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WormBox (Vellutini & Marques, 2011–2022) is a Fiji plugin to help automating and documenting the measurement of linear distances based on landmarks. It can also be used to count structures (i.e., meristic variables). You can specify custom measurements and the data are exported in plain text table format. Landmarks are saved as ROISets alongside your images to enable revisions and full reproducibility of your measurements.


The easiest way to install WormBox is to use Fiji’s update sites.

  1. Open Fiji and click on Help > Update... > Manage update sites
  2. Click on Add update site, a new line will appear at the bottom of the list
  3. Add to the URL field
  4. Add WormBox to the Name field
  5. Click Close to close the list
  6. Click Apply changes to install
  7. Restart Fiji

Alternatively (not recommended!), you can manually copy the files below to the respective directories inside your Fiji folder:

  • WormBox_Tools.txt to Fiji/macros/toolsets/
  • to Fiji/plugins/

Planning your project

WormBox uses landmarks to compute linear distances. Thus, before you start, you should plan your project so that you have a clear idea of how many landmarks you will need to obtain the measurements you want. You can add more landmarks throughout the process, but we advise you to really make an effort to plan ahead. We will illustrate the basics of WormBox by using an example in which our goal is to obtain measurements from a set of hooks for Potamotrygonocestus (a onchobothriid cestode). With this example we hope to demonstrate how WormBox can be helpful.

Figure 2. Definition of landmarks upon handles and prongs of internal and lateral bothridial hooks of Potamotrygonocestus.

You should start by defining the landmarks that would allow you to calculate the distances (measurements) you need (Figure 2). In the example below, we want to obtain the measurements from handles and prongs of the internal and lateral bothridial hooks. Accordingly, we defined 8 landmarks (Figure 2). WormBox allows you to set as many as landmarks as you need (or wish), but you should always be careful and minimize the amount of landmarks for practical reasons.

Getting started

Once you have a good idea of the measurements you want to take and the landmarks required to do that, you should compile within a folder all the images you want to extract the measurements. We provide a folder called “hooks” that we will use in the first part of this tutorial. The images in this folder have the hooks from which to obtain the measurements defined in Figure 2. Ultimately, the images should be all scaled, preferentially using ImageJ or Fiji/ImageJ. WormBox will inform you whether it recognized the scales in your images. If WormBox does not recognize the scale, it will ask you to set up the scale. Here are the steps you should take to fully complete the first part of this tutorial:

Step 1

Start Fiji/ImageJ and enable WormBox in the switch to alternate macro tool sets (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Selecting WormBox tool sets.

Once the plugin is enabled, 5 new icons will become available to you with the following function:

  • Initialize landmark setup and/or load ROI (Region of Interest) to images.
  • Save landmark positions.
  • Count meristic variable.
  • Add new landmarks.
  • Run WomBox Analyzer, to compile measurements to .cvs file.

Step 2

Open the first image of your working folder. You can do that by either dragging the image into the Fiji/ImageJ main menu area (gray area) or by using File/Open.

Figure 4. Opening images in Fiji.

NOTE: Files should be in .tif format and the extension should be in lower case. WormBox will recognize all major images formats recognized by Fiji/ImageJ. However, if the original image is not in .tif format, or if the extension is written in upper case, WormBox will make a copy of the image and save it as .tif after processing.

Step 3

Scaling images. If your images are not scaled by Fiji/ImageJ or, although scaled using a different software, Fiji/ImageJ did not recognize the scale, WormBox will require that a scale is provided and the warning window below will be presented.

Figure 5. Request for providing a scale by WormBox.

To scale the image in Fiji/ImageJ you will have to follow these steps:

Step 3a Select the “straight” tool to draw lines.

Figure 6. Selecting the straight line tool in ImageJ.

Step 3b Draw a straight line using as reference the scale bar embedded into the image.

Step 3c In the main menu, select Analyze/Set Scale and provide the known distance (i.e., 50) and the unity of the length (i.e., µm).

Figure 7. Set scale menu in ImageJ.

NOTE: It might be easier to have all images scaled before setting up landmarks. But that is not mandatory, you can provide the scales as you work in each image.

Step 4

Placing landmarks. If you have opened a image and WormBox has recognized the scale, you are ready to define and/or place the landmarks you desire to obtain the measurements you want. Press the button to load ROI from the WormBox tool set. If this is the first time you are using WormBox for the images within a given folder you will have to define the number of landmarks you will be working.

Figure 8. Defining the number of landmarks in WormBox.

As we mentioned above (Figure 2), we will need 8 landmarks for the measurements we are planning to take from the hooks. By selecting 8 and pressing “OK”, we will define a template with eight landmarks which will be used for all images in this folder (Figure 9A). A file called will be created and all landmarks will appear on the left part of the image.

Figure 9. A, landmark pasted on image after defining numbers of landmarks or loading template. B, landmarks placed in desired positions.

Once the landmarks have been defined or loaded, all you have to do is to drag the landmarks to its right position using the mouse (double-click on the landmark you want to move and drag; if you prefer, you also can select the landmark’s number on the box (ROI) and after that click once on the landmark in the figure and drag it) (Figures 2 and 9B) and then save it using the icon in the macro tool set menu of WormBox. After saving the image, WormBox will wipe the landmarks from the image. However, all information will be still there, saved in associated files with extensions .txt and .zip. These files will be used to compile the information after you process all images and SHOULD NOT BE REMOVED—unless you want to wipe out all the data. If you desire to verify and or modify the positions of the landmarks, just reload the ROI using the icon in the macro tool set menu of WormBox.

NOTE: WormBox allows you to delete any landmark if you feel that a given measurement should not be taken from a given image. All you have to do is to place the landmarks that you consider that should be included in the image and use the ROI manager to delete the ones that should not be taken into account. In its final stage, when WormBox will parse the images to compile the measurements, images for which one or more landmarks are missing, will still be used. WormBox will attribute “NA” for cells in which the distance could not be calculated by the lack of landmarks in the .cvs file (see below).

NOTE: WormBox allows you to add landmarks if you want to. All you have to do is to click on the icon in the macro tool set menu of WormBox, write the number of landmarks you want and press ok. The new landmarks will appear on the image. You only can add landmarks in the end of your landmarks that already exists, for example, if you have landmarks 1,2 and 3 and you add more 2 landmarks, this landmarks will be the number 4 and 5. If you count some structures, this will be interpreted by WormBox like a landmark, for example, in this case we have 5 landmarks and 2 counted structures. This two structures counted will be landmarks 6 and 7, so, if you add 2 new landmarks, this will be the number 8 and 9, and not the 6 and 7. The ideal situation is add all landmarks you want before count structures.

Step 5

Compiling the data from images. Once you have processed all images (in this particular example it should take less than 10 minutes to process all 8 images) you will have to write a configuration file to run the compiling tool of WormBox. The configuration file should be in a plain text format. Thus, do not use Word or any other text editor the leave hidden characters into the text. Linux users could use nano, vim, or Geditand, among others. Mac users could use TextEdit, Wrangler, or nano, among others. Here is an example of the file:


Each line should contain the name of the variable, followed by “:” and at least two landmarks separated by comma defining the two points from which WormBox will calculate the distance.

NOTE: You can use more than two land marks for a single variable. For instance, your configuration file could have a line like this: “variable_x:1,2,3,4”. In this case, the measurement for “variable_x” will be the sum of the distances between 1-2, 2-3, and 3-4.

Once you have written your configuration file (e.g., hooks_measurements.conf) and saved it, run the WormBox Analyzer (see definition of icons above). First, WormBox will ask you the target folder in which your images have been processed (Figure 10A); and then the name of your configuration file (Figure 10B).

Figure 10. A, menu for selecting target folder. B, menu to specify configuration file.

Finally, you will have to specify the output file name. WormBox will generate a .csv (comma separated values) text file that can be opened in any spreadsheet software (e.g., Excel, OpenOffice, among others) as demonstrated in Figure 11.

Figure 11. Summary results from WormBox showed by opening the .csv file in OpenOffice Spreadsheet.

The summary results will contain a column with the image names and each variable will be displayed in a separated column. The three last lines of the file will compile the average, standard deviation and sample size of each variable. Cells with “NA” (as Non Available) denote measurements that were not taken due to the lack of associated landmark(s).

Advanced features

Now we will explore some other features of WormBox. We provide a folder called “proglottids” upon which we base this second part of the tutorial. Within this folder you should find 3 images of loose proglottids of Potamotrygonocestus, all of which have been scaled using Fiji/Image.

In Figure 12 we depict the landmarks we wish to use to compile length and width of the proglottids, position of the genital pore, and testes diameters. We also will compute the number of testes for each proglottid. Thus, we will make use of the counting tool in WormBox, which we have neglected in the first part of the tutorial. Except for the fact that we are using two sets of landmarks to compute testes diameter, and that the total length of the proglottids will be calculated the sum of two distances (i.e., 1-2 and 2-3), you should have no problem with that if you went through the first part of the tutorial. It is true that the configuration file will have to specify that; which will be addressed latter. Thus, let’s see how we count structures using WormBox.

Figure 12. Landmarks on loose proglottids of Potamotrygonocestus.

Counting structures

Before starting the use of the counting toll of WormBox, you should:

  1. Define the number of landmarks you need.
  2. Place them in the right positions.
  3. Save image (required).

The steps above have been described in the first part of the tutorial. If you have any difficulties, please go back and have a quick look above. To start counting, you have to enable the function to count meristic variables (icon with Σ sign). By doing that, you will turn on the multi-point tool of Fiji/ImageJ and a window named “action required” will appear.

Figure 13. Enabling the multi-point tool of Fiji/ImageJ.

Once the counting tool is on, all you have to do is to position your mouse on top of the structures you want to count and click the mouse. Here, we will count two sets of testes: poral and aporal ones. As you start clicking on top of the testes, let’s say on the aporal side, landmarks in yellow will provide the counting (Figure 14).

Figure 14. Image showing landmarks in blue and counting unities in yellow for partial counts of aporal testes.

After concluding counting the aporal testes, you should click on “OK” on the window for “Action Required” and this will prompt WormBox to ask you to name of the variable you just counted (e.g., aporal_testes).

NOTE: Watch out for spelling error here otherwise the script will consider them as different variables. It is important to inform you that the script is case sensitive. Thus, “testes” and “Testes” will be understood as two different variables.

Now, let us count the other set of testes, i.e., poral testes. You can start by loading all you have done thus far by pressing the icon to load ROI into image. If you load the ROI, you should have something like Figure 15.

Figure 15. Summary information after loading ROI at this point.

The image should display all landmarks for calculating distances and counting, and the ROI manager should have a list of all landmarks and variables. Now proceed to count the poral testes by enabling the counting tool and repeating the steps you did before in which you count the aporal testes. You should repeat all the steps above for the other remaining (2) images.

Compiling results (complex version)

As explained above, you will need to specify a configuration file to parse all the information you implemented in each image. Here we will apply a configuration file a bit more sophisticated than before. Within the configuration file, we will not only obtain euclidean distances between landmarks but also specify new variables based on operations of those distances.

Below we provide a example of configuration file to illustrate this capability of WormBox. For explanation proposes, each line is specified by a number (e.g., #1), which should not be in the configuration file:

#1  length:1,2,3
#2  width:4,5
#3  progl_ratio:${length}//${width}
#4  genital_pore_distance:2,3
#5  genital_pore_position:${genital_pore_distance}*100/${length}
#6  testes_dia:6,7
#7  testes_dia:8,9
#8  aporal_testes:count
#9  poral_testes:count
#10 total_testes:${aporal_testes}+${poral_testes}

Here is what this configuration file will do with the data you compiled for each image:

  • Lines 1 and 2 (i.e., #1 and #2) will calculate the length and width of your proglottid, which except for the fact that the length is being calculated by the sum of two distances (i.e., 1-2 + 2-3), they are the kind of distances you calculated before in the first part of this tutorial.
  • Line 3 provides something new. Here we defined a new morphometric variable,”progl_ratio”, which is equal to the floored quotient of length and width of the proglottid; that is, its ratio. To operate with variables there are few rules you must follow:
    • You can only operate with variables that were defined before. That is, line 3 could not be written prior to lines #1 and #2.
    • The syntax for operating variables should be “${name_of_variable}”.
    • The operator used in WormBox are basically those available in Python:
    Operation Result
    x + y sum of x and y
    x - y difference of x and y
    x * y product of x and y
    x / y quotient of x and y
    x // y floored quotient of x and y
    pow(x, y) x to the power y
    x ** y x to the power y
  • Other lines that make use of this property are lines 5 and 10 in which we calculate the genital pore position and the total number of testes, respectively.
  • Next, we should comment lines 8 and 9. These two redundant lines specify the distances for testes diameter (i.e., 6-7 and 8-9). For those, when WormBox parse the information of an image, it compiles the mean value between 2 or more pseudo-replicates (or repetitive measures).

Finally, meristic variable are defined by its name followed by “:count”. Examples of that are the testes counts defined in “aporal_testes” and “poral_testes”, lines 8 and 9, respectively.

The final results should be something like this:

Figure 16. Summary results from WormBox showed by opening the .csv file in OpenOffice Spreadsheet.