Obligate intracellular pathogens depend on their host for growth yet must also evade detection by host defenses. Here we investigate host adaptation in two Microsporidia, the specialist Edhazardia aedis and the generalist Vavraia culicis, pathogens of disease vector mosquitoes. Genomic analysis and deep RNA-Seq across infection time courses reveal fundamental differences between these pathogens. E. aedis retains enhanced cell surface modification and signalling capacity, upregulating protein trafficking and secretion dynamically during infection. V. culicis is less dependent on its host for basic metabolites and retains a subset of spliceosomal components, with a transcriptome broadly focused on growth and replication. Transcriptional profiling of mosquito immune responses reveals that response to infection by E. aedis differs dramatically depending on the mode of infection, and that antimicrobial defensins may play a general role in mosquito defense against Microsporidia. This analysis illuminates fundamentally different evolutionary paths and host interplay of specialist and generalist pathogens.