The fluorescent lipophilic probe 1,1'-dihexadecyl-3-3'-3-3'- tetramethylindocarbocyanine (diIC16) inserted in the red cell surface, functioned as a non-exchangeable lipid marker which was not metabolised or toxic in plasmodial cultures. Invasion by Plasmodium falciparum resulted in the internalisation of the lipid, suggesting the uptake of red cell membrane components during parasite entry. The fluorescent lipid was not transported from red cell to parasite membranes at subsequent stages of development, but label in the erythrocyte-derived parasitophorous vacuole was eventually detected in daughter merozoites. Fluorescent dextrans of 10 kDa in the extracellular medium were also not internalised during intraerythrocytic parasite growth. The results support that with the exception of the invasion step, plasmodial infection does not induce endocytosis in the erythrocyte membrane. Despite the lack of endocytosis, both D and L stereoisomers of the head group blocked phospholipid analogue N-4-nitrobenzo-2-oxa-1,3-diazoledipalmitoyl phosphatidylethanolamine (N-NBD-PE) inserted in the erythrocyte membrane, were internalised by mature infected erythrocytes. Lipid internalisation occurred by a non head group dependent parasite mechanism, which could account for the stage-specific uptake of phospholipids observed in mature infected erythrocytes. We were unable to detect the transport of carbocyanine dyes and N-NBD-PE from intracellular parasites back to the erythrocyte membrane. Additionally, the carbocyanine dyes were not transferred between adjacent organisms in a double infected red cell. The data argue for the absence of bulk membrane lipid transport between individual parasites and their host cell bilayer in an infected erythrocyte.