An electron-dense coat covering the surface of Toxocara canis infective-stage larvae is described. This coat readily binds to cationized ferritin and ruthenium red, indicating a net negative charge and mucopolysaccharide content, and can be visualized by immuno-electron microscopy only if cryosectioning is employed. Monoclonal antibodies reactive to the surface of live larvae bind the surface coat but not the underlying cuticle in ultrathin cryosections. The surface coat is dissipated on exposure to ethanol, explaining the lack of surface reactivity of conventionally prepared immunoelectron microscopy sections of T. canis. Differential ethanol extraction of surface-iodinated larvae demonstrates that the major component associated with the coat is TES-120, a 120-kDa glycoprotein previously identified by surface iodination, which is also a dominant secreted product. The surface-labeled TES-70 glycoprotein is linked with a more hydrophobic stratum at the surface, while a prominent 32-kDa glycoprotein, TES-32, is more strongly represented within the cuticle itself. Antibody binding to the coat under physiological conditions results in the loss of the surface coat, but this process is arrested at 4 degrees C. This result gives a physical basis to earlier observations on the shedding of surface-bound antibodies by this parasite. An extracuticular surface coat has been demonstrated on Toxocara larvae prior to hatching from the egg and during all stages of in vitro culture, suggesting that it may play a role both in protecting the parasite on hatching in the gastrointestinal tract and on subsequent tissue invasion in evading host immune responses directed at surface antigens.