Effect of host gender on blood digestion in fleas: mediating role of environment

Parasitol Res. 2009 Nov;105(6):1667-73. doi: 10.1007/s00436-009-1608-5.


We investigated mechanisms of male-biased parasitism by studying the rate of digestion and survival time after a single blood meal in fleas Xenopsylla ramesis parasitizing males and females of the rodent Meriones crassus. Assuming that male hosts represent better patches for fleas than female hosts, we predicted that fleas (1) will digest blood of a male host faster than blood of a female host and (2) will survive longer after a single blood meal taken from a male host. To understand the possible role of environmental factors in mediation of the relationship between flea performance and host gender, we tested our predictions in male and female fleas under low (75%) and high (95%) relative humidity (RH). Host gender affected duration of digestion only at the middle and late stages of digestion and only interacting with either flea gender or RH or both. At the early stage of digestion, fleas of the same gender at the same RH digested blood at similar rates, independent of host gender. The rate of digestion did not differ between male and female fleas at 75% RH, but the duration of early stage was significantly shorter in female than in male fleas at 95% RH. At the middle stage of digestion, male fleas at both RH digested blood of male and female hosts at similar rates, but at lower RH, female fleas digested blood from male hosts at a significantly faster rate than blood from female hosts. At the late stage of digestion, both male and female fleas digested blood faster from male hosts than from female hosts at 75% RH, but the opposite was true at 95% RH. Survival time of fleas after completion of digestion was affected by RH, being longer at 95%, and flea gender, being longer in females. Fleas fed on female hosts died faster than fleas fed on male hosts, but this was found only at 95% humidity. We concluded that the relationship between flea performance and host gender was mediated by external conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Gerbillinae / parasitology*
  • Humidity
  • Male
  • Sex Factors
  • Siphonaptera / physiology*
  • Survival Analysis