Parasitology Research

, Volume 90, Issue 5, pp 393–399 | Cite as

Host specificity and foraging efficiency in blood-sucking parasite: feeding patterns of the flea Parapulex chephrenis on two species of desert rodents

  • B. R. Krasnov
  • M. Sarfati
  • M. S. Arakelyan
  • I. S. Khokhlova
  • N. V. Burdelova
  • A. A. Degen
Original Paper


Parasite species can adapt to ecological, behavioral, physiological and biochemical traits of a particular host species. The flea Parapulex chephrenis occurs on the spiny mouse Acomys cahirinus, but does not occur on a co-existing gerbil, Gerbillus dasyurus. To test the hypothesis that the host species affects feeding parameters of a host-specific flea, we studied the feeding rate, rate of blood digestion and resistance to starvation of P. chephrenis when feeding on A. cahirinus and G. dasyurus. We predicted that P. chephrenis would: (1) fill its gut with blood faster, (2) digest blood for a shorter time, and (3) survive longer when starved while feeding on its specific host, A. cahirinus, than on a non-specific host, G. dasyurus. These three responses were observed when P. chephrenis fed on the different hosts and, consequently, our predictions were supported. Twenty percent of fleas filled their midgut after feeding for 10 min on A. cahirinus but this occurred only after 25 min on G. dasyurus. The middle stage of blood digestion was significantly shorter in all fleas feeding on A. cahirinus than in fleas feeding on G. dasyurus. Flea survival was shorter when feeding on G. dasyurus than when feeding on A. cahirinus at 25°C, but no difference in survival time was found at 15 or 20°C. Both A. cahirinus, the specific host, and G. dasyurus, the non-specific host, co-exist in rocky habitats, yet P. chephrenis occurs on one rodent and not the other. The absence of P. chephrenis on G. dasyurus in nature and the decreased foraging efficiency when feeding on this species in the laboratory suggests that some physiological and biochemical differences between hosts can lead to sharp ecological differences in host-parasite relationships.



This study was supported by the Ministry of Science, Culture and Sport of Israel (research grant 01-18-331 to B.R.K. and I.S.K.). M.S.A. received financial support from the MASHAV (Centre for International Cooperation) program of Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The experiments comply with the laws of State of Israel. This is publication no. 145 of the Ramon Science Center and no. 378 of the Mitrani Department of Desert Ecology.


  1. Brukhanova LV, Darskaya NF, Surkova LA (1978) Blood digestion in flea Leptopsylla segnis Schoncher (in Russian). Parazitologiya 12:383–386Google Scholar
  2. Cooke BD (1999) Notes on the life history of the rabbit flea Caenopsylla laptevi ibera Beaucornu & Marquez, 1987 (Siphonaptera: Ceratophyllidae) in eastern Spain. Parasite 6:347–354PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Combes C (1991) Evolution of parasite life cycles. In: Toft CA, Aeschlimann A, Bolis L (eds) Parasite-host associations: coexistence or conflict? Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 62–82Google Scholar
  4. Combes C (2000) Introduction: parasites, hosts, questions. In: Poulin R, Morand S, Skorping A (eds) Evolutionary biology of host-parasite relationships: theory meets reality. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp 1–8Google Scholar
  5. Combes C (2001) Parasitism. The ecology and evolution of intimate interactions. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  6. Darskaya NF, Besedina KP (1961) On the possibility of flea feeding on reptiles. Res Sci Anti-Plague Inst Caucasus Trans-Caucasus 5:33–9 (in Russian)Google Scholar
  7. Eckstein RA, Hart BL (2000) Grooming and control of fleas in cats. Appl Anim Behav Sci 68:141–150CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Edney EB (1945) Laboratory studies on the bionomics of the rat fleas, Xenopsylla brasiliensis Baker and X. cheopis Roths. I. Certain effects of light, temperature and humidity on the rate of development and on adult longevity. Bull Entomol Res 35:399–416Google Scholar
  9. Euzet L, Combes C (1980) Les problemes de l'espece chez les animaux parasites. Bull Soc Zool Fr 40:239–285Google Scholar
  10. Faasch WJ (1935) Intestinal canal and digestion of blood in Aphaniptera. Z Morphol Ökol Tiere 29:559–584Google Scholar
  11. Fox I, Fox RI, Bayona IG (1966). Fleas feed on lizards in the laboratory in Puerto Rico. J Med Entomol 2:395–396Google Scholar
  12. Ioff IG (1949) Ecology of fleas in relevance to their medical importance (in Russian). Pyatygorsk, PyatygorskGoogle Scholar
  13. Johnson CG (1940) The longevity of the fasting bed-bug (C. lectuliaris L.) under experimental conditions and particularly in relation to the saturation deficiency law of water-loss. Parasitology 32:127–173Google Scholar
  14. Krasnov BR, Shenbrot GI, Medvedev SG, Vatschenok VS, Khokhlova IS (1997) Host-habitat relation as an important determinant of spatial distribution of flea assemblages (Siphonaptera) on rodents in the Negev Desert. Parasitology 114:159–173PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Krasnov BR, Shenbrot GI, Medvedev SG, Khokhlova IS, Vatschenok VS (1998) Habitat-dependence of a parasite-host relationship: flea assemblages in two gerbil species of the Negev Desert. J Med Entomol 35:303–313PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Krasnov BR, Khokhlova IS, Oguzoglu I, Burdelova NV (2002a) Host discrimination by two desert fleas using an odour cue. Anim Behav 64:33–40Google Scholar
  17. Krasnov BR, Burdelova, NV, Shenbrot GI, Khokhlova IS (2002b) Annual cycles of four flea species (Siphonaptera) in the central Negev desert. Med Vet Entomol 16:266–276CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Krasnov BR, Khokhlova IS, Fielden LJ, Burdelova NV (2002c) Time to survival under starvation in two flea species (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae) at different air temperatures and relative humidities. J Vector Ecol 27:70–81PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Krasnov BR, Khokhlova IS, Fielden LJ, Burdelova NV (2002d) The effect of substrate on survival and development of two species of desert fleas (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae). Parasite 9:135–142PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Krynski S, Kuchta A, Becla E (1952) Research on the nature of the noxious action of guinea-pig blood on the body-louse (in Polish). Bull Inst Mar Med Gdansk 4:104–107Google Scholar
  21. Lomnicki A (1988) Population ecology of individuals. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  22. Marshall AG (1981) The ecology of ectoparasitic insects. Academic Press, LondonGoogle Scholar
  23. Poulin R (1998) Evolutionary ecology of parasites. Chapman and Hall, LondonGoogle Scholar
  24. Prasad RS (1969) Influence of host on fecundity of the Indian rat flea, Xenopsylla cheopis (Roths.). J Med Entomol 6:443–447PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Rosenzweig ML (1981) A theory of habitat selection. Ecology 62:327–335Google Scholar
  26. Seal SC, Bhattacharji LM (1961) Epidemiological studies of plague in Calcutta. Part 1. Bionomics of two species of rat fleas and distribution, densities and resistance of rodents in relation to the epidemiology of plague in Calcutta. Indian J Med Res 49:974–1007Google Scholar
  27. Sgonina K (1935) Die Reizphysiologie des Igelflohs (Archeopsylla erinacei Bouche) und seiner Larve. Z Parasitenkd 7:539–571Google Scholar
  28. Silverman J, Rust MK, Reierson DA (1981) Influence of temperature and humidity on survival and development of the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae). J Med Entomol 18:78–83PubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Sukhdeo MVK, Sukhdeo SC (1994) Optimal habitat selection by helminths within the host environment. Parasitology 109:S41–S56PubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Suter PR (1964) Biologie von Echidnophaga gallinacea (Westw.) und vergleich mit andern Verhaltenstypen bei Flöhen. Acta Trop 21:193–238Google Scholar
  31. Traub R (1985) Coevolution of fleas and mammals. In: Kim KC (ed) Coevolution of parasitic arthropods and mammals. Wiley , New York, pp 295–437Google Scholar
  32. Vatschenok VS (1988) Fleas—vectors of pathogens causing diseases in humans and animals (in Russian). Nauka, LeningradGoogle Scholar
  33. Vatschenok VS, Solina LT, Zhirnova AE (1976) Digestion of blood of different animals by fleas Xenopsylla cheopis (in Russian). Parazitologiya 10:544–549)Google Scholar
  34. Ward SA (1992) Assessing functional explanations of host specificity. Am Nat 139:883–891CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Winston PW, Bates DH (1960) Saturated solutions for the control of humidity in biological research. Ecology 41:232–237Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • B. R. Krasnov
    • 1
  • M. Sarfati
    • 1
  • M. S. Arakelyan
    • 3
  • I. S. Khokhlova
    • 2
  • N. V. Burdelova
    • 1
  • A. A. Degen
    • 2
  1. 1.Ramon Science Center and Mitrani Department of Desert Ecology, Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert ResearchBen-Gurion University of the NegevMizpe Ramon Israel
  2. 2.The Wyler Department of Dryland Agriculture, Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert ResearchBen-Gurion University of the NegevSede Boqer CampusIsrael
  3. 3.Department of ZoologyYerevan State UniversityYerevanArmenia

Personalised recommendations