Male-biased parasitism is commonly found in higher vertebrates and is most likely to be a result of higher mobility and lower immunocompetence of male hosts than female hosts. The latter would result in higher fitness of parasites exploiting males rather than females. To test this hypothesis, we investigated foraging and reproductive performance of fleas (Xenopsylla ramesis) parasitizing male and female Meriones crassus, a gerbilline rodent. We allowed fleas to feed on groom-restricted rodents and predicted that: (1) the size of a blood meal would be greater from a male than a female host and (2) female fleas will produce more eggs when exploiting a male than a female host. There was no effect of host gender on the mass-specific amount of blood consumed by a flea across eight days of feeding. However, on the first day fleas on a male rodent consumed significantly more blood than fleas on a female rodent. Thereafter, the amount of blood consumed from a male host tended to decrease whereas that from a female host tended to increase. A higher proportion of fleas satiated earlier than 60 min when they fed on male rather than on female hosts but this proportion decreased from the first to the last feeding event. Fleas produced significantly more eggs when they fed on male rather than on female hosts for days one to five of oviposition. We concluded that gender difference in immune defence is the mechanism behind male-biased parasitism.
- Blood meal size
- Egg production