The increasing use of products derived from nanotechnology has raised concerns about their potential toxicity, especially at the immunocompetence level in organisms. This study compared the immunotoxicity of cadmium sulfate/cadmium telluride (CdS/Cd-Te) mixture quantum dots (QDs) and their dissolved components, cadmium chloride (CdCl2)/sodium telluride (NaTeO3) salts, and a CdCl2/NaTeO3 mixture on four animal models commonly used in risk assessment studies: one bivalve (Mytilus edulis), one fish (Oncorhynchus mykiss), and two mammals (mice and humans). Our results of viability and phagocytosis biomarkers revealed that QDs were more toxic than dissolved metals for blue mussels. For other species, dissolved metals (Cd, Te, and Cd-Te mixture) were more toxic than the nanoparticles (NPs). The most sensitive species toward QDs, according to innate immune cells, was humans (inhibitory concentration [IC50] = 217 μg/mL). However, for adaptative immunity, lymphoblastic transformation in mice was decreased for small QD concentrations (EC50 = 4 μg/mL), and was more sensitive than other model species tested. Discriminant function analysis revealed that blue mussel hemocytes were able to discriminate the toxicity of QDs, Cd, Te, and Cd-Te mixture (Partial Wilk's λ = 0.021 and p < 0.0001). For rainbow trout and human cells, the immunotoxic effects of QDs were similar to those obtained with the dissolved fraction of Cd and Te mixture. For mice, the toxicity of QDs markedly differed from those observed with Cd, Te, and dissolved Cd-Te mixture. The results also suggest that aquatic species responded more differently than vertebrates to these compounds. The results lead to the recommendation that mussels and mice were most able to discriminate the effects of Cd-based NPs from the effects of dissolved Cd and Te at the immunocompetence level. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Environ Toxicol 30: 9–25, 2015.