The life cycle of Leishmania alternates between two main morphological forms: intracellular amastigotes in the mammalian host and motile promastigotes in the sand fly vector. Several different forms of promastigote have been described in sandfly infections, the best known of these being metacyclic promastigotes, the mammal-infective stages. Here we provide evidence that for Leishmania (Leishmania) mexicana and Leishmania (Leishmania) infantum (syn. chagasi) there are two separate, consecutive growth cycles during development in Lutzomyia longipalpis sand flies involving four distinct life cycle stages. The first growth cycle is initiated by procyclic promastigotes, which divide in the bloodmeal in the abdominal midgut and subsequently give rise to non-dividing nectomonad promastigotes. Nectomonad forms are responsible for anterior migration of the infection and in turn transform into leptomonad promastigotes that initiate a second growth cycle in the anterior midgut. Subsequently, leptomonad promastigotes differentiate into non-dividing metacyclic promastigotes in preparation for transmission to a mammalian host. Differences in timing, prevalence and persistence of the four promastigote stages were observed between L. mexicana and L. infantum in vivo, which were reproduced in cultures initiated with lesion amastigotes, indicating that development is to some extent governed by a programmed series of events. A new scheme for the life cycle in the subgenus Leishmania (Leishmania) is proposed that incorporates these findings.