deeper understanding of the mechanism of host–parasite interaction.