Sand flies are the exclusive vectors of the protozoan parasite Leishmania, but the mechanism of transmission by fly bite has not been determined nor incorporated into experimental models of infection. In sand flies with mature Leishmania infections the anterior midgut is blocked by a gel of parasite origin, the promastigote secretory gel. Here we analyse the inocula from Leishmania mexicana-infected Lutzomyia longipalpis sand flies. Analysis revealed the size of the infectious dose, the underlying mechanism of parasite delivery by regurgitation, and the novel contribution made to infection by filamentous proteophosphoglycan (fPPG), a component of promastigote secretory gel found to accompany the parasites during transmission. Collectively these results have important implications for understanding the relationship between the parasite and its vector, the pathology of cutaneous leishmaniasis in humans and also the development of effective vaccines and drugs. These findings emphasize that to fully understand transmission of vector-borne diseases the interaction between the parasite, its vector and the mammalian host must be considered together.