Mortality of Leishmania major in Phlebotomus papatasi Caused by Plant Feeding of the Sand Flies

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  • Department of Parasitology, Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, Jerusalem, Israel

The plant feeding of Phlebotomus papatasi and the effects of plant diets on the Leishmania major infections were investigated. Plant-fed flies had small free particles and membranous shreds in their gut that were stained by calcofluor as cellulosic plant tissues. They were found in 34.0% of the female and 14.3% of the male sand flies following feeding on the caper plant (Capparis spinosa). No plant residues were found in 54 females that had been fed on plant-derived honeydew secretions of Aphis craccivora offered on a branch of the host plant. Calcofluor-stained particles were also absent from the gut lumen of unfed flies. The proportion of sugar feeding, regardless of the intake of plant tissue, in the series that had been offered caper plant or honeydew was estimated by testing for the presence of fructose in the gut. The proportion of fructose-positive flies in each series, among both males and females, was 45%. Plant feeding in the field was demonstrated by finding tissue residues in the gut of 32.8% of female and 10.3% of male P. papatasi from the Jordan Valley. Feeding on specific plants was demonstrated using baits of branches suffused with food dye and finding the dye marker in wild-caught P. papatasi. The influence of plant diets on L. major infections in P. papatasi was as follows: Malva nicaeensis and the honeydew of Icerya purchasi produced thriving parasitemias; however, feeding on Ricinus communis, Capparis spinosa, and Solanum luteum caused > 50% mortality and deformation of parasites in 88%, 55%, and 46% of the infections, respectively. This type of injury was also observed in 21 of the 38 mature infections in field-caught flies. These observations imply that some plant diets of P. papatasi in the wild impair L. major infections in the flies, thereby decreasing their capacity to transmit leishmaniasis.