13 Essential Literary Terms
1530s, "a hanger-on, a toady, person who lives on others," from Middle French parasite (16c.) or directly from Latin parasitus "toady, sponger," and directly from Greek parasitos "one who lives at another's expense, person who eats at the table of another," from noun use of an adjective meaning "feeding beside," from para- "beside" (see para- (1)) + sitos "food," of unknown origin. Scientific meaning "animal or plant that lives on others" is first recorded 1640s (implied in parasitical).
parasite par·a·site (pār'ə-sīt')
An organism that grows, feeds, and is sheltered on or in a different organism while contributing nothing to the survival of its host.
In conjoined twins, the usually incomplete twin that derives its support from the more nearly normal fetus.
An organism that lives on or in a different kind of organism (the host) from which it gets some or all of its nourishment. Parasites are generally harmful to their hosts, although the damage they do ranges widely from minor inconvenience to debilitating or fatal disease. ◇ A parasite that lives or feeds on the outer surface of the host's body, such as a louse, tick, or leech, is called an ectoparasite. Ectoparasites do not usually cause disease themselves although they are frequently a vector of disease, as in the case of ticks, which can transmit the organisms that cause such diseases as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease. ◇ A parasite that lives inside the body of its host is called an endoparasite. Endoparasites include organisms such as tapeworms, hookworms, and trypanosomes that live within the host's organs or tissues, as well as organisms such as sporozoans that invade the host's cells. See more at host.
An organism that lives off or in another organism, obtaining nourishment and protection while offering no benefit in return. Human parasites are often harmful to the body and can cause diseases, such as trichinosis.
Note: The term parasite is often applied to a person who takes advantage of other people and fails to offer anything in return.