This study, the first of three designed to determine the feasibility of using owl monkeys infected with human plasmodia in the search for new, more broadly active antimalarial drugs, dealt with the characteristics of untreated infections with eight strains of Plasmodium falciparum and two strains of P. vivax. Such infections, induced by standardized inocula of these strains in 1,733 monkeys, all Aotus trivirgatus griseimembra, were followed from day of inoculation to death or self-cure. The virulence of the various strains differed strikingly. Incidences of fatal reactions, ranging from 24.4-89.4% and 8.1-45.8%, respectively, in infections with strains of P. falciparum and P. vivax, were closely related to the rate at which parasitemia evolved, the height of parasitemia in the primary attack, and/or the time period over which a high parasite level was sustained. Antemortem symptom complexes and gross tissue and organ reactions in infections with P. falciparum varied with survival time, but within that boundary, were the same for infections with all eight strains of this plasmodium. Morbidity in both fatal and self-limited infections with both plasmodial species was related to height of parasitemia; however, at comparable parasite levels, symptoms exhibited in infections with P. vivax were more severe than in infections with P. falciparum. Overall, the characteristics of infections with these plasmodia in owl monkeys were remarkably similar to those of human infections. With respect to biological features, infections with P. falciparum and P. vivax in this simian host appear to have much to offer in the search for new antimalarial drugs.